Chad Otterstrom of Breckenridge reflects on freestyle snowboarding this spring, summer in Colorado’s high alpine (podcast)
Many young boys read the classic fantasy “Lord of the Rings” novels and dream of going on their own adventure within such an enchanting and intimidating landscape.
Chad Otterstrom doesn’t need to dream. With his splitboard in tow, the Breckenridge resident is the High Country manifestation of a freeriding Frodo.
The longtime Summit local conquered his own snowboarding Sauron during a big mountain freestyle trek in April to the summit of the precarious Pyramid Peak near Aspen. The trip was centered around ripping — in Otterstrom’s distinct, free-as-a-bird big mountain fashion — the 4,000-foot Landry Line, an iconic Rocky Mountain ski line that begins with a steep cliffside 5 feet from the 14,018-foot jaw-dropping summit. You know, it’s the one so many resort skiers gawk at from within the safe confines of Buttermilk Mountain Resort.
“I’ve been going over to Aspen since I moved here,” Otterstrom said. “And I’d look at it, it’s so far out, so far gone. Then you look at the line off of it, ‘it would be insane to rip that top to bottom one day, no holding back.’ … my goal with everything I do is I want to get it top to bottom the best I can.”
Reflecting back on the adventure, Otterstrom, 42, described it as the equivalent to a “final level” if his snowboarding life was a novel, film or video game.
“The way out was exhausting because of all the avalanche cycles that went down,” Otterstrom said. “The whole way out was like a ‘Lord of The Rings’ adventure quest — going up and over logs, broken down trees, taking your skis off, putting them back on, taking your skis off (again), getting down to the trailhead, a 12-hour loop. But we rode it good and with energy. I put a lot of work into it (by) hiking around (Summit County) every day (in advance) and getting mini lines. The best way to do big lines is doing mini lines, I guess.”
Of all of the talented snowboarders in Summit County and Colorado, Otterstrom stands out for the stylish and energetic lines he shreds off of near some of the state’s most aesthetically amazing peaks. If you ask him, the big mountain freestyle rider doesn’t prefer, say, park riding over high-alpine riding, or vice versa.
“I like park riding in the high alpine,” Otterstrom said with a smile.
“That’s why we go out,” he continued, “because it’s an infinite environment. If you go to the park, it’s a finite environment. Your 60-foot jump is a 60-foot jump. Here in the backcountry, snow can blow differently. You can find a 20-foot jump can turn into a 50-foot jump and a totally different landing.”
How did Otterstrom end up here, not merely riding, but ripping park-style tricks at such remote locations as Pyramid Peak in Aspen or Crystal Peak in Summit County, buttering and hucking inverted corks and spins off of ridge-line wind lips?
“You have to take things 1% at a time,” Otterstrom said. “You can’t push yourself too much.”
His lifetime of freestyle riding — from riding logs in the backyard forest of his Minnesota childhood home, to slopestyle at the X Games to his “final level” at Pyramid Peak — all of it, each individual 1% of growth each day on snow, has slowly, methodically prepped Otterstrom to execute what you see now. The mind-boggling GoPro footage that amazes Otterstrom’s 29,000 Instagram followers? It’s the careful culmination of a life devoted to snowboarding.
Otterstrom’s devotion now turns to that infinite landscape of the backcountry. That’s where Otterstrom’s snowboarding spirit loves life the most. And with this year’s consistent cold temperatures and prolific powder, it’s been a ripping party for Otterstrom, dating back to Loveland Pass turns on Oct. 10, through many high-alpine powder days this spring and, most recently, to Fourth of July Bowl high above Breckenridge on July 4.
And, he ain’t done yet. How could he be? For Otterstrom’s money, this season has been the most special in Summit County history — and maybe even in the state’s history as well. With that, he’s hoping for at least one powder day in July. Why not? Heck, just a week-and-a-half ago he sat near the summit of Peak 10 in a blizzard before dropping into deep powder on familiar above-tree-line Tenmile Range terrain.
“This has been the best winter since snowboarding and skiing has existed, pretty much, in Colorado,” Otterstrom said, “as far as functional skiing and snowboarding goes. It might have been (better) in the ’80s or 10 years ago. But the way people snowboard and ski now is way different than they did 10 and 20 years ago. We can get it better now than we could back then.
“They might say, ‘2008 was sick,'” Otterstrom added. “But did you ski it as good or snowboard as good?”
Otterstrom realizes his assertion that this winter-turned-spring-turned-summer season has been the best to ride in the state’s history may be a provocative statement. But he couches his claim by pointing to the advances in technology and gear that have revolutionized snowboarding in just the past few years. Otterstrom is an owner of Academy Snowboard Co., which includes his own specialized splitboard, dubbed “The Graduate,” built by Never Summer. He says the splitboard rides as close to a park board as he’s ever come across.
It’s not just the board, though. There’s backcountry safety elements such as an ice ax, crampons, ski crampons, beacon, probe and shovel. All that combines with his years of “1% each day” experience.
Beyond that, there’s also the advanced technology of not only how Otterstrom accesses amazing terrain, but how he maintains enough energy so that, once he’s at the exact spot to rip the high-alpine, he can do it almost as if he just jumped off a chairlift at the top of a slopestyle course. Recently Otterstrom has been waking up around 5 a.m. to ride an electric fat tire bike. Otterstrom said the bike is crucial in allowing him to maintain energy in high elevations, enabling him to ride bigger and better in the Tenmile and Mosquito ranges. He doesn’t want to merely side-slip or turn at spots like Crystal or Pyramid Peaks. He wants to ride them like he’s always dreamed of.
With that weekly goal in mind, this season was special as Otterstrom said “everything” filled in, even such spots as the “Sarlacc Pit” on the county’s outskirts.
It’s not just remote locations where Otterstrom had all-time days this year. Not every day is like the one on Pyramid Peak. Some are fun and fresh in different ways, like the day in spring when Otterstrom jibbed off of avalanche debris near Loveland Pass.
“It was fun. That’s like making something out of nothing,” Otterstrom said. “That’s what I love about snowboarding, you can go out and it’s like an art form, do and see things and, no matter how you do it, you’re going to do it different than somebody else. You put your own paintbrush on everything.”
The paintbrush Otterstrom put to Pyramid was once-in-a-lifetime. Yes, there was fear dropping into the cliffside off Pyramid, riding a precarious toe-side at the start knowing if anything goes wrong, “it’s over,” as Otterstrom put it. Once past that portion, though, Otterstrom turned his full focus to party-boarding to the bottom, riding the line’s cliffs and choke like he always wanted to — no holding back.
“It gives you a really big sense of freedom, I guess,” Otterstrom said. “You feel free.”
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