"I'd pretty much used up every cent I had. I was eating chips for dinner," says Tim Dutton.
Surviving such as he was (condition: ski bum) it is a minor miracle Tim Dutton even made it to his first big mountain skiing comp, at Kirkwood, the morning of March 19. What happened later and again constitute perhaps the more major of miracles, but this much is clear: The stars started aligning for Squaw's Tim Dutton22, former aerialist, park/pipe skier, mason and current wildlands fire-fighter by summeraround this time, the eve of Kirkwood.
Three things happened (not necessarily astrologically related):
1. "This girl called me up because she couldn't use her comp spot. So I took it," says Dutton.
2. "Garrett Altman, this other guy on the tour, he let me bum off him. So I drove over from Squaw with him."
3. "And this PR lady, Savannah from Squaw, she let me crash on the floor of her hotel, and she got me a couple tickets."
With everything set just so then, Dutton went out and dominated, winning Days 1 and 2. This naturally led to a lot of folks wondering, Who is Tim Dutton?!
Post-Kirkwood and pre-Alyeska, Julien Lopez had this to say about that: "Tim Dutton is a young man who kills it. He is a very good skier coming from Squaw, I think, and that's all I know. I didn't know him before. He had a good line. He came all the way from the qualifier."
But Dutton wasn't through. Though not technically the guy with-nothing-to-lose anymore, Dutton converted his Kirkwood winnings ($5,000) into a plane ticket and hotel for the final stop of the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour, at Alyeska, Alaska. And he won again. Of course he didthis is a fairytale, after all.
Ten grand richer and incognito no more, Dutton (2-0, lifetime) was back home at Squaw last week. In an interview with ESPN Freeskiing, the guy who has become the big mountain skier to beat walks us through a genuine fairytale winter (replete with his own photos).
ESPN Freeskiing: "Where did you come from?"
TIM DUTTON: "I grew up in Squaw and Tahoe City, bounced back and forth."
Kirkwood, why, how? "I coached for the Squaw freestyle team last year and one of the coaches was always encouraging me to sign up for one of these comps. But I got the spot for Kirkwood randomlythis girl called me up... That's pretty much how I ended up in that one."
Coaching this year? "No, I took a year off from it. I used to be an inverted aerialist, so I know a lot of the mechanics of that, so they thought I could help their freeride and freestyle kids with their aerials, so that's how I got that position. ... I competed in aerials for years and then I moved into the whole U.S. Open halfpipe, slopestyle scene, but I stopped doing that when I was 17."
You retired at the top? "Not really. I never won the events or anything, never qualified for the X Games, nothing really special."
So, again, Kirkwood, why? "I just wanted to see where I stood with these guys and everyone's always telling me how fun the comps are and the Cirque at Kirkwoodthat's a closed area. So just being able to get in there and ski that venue, that was good enough motivation for me to get in there, to ski on terrain you never get to ski on a regular basis..."
The terrain was to your liking then? "Yes. I qualified in like 17th, but that wasn't on the Cirque. But then we got up to the Cirque and I picked a line that worked out pretty good for me."
Nice one, rookie. "I was definitely surprised. There's a lot of good athletes on the tour, frickin' rad rippers. I couldn't really see from the top on the second day but Julien [Lopez] sent that cliff at the bottom and stomped it. I could hear the crowd cheering and I was like, 'He just took the event.'"
Some funny looks afterwards? "Yeah, definitely. Some weird vibes going on. But some kids knew my past and what I was about. So like Nick Greener, I went to the Utah Winter Sports School in Park City with him when I was younger, so he was psyched to see me, psyched to see I was still ripping. But he was the only kid, him and Corey ZillaI used to ski in the U.S. Open with that kidand then a couple of the dudes from Squaw."
Right, what's up with this kid? "It was like, 'Wow, this kid kinda came outa nowhere.' But I really don't even know what those guys were thinking about at that point. 'Damn, dude,' I guess ... The judges were saying, 'Why haven't you been coming to the tour all year? What, just show up at Kirkwood, like you f---ing rip dude, that was a solid run...'"
And the decision to parlay your winnings into a trip to AK? "It was just enough money to get me up to Alaska. I got a nice deal on a flight and hotel on Orbitz, and pretty much used that money to pay some bills and go to Alaska."
Regular job? "I fight forest fires in the summer."
Smoke jumper? "No, I'm on a Type I hand crew. We cut line with polaskis and hoes and chainsaws and do back burns, like we'll cut a line and then do a back-burn and stop the fire from coming through our line. It's like in between a con crew and a hotshot crew."
What's a con crew? "Like convict, the prison crews."
Right. How many summers working the polaski then? "I just did it last season, my first season. I used to be a mason before that."
Sponsors? "I ski for Lib Tech, Voile and a local shop out of Tahoe called Porters Tahoe, and Hemp Hoodlambrecycled hemp clothing, bamboo clothing, really good for the Earth, and they make street clothes..."
Your skis appear to be as long as your poles are short. What's up with that? "I think the poles are 32's. They come up to my waist, perfect for reaching to the backside of those bumps. My skis are the Lib Tech Re-Curvs 191's with Magnitractionthe best ski ever. Not sure on the exact dimensions, but they're fat."
