It all started off with an invite to film an inbounds Whistler Blackcomb segment with Sherpas Cinema. I arrived to town fresh off a less-than-spectacular snow base in Utah. In Whistler, they’d had an awesome early season and were still sitting on a great base. It hadn’t snowed in a few weeks, and most of the locals were awaiting a new influx of nukage. I, however, was licking my chops for that base.
We initiated some filming, and right away, I knew we were going to break new ground in true Sherpas fashion. We were lining up shots choreographed to have quite a few people skiing at once.
Dave Mossop of Sherpas said, “OK, guys, I’m going to count down from 20, Julian, you’re in the air at 8; Matty, you’re skiing into frame at 5; Austin, you’re jumping at 3; Tatum, you’re skiing through the foreground at zero; the rest of you guys, just be skiing the whole time on the sides, and it’ll all work perfectly. Can you guys do that?”
Haha. We gave it our best shot in some truly classic Whistler zones over the next couple of weeks. Most of the time I think we walked away having accomplished what we intended—some shots, maybe not.
Photo: Sherpas Cinema
After a couple of really fun weeks, I headed home for some downtime ’til the next storm followed by a break in weather. It ended up just being a few days before I was back in Whistler. It snowed quite a bit, about 50in, but the weather wasn’t quite cooperating for filming. On one of the days we were cruising around (OK, on most of the days we were cruising around), my eye would go towards the Air Jordan zone. I fantasized about singling the entire zone. I kept the thoughts to myself, though, because in order for me to ever take the fantasy seriously, the zone would need 100 inches of snow and closure of the landing zone while it nuked. Not going to happen. I also didn’t think there was a suitable take-off up there. Regardless, it was fun to fantasize.
On one of the days we got skunked on weather, Stan Rey was up on Jordan and I was over in a different zone with a different air lined up. They were going to bring in the heli with Cineflex, but unfortunately neither of us had the chance to hit it due to weather. After Stan came down and we all met up, he said to me, casually, “Julian, there was a rad diving board platform thing up there you could send the whole thing from.” He said it off-handedly, laughing. Little did he know, I was listening intently, and I immediately looked at the zone and recognized what he described as the diving board. NOTED. Very noted, my friend.
At this point—it was a Thursday—weather was calling for some serious snow to fall for a couple of days, and then it was maybe going to clear. Sherpas had another project lined up out of town on Monday. So it was looking like our only day to get another shot was Sunday. I took off to Vancouver while it nuked; the whole upper mountain was closed, and it was raining like crazy in the village of Whistler, but the sun was shining in Vancouver, and I was lucky enough that my girlfriend had a layover there. We decided to have a great Friday night and chill all day Saturday until her flight up to Nelson.
After a killer time decompressing in Vancouver, I hopped the shuttle back up to Whistler. The snow reports I was hearing were 100 inches total, 50 inches in last 36 hours. WOW. The weather report also predicted clearing on Sunday morning followed by sun. Were the stars really aligning for me to take a look at this Air Jordan air? They were.
I rolled into town Saturday night and called Christian, a friend I’d made during the shoot. He picks up the phone and I ask, “You down to wake up early with me, go have a look at Jordan? I’m thinking about singling it. You got my back, be my wingman?” He’s immediately in. Christian is one of those guys everyone knows up there, everyone gives him respect, and he and I connected on a cool level while filming. I knew I had to access the zone before anyone else and assess the diving board to see if it could in fact get me over the whole zone. Then I’d go down in the landing and probe. Then come all the way back around to the air after another chairlift ride. I knew I could trust Christian to politely ask any locals who wanted to punch Air Jordan the proper double-cliff, two-stage way if they wouldn’t mind waiting ’til I got back, as I was considering hitting it as a single stager.
Christian and I wake up early to meet the Sherpas crew. The entire upper mountain had been closed for two days, and it’s a glorious sunny morning. Unbelievably beautiful. We loaded the gondola, and when we got up to the base of Peak Chair, holy crap, the line was LONG. Hoji, Matt Elliot, and everyone else made their plans of attack. I was headed to inspect the Jordan zone for a potential single and told Mossop I’d radio him when I had a yay or nay.
The lineup at Peak Chair is massive. Christian and I tell the liftie we’re with the film crew and we’re hoping to snag an early chair. He goes into the shack, comes out in a hurry, and says, “You guys hop up there!” Holy shit. We hop up in front and before we know it, he lifts the closed sign and we have the first chair! Haha! No way.
