words and photos: Aaron Blatt
Upon the bird call coming in from SNOWBOARDER Mag Video Director, Trent Ludwig, our crew assembled from all corners of the continental USA to meet in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Hans Mindnich, Alex Lopez, Trent and myself were joined by locals Blake Paul, Mark Carter and Bryan Iguchi to form an eclectic crew of up and comers and legendary veterans. We unloaded our snowmobiles at the first zone last Monday and began to realize how crazy the conditions were. Punching out through deep fresh snow into the backcountry, we finally stopped to check the snowpack. As Alex stepped off his sled he quite literally sank in up to his neck, giving us a good measure for the feet upon feet of snow that had fallen in the last week.
The following eight days were a blur of early mornings, crispy air, gaps, step-downs, step-overs, slashes, and burning gas on our sleds. Toward the tail end of our window we were joined by Nils Mindnich, and our crew set to work on a massive hip build. Cutting block after block of snow from the hillside, day two of building ended with us putting the final touches on an enormous backside hip. Leaving our feature prepped up for a presumably crazy session the next day, we loaded up the snowmobiles as the sun dipped down behind the range. On our ride out, we were all stopped dead in our tracks looking over towards an ominous slide that must have occurred while we were building. With landing tracks from another crew marking the trigger point, the crown of the slide looked to be about 18 inches deep and had slid a few hundred yards across quite a significant amount of the hillside. The avalanche was on the same aspect as our landing to the hip–we knew we were going to have some tough decisions to make in the morning.
The next day we rallied to the trail head at 6:30 AM prepped for the session to go down. There was most definitely a weary feeling throughout the crew. Upon arrival at our feature, Mark Carter took a few minutes to assess. There were red flags all over the map on this one, the largest being that mother nature had warned us with the slide on the same aspect just a few faces from our landing. Watching Mark make the call to not ride the feature was one of the heavier decisions that I've witnessed in snowboarding; it took a lot of respect for the mountain to not reap the benefits of two hard days of work in the backcountry. With the utmost respect for Mark and his assessment, I could see the crew's collective wheels turning. Patience is a hard and valuable lesson that can be learned time and time again in the backcountry, no matter who you are or how long you've been riding and learning from the mountains.
What happened next was a true test of optimism and professionalism: the crew didn't skip a beat and within an hour we had pushed up a sizable step down on a more stable face a few hundred yards away. The session that followed was absolutely insane. Nils was first to drop, cross-courting a solid 100-foot frontside five deep into rider’s right of the landing. Nils lit a fire with that giant first hit and the crew followed suit, Alex Lopez and Carter putting up stylish airs, Blake Paul cruising into the landing with big spins, and the brothers Mindnich continuously going absolutely wild.
The radio chatter, and hoots of excitement were at an all time high–a vast contrast from the vibe a few hours prior. We made an solid decision earlier on as a group, and cruising out as a full crew in the evening with shots in the bag felt better than ever