Ski to Win: George Rodney talks Freeride World Tour, big-mountain skiing and Aspen
When Strafe Outerwear’s George Rodney won the Freeride World Tour overall title last spring, it was memorable for two reasons. First, he was only the second American to win during his rookie season on the Tour. Second, it was with one of the most spectacular recoveries in the Tour’s history at its first-ever Alaska venue—a 3,500-vertical-foot wall in Alaska’s Chilkat Range. The 6-foot-6 Rodney is known for slashing technically sound turns, sending huge airs, selecting creative lines and stomping landings. He credits it to his childhood in Aspen.
Currently living in Salt Lake City while attending the University of Utah, Rodney calls Aspen the closest thing he has to a hometown. Growing up in Denver, his family would drive to his grandmother’s condo in Aspen every weekend. Rodney ski raced with the Aspen Valley Ski Club and then transitioned to big-mountain skiing with Breckenridge’s Team Summit. Before joining the 2016 Freeride World Tour, he spent most of December 2015 skiing T-to-B (top to bottom) Ajax laps in Aspen with a group he refers to as “The Freaks”, which includes Strafe’s Baker Boyd.
Two stops into the Tour, Rodney has yet to podium—a nagging injury has kept him from performing at 110 percent—but he’s having the time of his life exploring Europe. Wearing the Exhibition jacket and Temerity Pant from the brand’s Highlands Collection, Rodney looks to the next competition in Austria, where he says he will “ski to win.”
Walk us through the first two stops of the Tour so far, Andorra and Chamonix.
In Andorra, I had a lot of fun, but the result wasn’t there. I inspected something I thought would go and I skied the line I wanted to ski. It was a really scary line with a massive cliff with a blind entrance and take off. I made a little mistake on the direction I took going off the cliff. That trajectory didn’t work out. One half of a degree in your take off can add 10-20 feet to the cliff. In the air, I knew the direction I took the cliff at needed more speed. I had something else planned at the bottom, but then I just bailed because I didn’t want to end the season—or my life.
In Chamonix, I hurt my knee before the comp. I hurt my right leg a couple years ago. After surgery, I started to favor my left leg and I’ve been favoring it for the last few years. The day before the comp was the first powder we had since we got to Europe. I was sending this jump really big, but the save move I made must have tweaked something in there. From then on, it’s been messing with me. It’s bone stuff, not tendons or ligaments. I was back and forth on what to do. It’s a long season and with what we’re doing, it’s not good to not be 110-percent. I was questioning whether I wanted to compete but the snow came in, it was a beautiful day and the venue looked really fun. I went out there with a plan to ski powder and enjoy the run, but when I got up to the top, this one take off looked really nice. It wasn’t what I thought it was and I landed sideways.
What’s it like showing up in places you haven’t skied and throwing down gnarly lines in front of a crowd?
It’s definitely nerve wracking. You’re told to drop at a specific time. It’s like taking a test. With all the build up and anxiety and preparation… if you don’t do that stuff correctly, you don’t do well on the test. Or you could do everything exactly correct and you might hit a weird pocket of snow and tomahawk or hit a rock no one guessed was there. The face we skied in Chamonix, for a lot of guys it was their third or fourth time skiing that face. One guy who podium’d skied the same line that earned him second place two years ago. I looked at that venue last year, but I had never skied it. And the rookies had never even been to Chamonix, which is a jaw dropping experience in itself.
I’m not going to ski to finish or ski to qualify, I’m going to ski to win.
So why do it?
The feeling you get. When you look at something that even to you seems almost impossible. To come and look at a big mountain like that and be able to trust yourself and know where you’re going and do something that people think is nearly impossible. When you get to the bottom, that feeling is next level. You can’t really get it anywhere else. And as for the Tour, you come over here and travel around Europe. It’s pretty much a huge vacation. We’ve been in Europe a month now. I’ve stayed in four different AirBNBs and a few different hotels. It’s a big adventure. Yesterday, we didn’t know where we were going. We had to figure out where to stay, catch a bus to another country… Now, we’re at a great spot on the mountain in Courmayeur and it’s puking out. When I first woke up today, I thought, maybe I should have just gone home and rested before next stop, but for me its more fun to be in full-on adventure mode the whole time.
What’s the camaraderie like on the Tour?