Doesn't Lib Tech make snowboards? "It's a snowboard company and they just started making skis. It's got some new technology, it's recurved and it's got bumpy edgesthe magna traction. And, man, they rip. When you get into gnarly chunder you're still making that nice carving turn..."
Discuss Re-Curve. "It's regular camber under foot, but the ski is flat from about the back of your binding to the tail and from the front of the binder to the tip. I couldn't even believe it all when they first were telling me about it, like 'What are you guys talking about?' But really it's perfect for smashing in the pow and then getting on groomers to get back to the lift for another one like you do."
Are more sponsors lining up? "Yeah, you know a couple poeople have called. Pretty much stuck with the sponsors I've got now, and Lib Tech and Voile kick ass and they're really supportive. But I've been talking to some other guys too..."
Almost no one knew you at Kirkwood, but the situation was reversed in Alaska. "Everyone's really tight on the tour and I was the new guy. So I split right afterward [at Kirkwood] because it was dumping and I wanted to go skiing back at Squaw. But in Alaska we had some down days and found that common theme among ski friendstrying to get snow thrown in your faceso now I definitely feel like I've made some new friends."
Approach in Alaska, comp wise? "After looking at those venues I pretty much came to the conclusion that just being back in Alaska was good enough for me. And then we had epic powder. So my game plan was just to try and out-jump everybody everyday. Small venue, not many options, so I was just trying to go into something faster than everyone else and go further. ... Wait, did I even answer your question?"
So it all worked out? "Yeah, it did, thank God. If it wasn't for the first day I wouldn't have finished first. I got like fifth the second day."
Everyone has an off day. But not everyday does an off day earn you another five grand. "I know, no way right. I was stunned. ..."
"I had a friend die on Christmas Day in an avalanche. So I figured it would be a good time to get some knowledge about the mountains. I didn't know how to use a beacon or whatever else. So I went to guide school in Alaska for the month of February and pretty much used up every cent I had. I was eating chips for dinner after that..."
And then the Kirkwood miracle? "Garrett Altman, this other guy on the tour, he let me bum off him. So I drove over to Kirkwood with him. And this PR lady, Savannah, from Squaw, she let me crash on the floor of her hotel and she got me a couple tickets. So I was just bumming. But those guys helped me make it through that."
Did you drive back with Garrett? "No, two of my friends from home came and surprised me to watch, so I ended up driving back with them that night. Me and Garrett actually stayed together in Alaska. I was like, 'You're staying in my room this time, because you got me through Kirkwood.' And Savannah, she's just a sweetheart. I'll have to buy her dinner or something."
After two wins and two events, where did you end up overall? "Third."
Insane. "Yes, it is. It worked out pretty good."
More events next year? "Yeah, definitely. There's still a long ways for me to go on the tour, I still want to win a Sickbird. And that's what I want to do with skiinggoing to new places and skiing new stuff. It's one of the few things I really enjoy in my life, so I'm just gonna keep doing it regardless."
"I really want to get to that Sochi event in Russia, but it's total invite-only, so I would definitely enjoy getting a call from those guys and getting to go to one of their competitions."
You should call them. "Yes, probably. With the Freeride World tour, it's more like those guys do it for a living. They love it, of course, but they're all making money doing it. But with the Freeskiing World Tour, these guys are doing it because they love skiing. They work for the summers so they can go to these venues to ski with other sick athletes. The other one, it's serious big-time stuff. Those guys don't have summer jobs. They ski for a living. The Freeskiing tour is more the ski bums, you know."
Guys like, well, you? "Yeah, right, I guess so."
What happened with your friend who was killed? "Randy Davis. He coached on the freestyle team at Squaw also. He was a great aerialist and all-around great kid. I went to high school with him and grew up skiing with him. It was a sad loss for everybody here at Squaw."
Then you went to Alaska, the first time, to learn more about the backcountry. Explain? "It was with Alaska Heliskiing and they hire out some of the gnarliest dudesavalanche specialistsand they get all intense about snowpack. And especially for me, I don't know much about avalanches, but it's gnarly stuff and I needed to hear that. And now I've got some medical training too and if something does happen, we know how to use our beacons and we can get our friends out. I don't really need to loose any more of my friends to stuff like that..."
Were you involved in the avalanche with Randy? "I wasn't with him. It was Christmas morning."
Tough winter for Squaw. "It definitely has, man. We've lost a lot of good people this year. Andrew, a ski patrolman; I was in Alaska the first time when that thing ripped out. Andrew was a great guy, a really good ski patrolman, and he kept this mountain safe for us for a lot of years."
Did you know Shane McConkey? "I'd come across him a lot at Squaw. I wish I could've known him better. But growing up here, he was always my hero, the guy I looked up to my whole life. He changed the sport of freeskiing and, on top of that, he was a good guy, a good husband, a good dad."
Some tragedy to go with success then. "It's pretty much for the love of the game. No holds barred. Shane went out everyday and skied like it was their last, same with Randy. They did it for the love of the game and they'd want us to keep doing the same."
When does skiing give way to fire fighting? "I don't have to start working until May 18th, and I'm going to a slopestyle event at Sugar Bowl. Then maybe to a beach to try and learn how to surf, then back to Squaw until they don't let me show up anymore."
When does Squaw close? "They're shooting for May 10th right now."
Do you have a blog? "I post blogs on the Porters Tahoe site, but no website for myself, yet, at least. Computers confuse me."