I met Vasu Sojitra last Friday while he was hiking up to ski Tuckerman Ravine. He was celebrating the end of his college career at UVM with a pack of friends, a typical thing to do on a beautiful spring day in May. Except Vasu only has one leg!
At nine months, Sojitra had his leg amputated, but he's never looked back. He climbs mountains, hikes and skies, and isn't deterred, although he does say he needs to eat more than your average person.
Listen to the most recent installment of Edging the Xtreme to hear more about the amazing backcountry accomplishments of this extraordinary young man.
Avalanches are serious business. Even a moderate one can knock down trees, destroy houses, and virtually clean out anything in its path. The misconception is that they only happen in the back country. However, last year an avalanche in France wiped out a moving chairlift with 41 people on it.
Here in New England, New Hampshire’s Presidential Range are the most avalanche-prone mountains east of the Rockies. The website for Mount Washington states, “Since 1954 there have been 10 avalanche fatalities and many other avalanche accidents in the Presidential Range. Historical data indicate that avalanche accidents have increased in the past decade, mirroring the national trend in recreation related avalanche accidents in the United States.”
When it comes to avalanche training and information, most of it can be very technical and sometimes hard to understand, but in the last few years, there has been a trend to focus more of the information toward the growing number of recreational and advanced skiers that are venturing off into the backcountry.
Henry Schniewind has been on the forefront of this movement since the late 1980s, after he graduated from Montana State University with a degree in Snow Science.
Armed with a passion for skiing and his degree, Schniewind moved to Val D'Isere, France, where we carved out a niche for himself by creating awareness for vacationers from around the world on the dangers of avalanches.
What started out as an afternoon presentation at a popular bar in Val D'Isere has grown into a full fledged company that does presentations around the Alps and the United Kingdom. What makes Schniewind's avalanche program so different is his focus on providing useable information for the everyday skier that saves lives from the Alps to New England.
His company motto is “Ride Hard, Ride Safe." On his website, where his main theme is “Safety is Freedom," skiers and riders can find information on weather, conditions around the Alps, access his blog and watch videos all designed to keep skiers and snowboarders on vacation safe.
Schniewind is originally from Newton, Mass. and has a teenager's race at Green Mountain Valley School and at Blue Hills. Once an employee of the former Ski Market retail chain, Schniewind has been recognized as a world-wide leader in avalanche safety. He has given over 750 talks and courses in the last 20 years, including presenting at international snow science conferences. He has published many papers and articles, and is motivated by the fact that that nine out of 10 victims of avalanches trigger the avalanche themselves and their injuries could have been avoided.
In the Alps each winter there are an average of 100 deaths per year. And when you add up that figure to the deaths in North America and beyond, it's clear that avalanches present real danger. Henry’s Avalanche Talks (HAT) is an easy-to-understand voice amongst the technical and often complicated snow science information that tends to be distributed by avalanche sites and experts.
Schniewind has been a long-time friend and ski partner of mine for over 30 years and I featured him on my long-running television series Wild World of Winter.
Hear the entire RadioBDC interview with Henry Schniewind on Edging the Xtreme with Dan Egan:
Dominance in sports is an amazing accomplishment, and Shawn White winning his sixth gold medal in the Men’s Super Pipe is monumental.
Sliver went to Japanese Ayumu Hirano, who at just 14 years old, came within just seven points of beating White, who is almost twice his age.
Hirano, when asked why he's so good at a press conference, answered simply, “I don’t know.” For ESPN, it was a perfect ending to another X Games full of non-stop action, high-flying stunts, acrobatics, and crashes.
And ESPN knows why the X Games are so good; it's because people are watching.
In 2012 total attendance in Aspen reached 108,000 and this year, the number is expected to be higher. On Saturday night alone ESPN was reporting 47,000-plus sports enthusiasts in the stands. This year the event hosted over 200 athletes competing in 16 disciplines.
