Twenty years later, Jamie Lynn and Bryan Iguchi return to show Pat Moore Valdez, Alaska
This feature originally appeared in the December edition of TransWorld SNOWboarding and has been updated with the photo gallery and extended captions. Subscribe here.
Words: Pat Moore
Photos: Tim Peare
Ovvvvvvvver the mountain..." The lyrics sung by the legendary Ozzy Osbourne blare through the headphones as we lift off from the Alaska Snowboard Guides (ASG) camp on Thompson Pass.
This is my first Valdez experience, and as if my nervous excitement isn't overpowering enough, this song perpetuates gnar into the soul of any snowboarder who's appreciated the heaviness of the Valdez section in Standard Films' TB5. As the Eurocopter B2 carries us up glacial rivers, the cracked ice turns to rolling snowfields and the first glimpse of the famous ramps and historical lines send goose bumps over my body. The mountains are freshly caked and the spines are fat. Any ego of mine dissolves, and I find myself back in the rookie seat. After leading a film crew for Blueprint 2 over the past winters, I change my role from head honcho to student. I look over at my teammates, Bryan "Guch" Iguchi and Jamie Lynn, who were both in that famous TB5 section nearly 20 years ago. And as they scan the surroundings for rideable terrain, I realize I have no say in the matter--I'm just along for their ride.
The last few days were spent hanging around the ASG camp and in Valdez, mostly doodling, listening to Jamie play guitar, eating wookie waffles, and drinking beer. Valdez, once a major boomtown of the Alaska Pipeline construction, is your typical Alaska fishing village nestled in a harbor of Prince William Sound. The town's population has since deflated and the streets lie quietly. Our boredom is interrupted whenever an old memory sparked a story, usually from our guides, Dan Caruso or Dave Geis. These guys are in Valdez for the long haul. Dave has been riding here for 16 years, and Dan's spent the last 20 among these peaks as a guide. Most of the stories revolve around how the Valdez snowboard scene took shape and the guys who put it on the map. When I asked Dan about how it began he said, "Well, it all pretty much started in 1991 with the World Extreme Snowboard Championships organized by the Valdez Chamber of Commerce and a dude named Mike Cozad who owned the Tsaina Lodge back then. It ran parallel to the World Extreme Skiing Championships. The next year, or two years later, Nick Perata took it over and it became the King Of The Hill. Tex Davenport won the '91 comp over [Shawn] Farmer--they were pretty out of control then. KOH was a little better run, and the heli transport was better. Steve Klassen, he owns the Wave Rave shop in Mammoth, won all the comps and was by far the most influential big-mountain rider ever. He went to Verbier [Switzerland] and won those comps too in '95, '96, '97."
Dan fires off statistics faster than my brain can compute--most guides I've spoken to have this type of encyclopedic memory, probably a benefit of their daily note taking in the field. He's scribbled a lot of notes over 20 years, starting as the first guide on a board back in '95, working for the famous Doug Coombs (RIP). Back then they were bagging first descents daily with the likes of Klassen, Craig Kelly, and Tex Devenport. He doesn't blush when he says most of the first descents are his own.
A lot of these stories fly right over my head because I'm basically a child compared to the group. At 28, I'm at least a decade younger than everyone else, but it's so surreal to see legends like Jamie and Guch geek out on stories of the guys they used to look up to.
As we gain elevation and the song ends, I truly get an appreciation for the terrain. Our guide Dave starts rallying off names of peaks and famed runs like Tusk, The Books, and Meteorite that we can see on the horizon. I sit in awe as he explains lines that look inconceivable to me, and he laughs at my expression when he says many of them were taken down decades ago. To actually see these lines in person makes me wonder if the past 10 years of filming has equipped me for this massive scale.
We fly by our first runs of the day, and with a brief look out the heli window and a couple instructions to the pilot, I'm getting dropped off on a peak solo. Guch has found a wider run to rip alongside Jamie. The week before our arrival brought roughly 10 feet of fresh snow to the mountains, and I feel uneasy strapping in on a run that has about the same vertical feet as the entire White Mountains back in New Hampshire. After a nervous piss and word that Jake Price is harnessed in for the first shots of the trip, I crank the last couple clicks of my ankle straps. The horizon of the run blends with the opposing face, and after the five-minute wait, I've completely forgotten what my line looks like. The heli flies overhead on a test lap and then the radio chirps my signal to drop. I turn lightly into my first Valdez ramp. The convex roll doesn't give me any cues to my whereabouts, but as I crest over the consistent 45-degree pitch, it opens into a perfect view of my line. The bottomless turns don't stop, just one after another, as I gain confidence and speed. I blast in and out of the white room, and after surfing down 2,500 feet, my turns become more elongated and my speed increases, just in time to hook up on the harder snowpack and throw me over the nose. As I find my feet and my goggles, embarrassment takes over as I look up to the film crew's birds-eye view of my ragdoll just from turning.
