Not every teenager who plans a self-guided ski expedition to Asia turns out to be a famous freeskier. But chances are Fabian Lentsch is going to become one. Since renting a campervan with some friends last summer and skiing the highest peaks in Turkey and Iran then summiting a pair of 7,000-meter beasts in Kyrgyzstan -- including one, 23,406-foot Pik Lenin, that he skied -- Lentsch has ridden a hot streak on the freeride circuit. Now 20, the Red Bull-sponsored Austria native qualified for next winter's Freeride World Tour last month with one of the most impressive competition runs on memory, a six-stage series of exposed, high-speed cliff drops in Obergurgl, Austria, one valley away from his home resort of Pitztal. We corralled him recently for an interview, just before he left for a three-week expedition to Russia's Altai mountains.
You were recently laid up with an injury. What happened?
I was filming with Legs of Steel on a huge glacial wall in Pitztal, where my dad is from. I had skied it four or five times just for fun, but always stopped in between, waiting for friends. This time I skied the whole thing in one motion, almost straightlined it. It was like 800 vertical meters [2,600 feet]. The line was finished, but I caught a hidden rock on the runout and took a huge tomahawk. When I lost my right ski, it didn't release immediately and it strained and tore some ligaments around my ankle.
You spent three years trying to qualify for the Freeride World Tour. What was it like to finally achieve that goal?
I actually told myself that if I didn't qualify this year I might stop competing because it was always so hard to combine filming and competing. Last year I was really motivated to get on the tour, but I went too big at every comp and crashed. I knew I had to win in Obergurgl to qualify, and I thought for a week leading up to the competition if I should try to go for it or take a more mellow run. I decided to go for it.
Doesn't every Austrian kid want to be Hermann Maier? How'd you escape the tug of racing?
I raced until I was 11 years old; Hermann Maier and Benjamin Raich were my heroes. But I used to ski off-piste on our lunch break instead of eating lunch. When I was 15, I e-mailed some big-mountain competition organizers and asked to compete, even though you had to be 16. They let me in, and I won both events as the youngest skier there.
Where did you get the idea to ski 7,000-meter peaks?
Both my parents work at the Innsbruck railway station, but my dad started taking me climbing and skiing when I was young. I summited Mont Blanc when I was 13. I had always wanted to check out the mountains in Asia, and we decided to buy a campervan and drive from Innsbruck, because we didn't just want to visit one country. On the way, we climbed and skied Mt. Ararat [Turkey's highest point, 16,854 feet] and Mt. Damavand [Iran's highest point, 18,602 feet] for acclimatization. It took us a month to get to Kyrgyzstan. Then we skied the north face of Pik Lenin on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and climbed Khan Tengri on the border of Kyrgyzstan, China and Kazakhstan.
Where to next?
We are planning a trip to South Georgia Island between Patagonia and Antarctica. I wanted to do it this year but it's so much money and logistics. The sailboat you need to hire is really expensive, and we need it for one or two months. We also thought about buying one somewhere and getting it ready for an expedition, then sailing it down. I hope we can do the trip next summer or fall.