The core snowboard community has long referred to Alaska’s Mt. McKinley as Denali, the name originally given to the highest peak in North America by the Athabaskan people. But on Sunday, President Barack Obama used his executive power to officially change the name of the 20,237-foot peak back to Denali, meaning “the high one” or “the great one” in the Athabaskan language. Back in 1896, when apparently anyone could go around renaming things as they liked, gold prospector William Dickey, decided to call the 20,237-foot peak McKinley in support of presidential candidate William McKinley, and the name stuck. Sunday’s reversal is part of President Obama’s attempt to improve relations between the government and Alaska’s native tribes, which has been an issue since the time when it was okay for guys like Dickey to completely shit on the tradition of native cultures.
For reasons that are unclear, many snowboarders familiar with the peak already go with the name Denali, and as splitboarding and snowboard mountaineering have grown, riders like Jeremy Jones, Ralph Backstrom, and Lucas Debari have been drawn to test themselves on the beast. Debari first summited the peak in 2011 on an expedition for The North Face, while Jones used the elevation to get a taste of what riding at 20,000 feet was like before taking on the 21,400-foot Shangri-La for the ender of Higher.
“I think it’s great that they renamed it,” says Backstrom, who was with Jones on his expedition. “I don’t know why they felt the need to change it from what the natives called it. Summiting Denali was a very powerful experience. It’s definitely a mountain that commands respect.”
Take a quick look at Jeremy Jones on Denali in Higher Unplugged Episode 8.