Luckily, I was on a mellow warm-up run, and a quick trip over the bars wasn't the deciding factor of my life, but it was an awakening to how quickly conditions can change depending on elevation and slope. Now I don't expect to show up as a virgin and get a first descent or anything. I'm from the small, icy parks of New Hampshire, so my only goal on this trip is to progress my own snowboarding, which is a total luxury.
Talking with Jamie and Guch, they recall their first trip here as terrifying, only riding the gnarliest stuff they could find to make it into their parts. Competing with guys like Johan Olofsson and Noah Salasnek must have been overwhelming, but that energy progressed big-mountain riding so much in the mid-'90s.
Standard Films founder, Mike Hatchett, worked Valdez hard with the crew back then. "April of '96 sticks out in my mind especially of the 10 seasons I spent there," he says. "Johan Olofsson and Noah Salasnek were really pushing the limits of what you could ride, how fast you could ride it, and ride it with style. I am so stoked to have had the opportunity to film a bunch of those lines. Johan was bombing lines so fast and riding parts of the terrain like it was a skatepark. Noah was riding the steep spine lines so smooth. There were no crowds at that time, and you could fly anywhere you wanted to. They hadn't divided up all the terrain to the different heli operators yet. We would just get in the heli and fly way out to find the steepest spines and lines we could see." These sessions brought some of Standard Films' most iconic shots, such as Noah's first descent down Super Spines and Johan pointing it down 3,000 vertical feet in 35 seconds.
Sitting at the bottom of the run, overly excited for my next ride, but still kind of embarrassed, I watch as Jamie and Guch rip together down a face. As they pull opposite figure eights, white rooming each other every other turn, their knowledge changes that fear I was feeling into pure stoke. "I used to look at it as a life-or-death test--you're going up there and saying your good-byes because you might not come back type of a trip," Jamie explains. "But after getting the chance to experience it a couple times, I realized if you block out the massive scale of the run you're on and really just dissect what's in front of you, its like taking a hundred powder days and combining them into one run."
Those words couldn't be truer. The riding is like nothing I've ever felt before, each run producing turn after turn of perfect snow. The carves were so deep it was like a dog afraid of his own tail. "I kept looking up because my turns were making shadows around me!" Guch says with a grin at the end of one run. "I thought it was a huge slide behind me!" It is pure insanity.
A 12-hour day goes fast out in the field, and the conditions turn Dave into a full powder fiend, herding us back into the bird as quickly as possible to fill his addiction. Watching the guides ride is an insight into how it should be done as Dave and Dan battle on who can ride the lines with fewer turns, a foreign concept to me. I guess my technique represents more of a resort rider, gaining speed to gash as much spray for one turn, but lacking the flow into the next. After seeing their smooth, fast approaches it makes a lot of sense, and after that I try to emulate them.
Snowboarding is all about adaptation. As you ride your local park, you adjust your speed depending on how the snow feels. Or when you go somewhere new, you have to learn how the park flows or the pitch of a new halfpipe. In Valdez, my snowboarding turned into survival. In one instance, I dropped first of the group and started the line fast to hook a big spray on the sunny side of a spine. At the top of the spine, the snow was cooked and my epic pow spray turned into me hop-checking on my heel edge. No big deal, except the end of that spine dropped away with a 20-foot cliff and rocks below--that small error could have left me in bad shape.
By the end of the trip, my snowboarding had adapted, my turns felt more concise, and my speed felt more controlled. As I ride natural terrain, I usually find myself second-guessing what's below, but as we rode more and flew more, my memory strengthened along with my confidence. It's hard to take away everything from the unsaid knowledge of such experienced riders. "Slow is fast" and "less is more" are concepts you can't explain to someone whose heart is palpitating at the top of a run--it's something you have to learn for yourself.
Toward the end of our three bluebird days, we felt satisfied with what we captured. Instead of the typical jump shots I'm used to, we logged a lot of big lines and countless turns. The footage from our biggest runs were reminiscent of the old-school fly-on-the-wall shots I remember from past videos along with newer POV and on-slope angles. It was cool to see how the newer cinematography enhanced the riding, yet the timeless styles of Jamie Lynn and Bryan Iguchi remind me so much of that '90s era. We even rode some untapped terrain, a ramp near Terje Haakonsen's first decent on 7601, which Dan said he'd always wanted to ride but the heli landing never seemed to work. Dave had the first ride on it about a week earlier but hadn't named it. I suggested "The Smurfs" after the Volcom guide jacket everyone was rocking. We'll see if it sticks.
As our heli time ran out and our daylight dwindled, the whole crew gathered to lap some lines together with no cameras. These few runs are what I will take away in the memory books of this trip. We followed each other down again and again, just high as hell on life. I spent my time spraying everyone I could, and the camera guys were sending it once they got their outrageous packs off their back. And I swear to God, on our last run of the trip, after everyone herded together to heli back to real life, we all glanced up to witness Jamie throw out one of his classic methods. The entire crew was ecstatic, and as he rolled up alongside us with a huge smile on his face, he said, "Hell yeah, brothers!"