South America Snow Sessions co-founder Skylar Holgate is about as close to a mountain man as you can get. Born and raised in Durango, Colo., he spent his early days bouncing between his job as a mountain guide in the rugged San Juans of Southwestern Colorado, working a terrain park in Telluride and being an all-around Leadville-based Summit County rider. When Silverton Mountain went into operation in 2002 and needed guides, Holgate was a perfect fit. At the time, he was tiring of the jib-focused tiddlywinks of Breck and was happy to move back to his home turf to help pioneer what has become one of the more unique lift-accessed ski hills in the States. He is "the man" in that region and has a list of accolades to prove it.
Shortly after he started big-mountain guiding in Silverton, a chance encounter in Argentina brought about the idea to start a snowboard camp in the Southern Hemisphere. The idea turned into South America Snow Sessions, possibly the most unique shred camp of its kind. SASS now boasts more than 500 campers and an experience unlike any other, with the most enticing perk being able to ride full-blown powder in August!
And in between Colorado and Argentina, Holgate spends the shoulder season guiding in Alaska. Add that up and you got a lot of days on snow.
ESPN.com: Tell everyone what Silverton Mountain is about; what's so cool about working there?
Skylar Holgate: Every day there is different. I don't know if I am going to be out on a patrol route with explosives trying to open terrain up to the public, or with a film crew taking them to a zone in the helicopter. The mountain has grown a lot since I started working there. I mean, in the beginning the trees were big and scary terrain. As we got more and more comfortable, we started venturing off further. And in the last couple of years [we've started accessing terrain with] a helicopter -- it's insane.You are kind of the pro snowboarder's guide in that zone, eh? Who all have you worked with?
Everybody from Warren Miller to Mack Dawg, all of the different magazines, ski and snowboard, crews from Europe, you name it. I think my freestyle background made me the guy that film crews are most comfortable with.
What's the story with South America Snow Sessions?
I went down there in '03 because my sister was living in Las Lenas, Argentina. I was actually riding in the backcountry and ... I saw this guy building a giant jump with a snowcat. I went over and introduced myself and it turns out he was American and explained to me this vision he had and what he was trying to do. I told him my background guiding and we hit it off. That was John Wilbur, who is now one of the owners of SASS. [The camp] went from five to 15 campers those first two years, then we moved to Bariloche and now we're doing anywhere between 500-700 campers.
Where are the campers from?
All over the world -- Canada, the U.S. and Europe. It's mostly teens, film crews and a lot of kids that compete, but we also have a lot of people who just want to vacation and ski powder. It's definitely an intermediate to expert clientele. Our mission is to get these kids who are stuck in that X Games mentality, you know "gotta beat Shaun if I wanna make the big bucks ..." We take them out into the backcountry and teach them avalanche awareness and how to go about riding the backcountry. We also teach the inside stuff like how to build jumps, how to work with photographers, how to be a photographer, and kind of introduce them to another world of snowboarding -- the one that people like you and me are accustomed to. We try to show them all sides of shredding at a high level.
Every day something different is going on within the different coaches and crews. For instance, today Chris Coulter is going to go build a jump, MFM is setting up a step up, I am going to go ride powder in the trees, another guide is going to go for a hike and ride lines. So the campers decide what they want to do and a bunch of different crews roll out.
What's going on with you and Alaska?
That's another thing going on with Silverton Mountain that [founder/owner] Aaron Brill started up. It's called Silverton Guides. The last three years we've been doing private heli trips in Alaska. We have done stuff all the way from Valdez up to the Northern Chugach and all the way out to the Tordrillos. It definitely is a different experience -- as opposed to showing up [to a traditional Alaska heli op] as a client and getting taken to the same client runs that the average operation takes you to. There is no competition in what we do. It's all virgin terrain that we hit -- full-on exploratory missions. Few people have ventured out into these regions.
What's the response from those hard-core guys up there that run the other heli ops?
We don't really step on their toes at all. The thing is, they need the infrastructure of a town to support their businesses, and with that comes a limitation in terrain they can hit. But we are in a position to fill another niche up there because we are a mobile unit. What Brill figured was that by renting some motor homes we could just drive the highways and set up shop wherever. This gives us options [to pick and choose terrain all around Alaska] that no other operation can offer.
So from guiding in Silverton all winter to Alaska in the spring to Argentina in the summer, how many days do you ride a year?
Well, I also do a backcountry thing with Aaron Dodds in Silverton at a place called Treasure Mountain Hut. It's nice, nicer than my place in town. We offer exclusive trips -- we can take the thinking out of the backcountry for clients and have things dialed for them to hit when they come out. So I guide Silverton four days a week and then run trips at the hut the other three. Between all of that I get 250-270 days on snow.
It gets hectic. My mom thinks I'm crazy, but I love it. I gotta thank people at The North Face, Dakine, Smith Optics and Venture snowboards for helping me out big-time, their support is key to what I do. All I want to do is shred the next cool mountain and given that opportunity I am going to jump on it.