We head up, and the mountain is unreal. No tracks, beautiful sunshine, and thousands of hungry skiers ready to take no prisoners.
We unload and rally to the Jordan zone. I look down and see a really obvious diving board that shoots you off into oblivion, into the famed double stager called Air Jordan. Intense.
I carefully ski down to the diving board’s takeoff and have a look over the edge. Oh boy. I knew the whole zone wasn’t going to be a sheer cliff, but when I first looked over the air, it was FAR from sheer. It appeared that in order to get over the rocks and cliffs below, I’d have to travel VERY far to get out to the landing zone WAY down there.
Instantly my gut was gripped with fear, and I had a fleeting thought: “No way is this cliff doable. Holy shit, this is terrifying. I’m out of here.” “Wait, wait, wait a minute,” my inner voice argued. “You don’t KNOW it’s not doable.” I realized I had to make absolute certain—with my intellect, not my fear—that the cliff wasn’t possible. After I got comfortable and found my footing, I took it all in.
The in-run length for the ballpark amount of speed I’d need, the cliffs underneath me, the landing way out there, it all lined up. Was it impossible? No, it wasn’t. In fact, it looked very doable. I studied it for 10 minutes, intensely. It was doable. The takeoff would take some time to stamp out and manicure, but it was doable.
I looked up and saw that Christian had made friends with a handful of hungry locals wanting to hit Jordan as a double. They all told me to take my time. What a bunch of badasses. I told them I was going down to inspect the landing, and then I’d hustle down to catch another chair lift and hopefully not have to wait in line.
I went down to the landing zone. Probed. Landing was great. I could penetrate the snow with my entire pole, and then my whole arm to my shoulder. Perfect. The only way I’ll jump off 100+ footers is to have snow like this. I was stoked, but still not sure about the air. I like to hit SHEER cliffs. Any mistake on my speed calculation here would be certain death. And I not only could I not underestimate the speed necessary, I couldn’t overestimate it, for there were trees past my preferred landing spot.
I headed down to the chairlift knowing I’d make a decision once I got back up to the takeoff. Breathe, meditate, and let the calm seep into my being. I was going to need it. I couldn’t simply “choose” to hit the air; I knew I’d need to have a real awakening of intent up there. Breathe. It’ll all unravel in the way it should.
I was lucky enough to cut the line again. SO MANY PEOPLE! I was treated to a show on my way up the lift. Matt Elliot nailed a super impressive air and stomped it; same with Hoji and a handful of rippers. Whistler was going off. Peak Chair represent!
I cruised back over to the top of Jordan and in classic Christian form, he tipped his cap to me. No words were spoken, none were needed. Quite a few people had gathered at this point. Everyone gave me all the space I needed. Holy smokes, this was a spicy endeavor. I still couldn’t gauge my “yes” or “no,” so I simply decided to start my takeoff. I knew my body would start to make sense of the feat and the energy around me.
As I sidestepped up and slid down time and time again to form my takeoff, it became a booter off the diving board. The in-run was about 50 feet long with a steep down ramp set back about 30 feet before the actual takeoff. On top of the steep down ramp was the deck where everyone was hanging out. I knew I’d not only need a well-manicured 50 feet of in-run, but another 50 feet to pole push myself into my steep in-run for any chance of the needed speed. No games here, kids. Any miscalculation would have me coming up short. I immediately thought of deceased cliff jumper Paul Ruff, R.I.P. He miscalculated a 140-footer, came up short, and passed away due to internal injuries—he ruptured his aorta on impact. I would not have this happen.
By now, Stan Ray had pulled up and asked if he could hit Jordan as the double while I hit it as a single. Of course. He got into position. LOTS of people were showing up now. All the other skiers had nailed their lines, and now it was my turn. The attention of the Sherpas Magic Peak shoot was now on me.
I still didn’t know. Breathe. Meditate. Be the in-run. Be the air. Be the landing. Breathe.
I made the in-run picture perfectly. It was solid. I couldn’t run the risk of having any of it become “soft” as I railed into it. I needed to have it fast and ready for me to pop off the end of it like a champion.
I stood at the top of the in-run, all 50 feet of it. Even with a really steep ramp and a massive booter, it wasn’t fast enough yet. I stamped out the snow leading up to the down ramp. It was a blind rollover situation, so I marked the snow where I’d need to be aimed as I came over it in order to come squarely down the ramp at maximum speed, in a point-of-no-return situation. Intense!
