How do you describe a two-week ski expedition that involves a 10-hour, 150-mile snowmobile approach, climbing and descending giant, virgin couloirs in pink light from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., in front of Warren Miller cameras, on a Norwegian island 500 miles south of the North Pole, where polar bears are not only large but also hungry?
If you are Reggie Crist, you put it like so: "Usually on trips like this, you go somewhere really far away and basically pretend to go skiing. But not only were the snow conditions legit, the terrain was too. It was one of the coolest ski adventures I've ever been on."
Crist, 41, a three-time X Games gold medalist from Ketchum, Idaho, was joined by expedition mastermind Doug Stoup and promising young ripper Lexi DuPont on the trip to Spitsbergen, an island of about 2,000 people from where North Pole expeditions are frequently launched. The trip included 11 nights ("if you call them nights," Crist said, referring to the seasonal 24 hours of daylight) at a base camp surrounded by "steep, nasty" couloirs, winds that whipped up to 70 mph and two separate dumps of more than a foot of snow.
Stoup organized the trip as a bookend to an Antarctic expedition last fall, part of a combo that will showcase radical skiing on the northern and southern tips of the earth.
The group left on April 26 and returned on May 9. Crist estimated they scored a dozen first descents, almost all of them north-facing couloirs.
"For me, the highlight was going to an area that'd never been skied before," he said.
The group bumped into two other teams of point-to-point tourers, one Italian and one Norwegian, but saw nobody else. Crist said they found an interesting snow texture. "It had some maritime properties, but it wasn't as maritime as Alaska."
They benefited from the howling winds that kept the avalanche danger manageable and deep instabilities at bay. "You couldn't dig a pit deeper than two feet," Crist said, "because it was just concrete."
On their way back to civilization, they bumped into five polar bears in a four-hour period. Mostly the bears waited to nab unsuspecting seals by the water, but a few of them got a bit curious.
"They're not afraid of humans, let's put it that way," Crist said.
Spitsbergen doesn't figure to see much traffic, ever, but it's no longer a secret. On their way home, the Warren Miller group encountered a team of pro ski mountaineers on their way to explore technical lines in a similar zone.