Ken Block, Zak Hale, and Ethan Deiss Rally at Baldface
Ken Block takes his Ford F-150 RaptorTRAX out to the Baldface Lodge in Nelson, British Columbia to put it to the test as the ultimate backcountry snowboard expedition vehicle, along with riders Zak Hale and Ethan Deiss. Check the full story in our November issue out now, don’t miss an issue and subscribe today right HERE.
Ethan Deiss, Zak Hale, And Ken Block Rally At Baldface
By Ben Gavelda
Vehicles and snowboarding are inextricably linked. They take us to and from the lifts, but rarely do the two mix—unless you're DC Shoes founder Ken Block. Do you remember the antics where he was sending park jumps and ripping donuts with the DC team in his Subaru at Snow Park, New Zealand back in '07? Besides cracking his vertebrae when he overshot one of those jumps, that trip ignited something for Block. Since then, he's always wanted to do something bigger, better, and badder with a vehicle on snow. "I live in Park City and I love to snowboard," he says. "Even though I am a professional racecar driver, my hobby is still snowboarding. So anytime I get to be creative with that and have fun with it, to be able to combine what I do with motorsports, it's just a mix of all those dreams and aspirations." Seven years after the Subaru antics in New Zealand, Block got his chance to bring rally and riding together again, this time with a heavily snow-fortified Ford F-150 Raptor truck and the likes of Ethan Deiss and Zak Hale at Baldface Lodge.
This rally needed two things: a vehicle capable of taking on deeper snow and proving grounds—ideally a snowcat operation, which had a network of roads already built to test the truck and do some shredding. As soon as word got out that Block was working on this truck, Jeff Pensiero, the owner of Baldface Lodge, reached out. "I saw a Facebook post that had a picture of the RaptorTRAX and just felt an urgent need to see that thing rip around the cat roads at Baldface," says Pensiero. After making a generous offer in a comment, responses to his post lit up and he got a call at 8 p.m. that night from Block himself. "He had apparently been a fan of mine for years and said that the Mountain Lab [Block's private park set up] was a big inspiration to him and creating Baldface," says Block.
With a location set, it was time to build out the truck. Block and his Hoonigan racing crew started with a Ford F-150 Raptor and began modifying the suspension, chassis, and drivetrain to handle the weight of a set of Mattracks. These individual gearbox mechanisms replicate snowmobile treads and are mounted in place of wheels. After pulling off unnecessary parts, some heavy suspension work, adjusting the gearing, adding a roll cage, and tacking on a supercharger to the 6.2-liter V8, this hoss was safer, stronger, and pumping out 600 horsepower. Once the mechanics were dialed, it was onto the finer bits and things that might aid a group for a day of backcountry snowboarding: additional high-powered LED lights, a winch, fender flares, a skid plate, raised bumpers, a Yakima roof basket and snowboard racks, Recaro racing seats, a cooler, and barbeque. "We really thought the thing through as best we could for going into the backcountry and spending the day riding and shooting," says Block. "We were really able to supply it with everything that we needed." With the beast built it was time for the long haul up to Nelson, BC where Baldface is based. On the journey, however, the truck was burglarized in Missoula, Montana and all of the crew's snowboarding gear and some expensive equipment was stolen. Fortunately, the incident didn't slow down the operation.
Neither Ethan Deiss or Zak Hale had been to Baldface and they had no idea what to expect. "I was really nervous because I knew this was going to be a whole production with helis, REDs [cameras], the whole nine, and I was out of my element in the backcountry," says Hale. "I was just hoping to be able to land in pow."
After the crew assembled the team of guides, sleds, a snowcat, videographer Pierre Wikberg, and photographer Darcy Bacha, it was time to put the machine to the test. Snow conditions were deep and stormy and Block carted Hale and Deiss from spot to spot via the truck-bed mounted seats. "It was insane driving in that thing 'cause Ken knows exactly what he is doing going 60 over a ridge, but in my head I was just scared shitless," Hale remembers.
"It was super scary being strapped in the back of that truck, not being able to see what's in front of you while Ken's flying on top of mountains," says Deiss. "All we saw were cliffs of death on both sides!"
The crew shuttled around Baldface's extensive trail network, sessioning fresh snow throughout the rolling glades, pillows, and cliffs. Since taking such a vehicle into the backcountry was uncharted territory, everything was trial and error.
"We didn’t know what the truck was capable of doing until we tried it," says Deiss. "The first time we sent the truck down the mountain was ridiculous! One of the guides said that we had a 60 to 70 percent chance that the face would slide once the truck dropped in with all the weight. We tried it anyway, and it worked, but it was pretty sketchy riding down a mountain and looking over your shoulder and seeing a monster truck windshield-deep in powder, not knowing which way it was about to turn!"
The mix of riding and driving was a strange experiment. "People have the conception that it will just plow through powder anywhere," says Block. "On the downs, yes, but it won't just drive through powder. It really needs cat track roads built for it."
In contrast to the typically slow and steady cat crawls, the truck transformed these roads into high-speed superhighways to the goods. "It worked, it did most everything that we wanted it to do," says Block. "The only problem is that it struggled on the steeps because of the rubber tracks, which are only built to go on a low-angle snowy road. They weren't necessarily built to dig into deep snow like a snowcat that can climb up the backside of a mountain. That was probably the biggest setback that we had in the four days of shooting up there."
When asked what kind of extra potential a vehicle like this has for a place like Baldface, Pensiero responds: "I think we would still need cats to build the roads, but if we could get a better track on the machine, we could really do some interesting things."
For Block, the trip left him with an urge for further innovation. "I want to keep using this thing and make it better and better so we can genuinely enjoy snowboarding in a different way. I don't see a big industry of people going out and making these kinds of trucks, you know, where you need a cat operation to use them, but I see another option in the future to be able to go out and shuttle in the backcountry."
Will this be a new, boutique way of accessing terrain in the seasons ahead? With dreamers and innovators like these guys, companied with the right location, anything's possible.