One of skier Chris Davenport’s most vivid memories as a kid was being 13 years old and riding the chairlift at Attitash Mountain in northern New Hampshire, where he was born and raised.
“I was with my friend, Justin Chandler, and we were just having a great day, and we kind of just casually said, ‘Oh, man, wouldn’t it be so cool if we could do this every day?’” says Davenport. “And I just totally remember having this realization of how cool that would be.
“Now, Justin runs the ski club in Telluride, I do what I do, and we both ski every day.”
What Davenport, 44, is “doing” is continuing to cement his legacy as one of the greatest skiers of all time. On May 28, he joined fellow Aspen, Colorado, residents Ted and Christy Mahon in becoming the first people to have climbed up and skied down the “Centennial,” the hundred highest peaks in Colorado, which includes 54 14,000-foot mountains, and the subsequent 46 tallest 13,000-foot peaks (of which there are a 600).
For Davenport, the project began more than nine years ago when, in 2006, he set out and actually achieved the audacious goal of being the first person to ski all 54 Colorado “fourteeners” (14ers) in a single year. Prior to that, Lou Dawson was the only other person to have skied the 14ers, an accomplishment that took him 13 years between 1978 to 1991.
“I applaud what these guys have done,” says Dawson. “In the scheme of Colorado and even North American ski alpinism, I’d definitely rate this ‘first’ of skiing [the Centennial] as a historic event.”
It’s tough to capture just how gnarly, time-consuming, and dangerous this staggering achievement really is. The mountains are remote, often demanding full backcountry expedition tactics to reach. The climbing is often technical and, of course, at altitude. And the descents themselves are often steep and riddled with cliffs. Finally, there’s Colorado’s notorious snowpack, which is known as the “world’s worst” because it is so prone to avalanching.
Skiing just one of the steeper 14ers, such as Capitol (14,137 feet) or Pyramid (14,025 feet), would be considered a major achievement for even the best of skiers. Ted Mahon completed all the 14ers in 2007, and his wife, Christy, finished them off in 2010.
After doing the 14ers, Davenport, a two-time world champion and X-Games medalist, brought his skills to even bigger mountains. He skied Denali in 2007, and Everest in 2011. He was recently introduced into the Ski Hall of Fame, and continues to push the limits of the sport while raising three boys with his wife.
“I’m a big fan of goal setting,” says Davenport. “I always try to come up with something that I can focus my energy and time on.”
The idea to try for the Centennials began in the spring of 2012, when “Dav” and the Mahons were wrapping up a trip to climb and ski every volcano in the Pacific Northwest (they did all but one).
“And we were like, ‘OK, what’s next?’” says Davenport. “And I think Ted said we should try for the 13ers in Colorado, and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s perfect.’ And it’s been such a rewarding project because it’s taken me to all these places in Colorado that I wouldn’t have gone before. That sense of discovery is really powerful, and one of the main motivating things in my life as a skier, mountaineer and climber.”
What’s interesting is how much adventure and difficulty can be found on obscure peaks of “lesser” stature.
“Most of the 46 high 13ers have no extensive documentation about ski routes,” says Dawson, who is also a guidebook author for backcountry skiing in Colorado. “Some were probably first descents. More, a number of the 13ers required expeditionary skiing involving several nights outdoors and approach marches up long, difficult valleys.”
Dav and the Mahons saved perhaps the hardest, and most isolated, mountain for last. Jagged (13,824 feet) in the San Juan Range of southwestern Colorado took a roundtrip total of three days in the backcountry to complete. Upon reaching civilization triumphantly, Davenport wrote that the trip involved “the most heinous exit down the valley of all 100. We are exhausted and happy beyond words. And so grateful to be safe and sound.”
Says Dawson: “Not only are they inspiring in their dedication and skill, but they demonstrate qualities such as teamwork and friendship that are so much more important than how steep you ski or how fast you climb.”
Says Davenport: “What I love about exploration is that every time you go somewhere new, you see, like, 10 other things to do. So, instead of your list getting shorter because you’re checking stuff off, it’s actually getting longer because you’re seeing all this other stuff. … There’s 600 13,000-foot mountains in Colorado. You could just keep going and going.”