On January 5, 2016

Two passions for pow

By Karen D. Lorentz

Parlor skis were named after the two co-founders that created the line in the basement of a former funeral parlor.

Spectacular fall works for climate change

By Karen D. Lorentz

“Three, two, one  . . . go”

“NO … ugh, ooh, aw, ugghhh…” and the grunts continue until the biggest groans end with an “ah, ugh,” and a “I’m Ok, I’m OK.” The second one seems to be convincing him he is alive.

The hard breathing continues as helicopter whirring is heard in the background. It’s the perfect intro to a new movie, an accidental clip that went viral in less than a month.

We hear and see this cartwheeling 1,600-foot fall thanks to the Sony action cam on Ian McIntosh’s helmet and his being equipped with a microphone and the cameraman filming him for Teton Gravity Research’s new movie Paradise Waits.

The spectacular crash is both as horrifying as it is unbelievable due to the steep terrain and those grunts. (Watch it on YouTube if you missed the television coverage at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvQxVE32BQo.)

Although he is a big mountain and extreme skier for Northface and TGR, McIntosh is a pro skier who prides himself on being careful and knowing what he is getting into.

“This is my life, I don’t have a death wish,” he told The Mountain Times in a 90-minute interview at the recent Boston Ski and Snowboard Expo.

He added, “It was my only fall all season.”

How it happened

After scoping the Neacola range of Alaska, the team spotted Daybreak Spine from the heli and McIntosh was dropped on the ridge. He had studied his line and was maybe 15 seconds into skiing when he fell into an unseen five-foot deep trench.

“The first descent was tough because the light was a huge issue. We only had about 15 minutes of sunlight, which we need for definition of the slope. The biggest issue for me was the shadows,” he explained.

He was skiing his line on a knife ridge when due to a shadow, he dropped into a “five-foot deep trench and tried to get back on my line but couldn’t.”

He lost his skis and tumbled fast down the 55-60 degree slope. “I knew at that point, I was tumbling,” he said, noting he was a flying blob, “struggling and fighting for my life.” The grunts and groans, he adds, were from hitting the hard snow. Miraculously, he was only bruised, no broken bones.

Extreme skiing and snowboarding is big for film. In fact, many like Doug Coombs have died doing what they love as there is huge risk from the terrain and one can die from an avalanche as well as a fall among hard rocks. As a big mountain skier, McIntosh skis for Northface and is featured in movies that showcase incredible steeps. “It’s what I do for a living,” he notes.

The winter of 2014 he was part of a La Grave, France expedition to ski “extreme” mountains for TGR’s film Almost Ablaze. Watching this video clip, you learn a bit more about the pains taken to both study the terrain and figure out how to rip it since they hit over 100 mph in dangerous places as well as as mandatory 255-foot cliff doprs. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RYkapHBVs8)

But McIntosh notes, “I am very cautious and focused on safety. There is no room for error. I am a fit and strong guy. I know how to fall.”

In fact, when he fell and his slough (the snow that moves with him) took over and he knew there was no way to stop, he “pulled my airbag to help prevent against any possible trauma injuries as I tumbled to the bottom.”

Nevertheless, he experienced some “60 somersaults,” with “huge” impacts… it’s “like getting tackled by a linebacker over and over again,” he said.

“I have a life wish and love what I do. I am pushing myself, pushing the sports and things I love. I learn from my mistakes. As a team we analyzed it [the fall] so we don’t repeat it. I don’t care about the video going viral, I care about my life,” he added.

Protect our winters (POW)

From McIntosh’s love of the mountains comes his purpose in Boston: He was at the show to represent his other passion Protect Our Winters, a movement that seeks to protect the powder “pow” he loves.

The nonprofit has formed The POW Riders Alliance, a community of accomplished professional athletes — over 60 tops skiers and riders committed to environmental leadership. They include: Danny Davis, Ingrid Backstrom, Gretchen Bleiler, Kit Deslauriers, Devin Logan, Jack Mitrani, Johnny Collinson, Seth Hill, Kelly Clark, Alison Gannett, Seth Wescott … and the list goes on … all passionate about fighting climate change.

“I love what I do, and I’ve been going to Alaska for 10 years now and have seen massive changes in the glaciers,” McIntosh says, noting that climate change is a reason he has joined pro athletes like Danny Davis and POW founder Jeremy Jones.

“We see glaciers receding so we pay attention because it’s our livelihood. In Alaska I’ve seen glaciers recede hundreds of yards every year … Temperatures are warmer …California has a serious water drought. Greenland is melting. We’re in big trouble. Greenland is a giant glacier. Northface has made movies there. It’s supposed to be cold and snowy but the ice shelf is turning into rivers and lakes… The Arctic is seeing big temperature swings. The ice and permafrost are melting, releasing methane gas, which is worse than carbon.

“The average person doesn’t see this,” he noted of his “unique niche” that allows him to experience climate change impacts in his travels.”

The education of the public and especially the thousands of school students the athletes visit through presentations is where POW comes in. And McIntosh doesn’t just spout facts, he warns about the long-term effects while noting that it is “so hard for humans who live 100 years at best to understand the science of change that has been going on for thousands of years and why it is urgent to act now.”

Actions we all can take

Noting that climate change won’t just affect the livelihoods of athletes and recreational snow aficionados, McIntosh posits the threat of rising seas levels, asking:  “What happens if Manhattan is under water? Where are all the millions going? Will Vermont be overrun with New Yorker refugees coming to Vermont? Imagine if leaf peepers didn’t leave.”

Coastal cities like Boston and Miami will be gone, too, affecting the economy and displacing people, he added, stressing that “people don’t see this on a day-to-day basis” and how “hard it is to get people to change.” Yet he notes that Germany is 90 million people and their power comes from clean energy, solar and wind, despite being cloudy there.

Noting Vermont efforts like Rutland’s becoming “the solar capital,” McIntosh said, “Vermont gets it but the unfortunate factor is that it’s a tiny fraction of the US population.”

He runs through a litany of actions from not transporting coal by trains that create dangerous  “dust-off” into towns along the way to new technologies like heat pumps, geo thermal, and even household light bulbs. From the UN Climate Change Conference/COP21 in Paris to the Clean Power Plan of President Obama, McIntosh stresses there are efforts that people can be part of.

There are even fun ways to support efforts to reduce climate change, he noted, explaining that Ben & Jerry’s and New Belgium Brewing teamed up to create collaborative flavors, Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale and Salted Caramel Brown-ie Ale Ice Cream. Eat, drink and be merry knowing a portion of the proceeds from each product will be donated to Protect Our Winters.

Bottom line, take action

There’s a lot at stake with climate change. There’s a $62 billion industry, supporting over 950,000 winter tourism-related jobs in the US alone (over 12,000 just in Vermont). The threat is warmer, drier winters with the possibility of multi-year droughts forcing resorts and small businesses to close.

The past decade has been the warmest on record, with 2015 the warmest year ever. Meanwhile, the northern hemisphere has already lost a million square miles of spring snowpack since 1970. We’ve all seen the articles, heard the news, and know some are in denial of climate change. But in Vermont, we are experiencing another warmer start to winter that is undeniable.

To learn more about what you can do and how to take action that can help make a difference for all of us, our children, and grandchildren as well as our enjoyment of the winter mountains for snow sports, visit POW’s website (protectourwinters.org).

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