DOUG WORK­MAN

ON ALASKA HELI SKI­ING, STAY­ING HUM­BLE, AND TRY­ING NOT TO DIE.

Skiing - - Focus The Truth - As Told To Fred­er­ick Reimers

How did a 39-year-old self-pro­claimed “recre­ational skier” from Con­necti­cut rise to the top of the ski-bum pyra­mid? After four years es­cort­ing clients up rock faces for Jack­son Hole Moun­tain Guides, Doug Work­man was brought into the Valdez Heli-Ski Guides fold in 2004. Along with stints avalanche fore­cast­ing in Utah and pa­trolling at Jack­son Hole, Work­man has guided in France, Ice­land, and Antarc­tica and lo­cally with Jack­son’s High Moun­tain Heli-Ski­ing. Last year, he was named snow-safety ad­vi­sor for Swiss gear and ap­parel brand Mam­mut, but Work­man keeps it real by chas­ing Jack­son lo­cals around the moun­tains near his adopted home­town.

For me, it’s all been about Alaska. There’s nowhere else where you meet peo­ple who have a re­ally hardy sense of ad­ven­ture and a cer­tain ap­petite for risk. There are still peo­ple who come to Valdez who are scrap­ing their pen­nies to­gether to make it hap­pen for a week or even a day.

My clients are mostly peo­ple who work in fi­nance. There’s also a group of big-wave surfers from Oahu who are real-es­tate agents and in­surance sales­men. It’s cool to de­velop friend­ships and work­ing re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple who are liv­ing in a world that we don’t see around here.

Cha­monix is awe-in­spir­ing. Ev­ery­where you look there are places where you can go and get hurt. Antarc­tica is the most beau­ti­ful place I’ve ever been. Ev­ery night the boat moves and you re­ally don’t know what you are go­ing to see, much less ski, next.

I hate to blab about Doug Coombs be­cause it seems like ev­ery­one loves to cap­i­tal­ize on any kind of friend­ship they had with him, but no­body I’ve ever met could give clients the amount of con­fi­dence that he was able to give them.

I’m con­stantly reeval­u­at­ing how I do things to make sure I live, be­cause sta­tis­ti­cally, if you’re in dan­ger­ous places 200 days of the year for 100 years, you’re open­ing your­self up. Just liv­ing in this town, you be­come hy­per­aware of how easy it is to die. I don’t think six months go by where I don’t have a close friend die, which sounds hor­ri­bly mor­bid, but it’s the truth.

Peo­ple die reg­u­larly in Cha­monix and the com­mu­ni­ties don’t freak out, be­cause they un­der­stand that there’s an as­sumed risk, and if you in­crease the num­bers then more peo­ple are go­ing to get hurt.

We’re all go­ing to die. I have friends who are dy­ing from MS and friends who are dy­ing from can­cer. I used to think it was re­ally trite and cliché when peo­ple said, “At least he died do­ing what he loved.” Then a good friend hung him­self and it re­ally sharp­ened my fo­cus. There’s a plus side to peo­ple dy­ing do­ing what they love.

I’m in­spired by peo­ple in Jack­son who are as good or bet­ter than any world-class alpin­ists and skiers, and a lot of them are also man­ag­ing fam­ily life and a business. I don’t have that bal­ance at all. It’s re­ally hard to exit when ev­ery time I turn around, some­one hires me to go on the trip of a lifetime.

The re­al­ity is, the Grand [Te­ton] is a pretty damn easy ski run if you ski it in the right con­di­tions. In the end you’re ski­ing an av­er­age steep run and you have to do some rap­pelling. That’s the joke about ski moun­taineer­ing. At any point you can just build a snow bol­lard or drive a picket and start rap­pelling.

It’s pretty bold to say you’ve done a first de­scent, be­cause more of­ten than not, some­one else has been there be­fore you and just never said any­thing about it.

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