Tremendous energy had formed in the area. I still wasn’t sure. Damn, this was rowdy.
I backed up all the way to my start point, a good 150 feet away from the booter off the end of the diving board. I mimicked my pole push into the ramp. I had a fair amount of speed that would lead me into the point of no return, a steep ramp directly into the booter. OK, I’m getting a grasp on this.
I did that a few times, then skied down to my takeoff again. My body began to affirm that all was good. I liked that. But it wasn’t at 100% yet.
I sidestepped back up. On the steepest part of the in-run, I felt an authentic connection between every cell in my body and every particle of snow on the in-run. It was a unique affirmation, the one I was awaiting. I was hyper aware of everything in my vicinity.
I started to sidestep up to announce that I was ready. But a powerful voice came from somewhere inside me. “Julian, you just had one affirmation. You need to step back down to that exact spot and think this through intelligently to back it up.” It was my body checking in with me, saying, “It’s fine and dandy that you’re in a profound state of Zen right now, but you’re a young, healthy, living human, and if you make any mistakes right now, it will be taken from you.”
I stepped back down. Closed my eyes. Visualized the physical aspects of the feat from start to finish. I liked it. Then my body took over my thinking self. I was now again part of my surroundings. I was seeing and being from the cliff’s perspective, the snow’s, my skis’, the air’s. A detachment from self at the atomic level. It was really a magical transition.
I opened my eyes, now 100% certain in my pursuit.
I hiked up to the top of in-run. I took in all the people that were now up there with me. We had a lot of “extras” for the shot to ski in the background while I aired. Stan was in position. What a pimp. He’d been hanging out for a good hour by now.
I announced to all the extras that under no circumstance were they to make a right hand turn once they started to descend in their respective paths. If they made a right, they might have my skis chopping their heads off as I landed on them and killed us both. I heard a little bit of chitter chatter as I announced this. I had no problem asserting myself and clearly announcing it again until I had every single person nodding their head in understanding.
I step back to my start point. My heart rate strangely takes the intensity out of the situation, and I see it for what it really is … it’s sharing my energy with the in-run, take-off, air, cliff, and landing. All the components of the feat have achieved equilibrium. I don’t have a racing heartbeat or an urge to yell or scream into the air and pound my chest. I’m not here to dominate my surroundings; I’m here to be a part of them, to share with them.
I radio that I’m ready.
Sherpas radios back that they’re one minute out.
The plan: I’m in the air on their 5 count, Stan drops into line at the 8 count, and the extras start to ski at the 10 count.
Momme with Sherpas starts the count. “Ten,” “nine,” “eight,”—I start to push with my poles—“seven,”—I pick up speed towards the blind rollover to the down ramp—“six,”—I crest my blind rollover and am hauling ass, perfectly, down the steep ramp. As we’ve all experienced going fast on firm groomers, I experienced a bit of chatter on the down ramp. I was moving. I smiled to myself. I was going FAST, as fast I needed to, nothing more, nothing less.
“Five!” I pop off the booter and am now airborne and moving FAST. I love it. Usually I have some time to take it all in, but this time things are flying past in my peripheral vision; the last thing I see is that I’m beyond the bottom of the cliff as I front flip over. What a feeling to swan dive off a cliff going that fast. I was now in the safety zone.
Photo: Sherpas Cinema
I switch gears mentally to have total relaxation upon impact. I breathe out and go limp entirely. This is all instinctual. My thoughts are catching up to what my body already knows and is executing on. I’m still not me, I am everything around me, yet I’ve maintained vision and an internal dialogue of self. Very interesting. I’m the observer and the subject.
I make impact as the observer and feel the interaction of body and snow. It’s seamless, I don’t feel a thing. Pure energy shared. Amazing. I’m a spectator in awe. I have no explanation, no way to attach meaning to it. It’s pure. Transcending boundaries of supposed human limits.
In a continuous motion, I’m back on my feet skiing away from my smoke. Magic. Breathing. Laughing. High-fiving.
Yelling with happiness.
Yelling again from charged particles in my body.
I loved my time in Whistler. What an amazing opportunity.
A big thanks to the Sherpas crew and Whistler Mountain. And all my old and new friends up there. Be on the lookout for the new movie, Into the Mind, releasing in September, 2013. Teaser here: