BD employee Thomas Laakso reports from his ski trip to Antarctica
Thomas Laakso, the Ski Category Director here at Black Diamond, recently returned from an amazing ski trip to the bottom of the earth: Antarctica. Below is his trip report and photos that will surely get you inspired to begin planning your next big ski trip (we know Thomas already is…).
I was most fortunate to take a trip last month to the coldest, driest, highest, windiest, and (I personally would add) most beautiful continent on Earth: Antarctica. I went with polar explorer Doug Stoup and his Ice Axe Expeditions, which each year gathers exploratory skiers from around the world and puts together the most mind blowing skiing experiences of a lifetime.
I joined them early November at the southern tip of Argentina in search of snow at the end of the Earth and to learn more about a few of our new skis and boots in development. However I came away finding much more than just snow, and learning far more than just gear validation.
Our boat left the southern tip of Argentina and crossed the Drake Passage in about 60 hours to arrive at the most beautiful year round winter wonderland in the world. Though the Antarctic continent itself qualifies for all those extreme descriptors above, the peninsula offered up the most hospitable of conditions. The coldest continent?? We enjoyed the most mild of springtime temperatures, peaking to mid-40F during the day. Driest continent?? Enough to be qualified as a desert?? Not on the peninsula at least, where we enjoyed fresh powder on some days and corn on the others with a base that was probably a few hundred to a thousand feet thick in most places. Windiest?? I’ve never seen more beautiful reflections of dramatic peaks shimmering in the still water. Highest?? I believe that statistic is boosted from the continent itself where the average thickness of ice covering the continent is some 9000 feet!
Beyond the mind-boggling couloirs, the new and old friendships forged, and the insane beauty that surrounded every descent, what else did I find or learn?
• I learned that I have a new favorite bird that doesn’t fly. Penguins are the most graceful bird in the water and quite hilarious on land. And though their skin is a shimmery and beautiful shine, up close they really stink. We were surrounded by Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins throughout the trip.
• I learned that a leopard seal has the ability to blow snot 10 feet with quite good precision. I also learned—very ignorantly—early on in my trip research that there are NO polar bears in the Antarctic, and the leopard seal plays that similar top of food chain role. We also saw plenty of elephant seals, fur seals, and Weddell seals
• I found that every day I had to hold an imaginary globe in my hand, point to the bottom and explain to myself, “You are here.”
• I learned that the protection of Antarctica is governed by a treaty that is set to expire in 2041
• Whoever said “light is right” is not carrying enough water. To each, their own, but I just don’t understand some skier’s anorexic gear concerns. Why be so concerned about grams in skis, boots, and bindings if it has little relevance in being able to spend eight hours a day comfortably in the mountains? Carrying enough water and having comfortable boots with a long stride and efficient tour mode by far outweigh any benefit of a few hundred grams in gear compromise and is really what allows you to ski and climb with confidence for a full day. More on this and why we think you shouldn’t have to compromise performance to gain overall efficiency next month…
I have been fortunate enough to have more than my deserved fill of “best day evers”. But somewhere along this trip of a lifetime and Day 5’s sequential “best day ever!” proclamations I came to the realization that this was fundamentally impossible. Is each day truly the most incredible skiing experience I’ve had and it just keeps getting better? Or is there a skier’s natural defense mechanism which rewards for a short memory, which by 9am of each morning, to prevent sensory overload, my mind would flash “insufficient memory, beginning physical memory dump” in order to take in what was happening to us? Like the icebergs we continually saw born from the calving glaciers, this massive ski experience had better start melting from the skiing nirvana it was, or I might as well hang it up now. Or connect with Ice Axe Expeditions for another epic elsewhere.
— Thomas Laakso