It’s dangerous, so when everyone gets down safely and the event finishes and no one is heli’d out, you’re just stoked on that. You’re ready for the afterparty. The level of competition is so high right snow. Anyone in the field could win on any day, but there are 10 guys who every time they drop in have an equal chance of winning. It all depends on who picks the best line and skis it the best. If you’re worried about competing against other people, you’ve already lost. It’s just you and the mountain—you’re just skiing against yourself. The North Americans, we have our wolf pack. It changes depending on whoever is competing, but it’s always a group of four or five people. We’re all over here doing the Freeride World Tour, but it’s essentially the European tour, so we’re all in different countries not knowing the language and navigating where we need to be and how to get there. We consolidate our efforts to make renting cars and lodging more affordable.
What is your goal for Tour this year?
I have one more comp for sure. In the Tour, the first three are guaranteed, but you have to qualify for the fourth one, which is Alaska. From there you have to qualify for Verbier. For Alaska, they take the best two out of three. Right now, I have two terrible results. I pretty much have to get on the podium in Austria to qualify for Alaska. I don’t really care. The way I’m looking at it, either I do well and go to Alaska to ski one run in two weeks, or I don’t make it, but I still go to Alaska on my own budget and do as many heli laps as I can afford. I just want to win one event and I’ll be happy. I’m not going to ski to finish or ski to qualify, I’m going to ski to win.
What was your season like before the Tour kicked off in Europe?
I started the season in Utah. I finished the fall semester there and skied at Alta a bunch. I had a mellow schedule, so I got to go there a decent amount early season. When school got out, I headed to Aspen where my parents now live. I came back just for the holidays, but the snow was so good and I can walk to to the gondola from my grandma’s condo, which is easier than driving 30 minutes each way in Utah. So I skied Ajax everyday, T-to-B, with “The Freaks”, most of whom I met through ski racing in Aspen.
How did you meet the Strafe crew?
Mutual friends. Growing up ski racing in Aspen and hanging out there, one thing led to another. I was needing sponsors, and I thought it would be cool to be with a sponsor from as much as a hometown as I have. I met Whit [Boucher, Strafe Outerwear director of marketing] first. As soon as my mom stopped working at Obermeyer, I contacted Whit. I got one kit and just kept doing what I needed to do. I’d tell them if I had any issues with the gear. Seriously, it has just gotten better and better and better. There was a time there when I starting to think maybe I need to find someone like The North Face, but then I talked more with Whit and Pete and John and we came to the agreement that we could grow together and it would be more beneficial to all of us. We can build the brand together and do it how we like. Not to mention, just the quality every year it gets twice as good. Strafe is so much more focused on their tech audience, compared to the bigger brands who really are only focused on their bottom line and answering to shareholders. Strafe is actually building a brand that’s cool and core.
How did growing up spending time in Aspen shape your skiing?
Between the ages of 5-12, we drove from Denver to Aspen every single weekend in the winter. It was three hours up and seven hours back because of traffic. I’d come up to Aspen and it was the coolest place ever. Every single Sunday night I was so bummed and I begged my parents to move there. It was such a special treat. I didn’t live there, so I wasn’t spoiled by it. I know how cool and special it was and I never became numb to it and I’m still not. Of course, the year I moved to Salt Lake for school, my parents got a house in Basalt. I guess they know I’ll always visit.
Strafe | $525
“The Exhibition Jacket is designed to provide full waterproof protection and midweight insulation for cold days without sacrificing breathability. It’s one of the first jackets made from a unique combination of Polartec® NeoShell®, the most breathable waterproof fabric on the market, and Polartec® Alpha®, the first-ever breathable puffy insulation…”
Strafe | $385
“The Temerity Pant is the most versatile pant in the All Mountain Tech collection because of the layering possibilities it allows. Designed for all mountain skiing where added breathability is necessary, the Temerity Pant is cut from a midweight two-way stretch Polartec® NeoShell® fabric, the most breathable waterproof fabric on the market…”
Alpha Mid Jacket
Strafe | $225
“Made with 80g Polartec® Alpha®, the first-ever breathable puffy insulation for active warmth, the AP Mid Jacket is designed to provide the warmth-without-weight and weather resistance of a light puffy, with the breathability of a midlayer for comfort throughout a wide range of conditions. Polartec® Alpha® was developed for U.S. Special Operations Forces and is now available through Strafe. Unlike down or classic synthetic fill, which require the use of “closed” fabrics, Polartec® Alpha® is a highly stable insulation that won’t poke through or migrate…”
Strafe | $110
“The Tech Crew is Strafe’s take on a classic crewneck sweatshirt, with a regular fit and a thin, comfortable, wrinkle-free knit that provides warmth without weight and fast-drying wicking performance…”