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Skiing at the bottom of the world

Tracey Flower
newsroom@vaildaily.com
VAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily/Doug WorkmanChris Davenport ventured to the bottom of the world in search of the ski lines of his dreams and discovered a place of breathtaking beauty. His team's journey is documented in his latest film "Australis: An Antarctic Ski Odyssey."
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Imagine making a first descent on the ski line of your dreams. Now imagine that line is on the side of an iceberg on the Antarctic Peninsula and below you are the clear, pristine and startlingly cold waters of the Waddington Bay. Picture yourself there and you can start to get an idea of what it was like to be Chris Davenport during the production of his latest ski film “Australis: An Antarctic Ski Odyssey.”

“Standing on top of the first descents we pioneered on the Antarctic Peninsula is an out-of-body experience,” Davenport wrote in an e-mail. “We were constantly mesmerized by the beauty of our surroundings, while simultaneously focused on the serious and challenging skiing.”

Davenport, who lives in Aspen and has been featured in more than 20 ski films, will screen “Australis,” at Donovan Pavilion in Vail on Thursday to conclude the Vail Symposium’s Winter 2011 Unlimited Adventure series. Davenport will speak briefly about the film and will take time to answer audience questions. He will also present “Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America,” his latest book about the most iconic and aesthetic ski descents from Alaska to Mount Washington.

Davenport, who is considered one of the world’s most accomplished big mountain skiers, first ventured to Antarctica in 2008 on a 12-day ski cruise in search of his next big adventure. He knew immediately that he wanted to go back. ” I didn’t know what to expect,” said Davenport in a phone interview. “It wasn’t until I got down there and saw the possibilities that I decided I needed to go back with more time, a smaller boat and a more flexible schedule.”

And he knew he wanted to film his return. “I wanted to share the stories and the beauty of the place,” Davenport said. “My goal was to capture the essence of Antarctica.”

So he put together a 10-person team, including fellow pro skiers Stian Hagen and Andrea Binning and on Nov. 23, 2009 they boarded a 75-foot sailboat called the Australis – the film’s namesake – and set out on a 26-day expedition to the bottom of the world.

The trek to the Antarctic Peninsula requires crossing the Drake Passage, the body of water between the southern tip of South America and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It is known as the roughest patch of ocean in the world. “It was really one of the most interesting parts of the journey,” said Davenport about the nearly four-day trip. “I’ve never experienced such a sense of remoteness.”

That feeling of remoteness lingered throughout the trip and ensured that Davenport and the rest of the crew were keenly aware of how far away and alone they were skiing and filming on the sides of those icebergs.

“Often times we ski in places where you can be rescued and can afford to take risks, there was none of that down there,” Davenport said. “Down there there’s no way to get back in a hurry; even something like a broken leg can become life-threatening so we really had to dial down the risk.”

There’s a lot of careful planning that goes into filming in a place where risk management is the top priority.

“Each day was a new day of planning and therefore a new adventure,” Davenport said. “It’s a lot different than, say, heli-skiing where you can just fly around to figure out where you’re going to go.”

And even after all that planning things often changed once the crew was maneuvering the side of an iceberg, as Davenport writes about in the trip’s journal, which can be found on the film’s website (www.antarcticskiodyssey.com). The team often found themselves at the mercy of the terrain, dodging falling rocks and rearranging cameramen to stay in the sun, or just to stay in an area they deemed safest.

All that trial and error and painstaking planning resulted in a film where the skiing looks, well, effortless, and the shots reveal scenery of the breathtaking variety. The backdrop is, in fact, so stunning that at times it steals the show from the skiing, and that’s just how Davenport intended it.

“Most ski and snowboard films are almost always simply about the athletes; rarely is a story about the place,” he said. “The skiers are secondary players in this film, which really highlights the epic nature and wildlife around us there. We were recreating as a vehicle to show a part of the world people know little about.”

If remote locations, stunning vistas and immaculate ski lines are your cup of tea then Davenport invites you to join him this fall on his next trip to the Antarctic Peninsula on what he calls “the trip of a lifetime.” The expedition is a 13-day, 12-night ski cruise organized by Ice Axe Expeditions, similar to the one that brought Davenport to Antarctica the first time. Visit http://www.iceaxe.tv/expedition for more information.

Tracey Flower works as a communications associate with the Vail Symposium. She can be reached at info@vailsymposium.org.


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