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Sports Illustrated, 1981

Sports Illustrated, Mar 30, 1981, p. 54 - Johnson, William Oscar, "It's Got Its Ups and Downs"

This was probably the first mainstream article about extreme skiing published in the United States. It introduced Chris Landry's oft-quoted definition of extreme skiing: "If you fall, you die." (See couloir-1993-oct-p3.) The article includes extended descriptions of Landry's 1978 ski descent of Pyramid Peak in Colorado and his 1980 descents of Mt Rainier's Liberty Ridge and California's Mendel Couloir. The article also mentions Landry's aborted attempt in 1979 to ski the West Rib of Mt McKinley, which he plans to try again later in the spring of 1981.

Pyramid Peak was Landry's first extreme descent. "A few years ago," he recalls, "I thought of dabbling in extreme skiing, but I really didn't like the idea much. I thought, 'Why turn skiing into a death-defying deal when it's so much fun?' Even downhill racing--you might get banged up bad, but you almost never worried about getting killed. But as time went on and I got into more ski mountaineering, I kind of unconsciously upped the ante. Gradually I got into steeper and steeper stuff. By the time I got up on Pyramid, it was all just part of the logic." Looking ahead, he says, "I don't expect I'll ever really peak. There will always be something I haven't done, something I'll want to try."

The author discusses the short history of extreme skiing, including the descent of the Aiguille d'Argentiere glacier by Andre Tournier in 1939 and of the north face of the Dome du Gouter on Mont Blanc by Emile Allais and Etienne Livacic in 1940. After World War II there was a hiatus, a split between skiing and alpinism that persisted until the first "certifiable extreme-ski descent," in 1967, of the Spencer Couloir on the Aiguille de Blaitiere by Sylvain Saudan. Saudan began this descent by tying himself to a rock with a long rope to overcome the psychological barrier of the first few turns. Once started, he untied himself and finished the run in style. The author discusses other descents by Saudan and by Patrick Vallencant and Daniel Chauchefoin in the Alps and Andes. In the U.S., he describes steep skiing in Tuckerman Ravine and on the Grand Teton by Bill Briggs and Steve Shea. He mentions the deaths of Heini Holzer, Fritz Stammberger and Jean Moran while attempting steep ski descents.

The article includes photos of Chris Landry climbing and skiing Mendel Couloir, Pyramid Peak, Liberty Ridge, and also working as a carpenter in Aspen.

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