Davenport’s online course is a supplemental tool for skiers getting into the backcountry, full of how-to videos, wisdom and stories.
When I called Chris Davenport to talk about his new online backcountry skiing course, he was in Telluride with spotty service, about to hop in a helicopter.
“Hold on a sec,” he said, a couple of minutes into our conversation. “We’re trying to dial a safe transportation plan right now and it’s dumping like crazy.”
That’s Dav for you. Always on the move. Always doing something rad. The 50-year-old Coloradan has carved out a career unlike any other skier—built on skills and smarts—that fills his calendar with guiding and educational opportunities across the globe. So, it was just a matter of time, in this age of technology, until he gathered all of that experience into a virtual course.
Last week, Dav launched a virtual backcountry skiing course through the online educational platform, Crux Academy. It’s $50 and contains 35-plus video chapters, as well as five detailed case studies—covering everything from proper equipment selection, to digging pits, to choosing the right backcountry partners, to traveling courteously around other backcountry travelers.
The course is thorough. Super thorough. But it’s important to know—and Dav couldn’t stress this more—that his course isn’t a substitute for any other backcountry education. It’s simply a modern tool for skiers to increase their knowledge. Curious to hear more, I asked Dav a few questions. Then he hopped on the heli and flew to the next adventure.
Right out of the gate, I think it’s important to acknowledge, especially at this moment in time, how dangerous backcountry skiing can be. I’m wondering if you can share a story that sheds a bit of light on that reality…
Yeah, in 1999, myself, Seth Morrison, Wendy Fisher and Dean Cummings were filming in Chamonix, France, for the movie which would become Global Storming with Matchstick Productions. It snowed a lot in a couple of days so when the weather cleared, it was like, “Oh my God. Bluebird pow. Let’s go!” We went out backcountry shooting and we were getting wicked shots. And then we definitely felt the sun warming the slopes. So we regrouped and decided to get out of there.
At that time, another film crew came in way up above us, like a thousand feet above us. And they started shooting in the same area we had been in. One of their riders hit this cliff and landed around some of our tracks from the morning. The whole slope released.
We were fortunately regrouped up in a safe zone, but this massive avalanche barreled past us like a freight train, probably 40 feet from where we were standing, and dragged one of their members down with it. He was caught and killed, and I was the first one on scene. The guy was carried literally thousands of feet. It was a really gnarly one, and the first avalanche fatality that I was involved with.
You’re one of the most renowned skiers on the planet. I imagine you have a lot of opportunities on your plate. What made you take the time and energy to create this Crux Academy course?
I’ve always loved sharing my experience and whatever knowledge I have with people. That’s why I’ve done ski camps in Portillo, Chile, for 20 years, and in places like Alta, Aspen and Silverton. I love skiing with people and sharing stoke, sharing passion, sharing knowledge. That’s why I’m a guide. That’s why I’m an educator. And, especially, as I get older, I’m not sending in fifth gear like I used to, but I’m still taking the same amount of enjoyment from skiing with people and passing on that stoke and knowledge. I genuinely enjoy seeing people soak up knowledge and exposure and experiences, and knowing I’ve hopefully set them on a safer path in their backcountry life.
There are so many ways to gain knowledge about backcountry skiing—from flipping through books to taking AIARE courses out in the mountains. I’m curious how you see this Crux Academy course fitting into that grander educational landscape?
Well, first of all, this should be seen as a supplemental tool and not a substitute for anything. I’m a big believer to always be learning and to be in student mode, even though I’m a teacher. It’s really important to always have your mind open to new skills, new ways of doing things, new ways of speaking about snow and skiing and riding. It’s wonderful that there’s this new online tool to learn the basics. It’s not unlike understanding a subject like geology, for example. There’s no substitute for experience. You’ve got to get out there and bust some rocks as a geologist. As a skier, you’ve got to get out there and ski and travel around mountains and expose yourself to the risks out there to really understand how to deal with them.
So, while my course is not a substitute, it’s a wonderful foundational element. And I certainly hope that it inspires more investigation into the craft for people—pushing them into more education, AIARE courses and so on. It definitely fills a great gap and our hope is that it inspires another generation of backcountry enthusiasts who come into it with more tools and more knowledge than people who were going out before the internet existed.
It sounds like this course is best catered to a beginner introducing themselves into the backcountry. But do you think expert skiers have anything to gain, as well?
Well, as soon as you think you know everything you’ll be quickly reminded by Mother Nature that you don’t. Even really great golfers and race car drivers, for example, can still take courses to improve their skills. You can always learn more throughout your life and career. It goes back to the idea that if you’re a backcountry traveler—you’re skier or snowboarder—you should always be in student mode, always be learning, always be open to things. So, I do think this course is for advanced or expert skiers and riders, too. But they’ll probably be the last ones to take the leap into it.
If you search “how to backcountry ski” on Google there are almost 17 million results. I imagine this means there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Is that a concern for you?
There’s no question that avalanches are killing experts at a rate much higher than newbies. You know, having knowledge allows you to get out into terrain that rookies would be too scared to access. It’s a double-edged sword. I feel like, as I get older, I’m personally way more conservative than I’ve ever been. But, meanwhile, I’m seeing people that are my age who are still making the same mistakes when it comes to managing terrain and I imagine that can come from an abundance of misinformation—not reading the warnings that are being amplified by the industry. It’s definitely important to check your sources in this category, stick to official avalanche resources, listen to the pros, and so forth.
This has been an especially tough season for avalanche fatalities, and the snowpack is frankly terrifying in many places. What’s your overarching advice to skiers right now?
I hope that as a community of professionals, we can amplify the message of education and conservative skiing. It’s okay to go ski the resort or take a day off. You don’t always have to go out in the backcountry. For me, I’ve got red-light conditions and green-light conditions. That’s it. I just don’t even go screw around when Mother Nature is not inviting me, and I think others should follow that same firm red-light, green-light approach.