Between ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, action sports have a huge platform and with a record number of people watching, advertisers are happy, fans are thrilled and the X Games will roll on.
For the athletes competing on the biggest stage in action sports, there is very little room for error. They're gambling it all, and, let's face it: these events are dangerous.
In the Men’s Ski SuperPipe, the announcer said noted that every athlete competing in the event has had a major surgery in the last 14 months. In the Women’s Snowboard SuperPipe, two of the television announcers were athletes with injuries: Kevin Pierce has a permanent brain injury and, the other, Gretchen Bleiler, is suffering from a fractured eye socket from a crash during training on a trampoline.
In Snowmobile X, two brothers were injured in different races but on the same jump. Celeb Moore has brain complications and his brother Colten separated his pelvis.
Also, in Snowmobiling, an Australian competitor attempted a backflip Sunday night in the best trick competition and his sled took off into the viewing area. A Colorado man was injured, but not before throwing his 11-year-old son out of the way of the unmanned sled. That's just the tip of the iceberg for injuries, further down on the list are spines, knees and concussions.
However, with a world-wide television audience the X Games have changed the culture of sports forever. There are X Game events this year in Spain, France, Brazil, Germany along with the two in this country (taking place in Aspen and LA).They have transformed sports, changed the direction of the Olympics and produced some of best know athletes in the world today.
Shawn White’s sixth gold medal will make him one of the most sought-after athletes leading up to and during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia next year. Meanwhile, coming up behind him is an entirely new generation of skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and others, led by young talented athletes like Ayumu Hirano, who have better training, coaching and who are willing to risk it all for the fame and fortune of the likes of Shawn White and others.
Aspen is a great place any time of year, but for the last 11 years in late January Aspen comes alive via the power of the X Games! ESPN moved the X Games to Aspen in 2002, and the resort has the contract through 2014. The action kicks off this Thursday, January 24th, and the action is on ESPN from noon to 11pm.
The biggest events are the ski and snowboard half pipe for sure. And this year marks the return of Tanner Hall ... it’s been three years since he competed. Maine’s Simon Dumont (some You Tube footage below) is his arch rival, and together these two guys set the standard of half-pipe skiing in the world. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain their dominance, because today it’s all about the new comers. So look for the Canadian or the French to step it up.
Gone from the competition this year is Skier X and Board X. With very little explanation, the organizers pulled the plug on these two very popular events. Both of these events are now in the Olympics and have grown in popularity around the world from the youth level to the international FIS World Cup. Maybe this is ESPN saying we don’t want mainstream, or maybe it was too much to organize. Whatever the case, you’ll have to watch the Visa Grand Prix or the Revolution Tour to get your fix, both are televised and more information can be found at www.usfreeskiing.com/freeskiing.
The one man who has become the face of the X Games is Shawn White (check out his perfect 100 score from last year's X Games). And yes ... he is back. The only athlete to compete in both summer and winter X Games, White is an icon and a real life action hero. At the Winter Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver, he was the highest endorsed individual athlete there. He continues to perform at an extremely high level and I would not count him out again this year. However, there are plenty of big names to follow including Olympian Louie Vito and New Hampshire’s own Olympian Scotty Lago.
The women’s snowboard field is filled with the biggest names ... and the three American’s Gretchen Bleiler, Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter (video below of her 2011 silver medal run) could be the best of all time. These three have been on top of their game for a long time and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a USA sweep of this event.
For you “sled heads” out there, will be plenty of action. Back by popular demand is SnoCross. This event is a blast with side by side racing, big air and lots of crashes. There is also SnoCross Adaptive racing, which will prove to create a whole bunch of new hero’s and X Game legend’s. Also included in Snowmobile is best trick, freestyle, and speed and style. So put in your ear plugs and look for some wild action.
For the entire schedule of events log onto www.xgames.espn.go.com. The X Games are viewed in over 200 countries and this year Aspen is embracing for over 110,000 fans over the four day event. I’ll be watching for sure, hope you will be too.