Willy Walker: Good afternoon and welcome to another Walker Webcast. It is a huge joy and pleasure for me to have my long standing - I'm not going to say old, but my long-standing friend Chris Davenport who is joining me today for this episode of the Walker Webcast. This is a little, if you will, out of the typical lines of business, politics, and authors that we typically do, although Dav is an author. But I thought talking to Chris about skiing, extreme sports, about mountaineering, and about risk taking and about giving back and all the things that Chris does in his professional career would be a fascinating hour for our guests to listen in on. I have gotten lots of emails and texts when we announced that Chris was coming on – from very excited listeners to hear from Dav and get his insights. And I guess one of the other things that we will definitely do is we will talk a little bit about ski tips, and we will also talk about where to ski this winter and what is turning out to be an incredible winter in North America. Not so great in Europe, and it's actually dumping in Japan, where I'm actually headed in a little bit more than a month to go skiing and Dav is headed to Japan later today, or tomorrow, Dav?
Chris Davenport: Tomorrow morning.
Willy Walker: Tomorrow morning, off he goes. So quick intro, Dav, and then we're going to dive in.
Chris Davenport is considered one of the world's most accomplished big mountain skiers and mountaineers. He has been named "one of North America's top 25 skiers by Skiing Magazine" and is a "two-time extreme skiing world champion". He has been featured in over 20 feature ski films, including those from Warren Miller Entertainment and Matchstick Productions. Chris is also a TV reporter and color commentator for ESPN, ABC Sports and RSN TV. He has won the 24 hours of Aspen Championship. How many verts did you do in those 24 hours?
Chris Davenport: Oh, I think it was 260,000 vertical feet or something like that.
Willy Walker: Just listen to that, folks. 260,000 consecutive vertical feet. Those of you who are active skiers, if you can put in 20,000 feet on a given day, you get off the mountain dragging with your tongue on the ground. Dav did over 200,000. In 2003, he was voted one of Aspen's 100 most influential people. Given that there are now over 60 billionaires living in Aspen, that's quite a crew there, Dav. He was the first person to ski all 54 of Colorado's peaks, over 14,000 feet in elevation. He was inducted into the United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2014. And he is just about one of the most fantastic professional athletes you will ever meet. So, Dav, welcome to the Walker Webcast.
Chris Davenport: Well, thank you, Willy. It's always a little bit unnerving to hear someone read your resumé or whatever like that, but the honors are all mine. It's really great to be here with you and I think I'm podcast number 130, so I get to join a pretty elite club of people that you've spoken to about business, politics and other things. And by the way, I should say that not only am I a skier, but I'm in the business of skiing, and maybe in the future, a little bit of politics. We shall see.
Willy Walker: All right. We're going to talk about that in a bit. So, yeah, let's dive in here. You grew up kind of surrounded by the ski industry. Your grandfather had a mountain that he ran back on the East Coast called what was it, Mt. Cranmore.
Chris Davenport: Mt. Cranmore, yes. And he didn't run it, but he was involved with the ownership group.
Willy Walker: And then your dad was a collegiate skier at DU? I want to jump right to your dad who skied in the in The Secret Race. Tell our listeners what The Secret Race was, Dav.
Chris Davenport: Yes, The Secret Race was a very interesting international gathering of the world's top ski racers in the summer of 1966 and the World Cup tour in ski racing as we know it now, if you follow this incredible phenom, Mikaela Shiffrin, on the U.S. ski team who's just won her 82nd World Cup race and maybe is going to win her 83rd today, this is before the World Cup tour started. So, there were championships in Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States. But the only time that the entire world got together was at the World championships once a year. And this little ski area, which played a big role in my life and my family's life called Portillo Chile, put a bid in to host the 1966 World Alpine Ski Championships and no one had ever heard of skiing in South America, never mind Portillo Chile.
So, all of these teams from each country descended upon this Chilean 9,000-foot-high elevation resort called Portillo in August 1966 and hosted the World Championships. And it was fabulous. Jean-Claude Killy, one of the great legends of the sport, was a big winner there. But there was some great American talent and some medals won by Americans as well. But anyway, that year, 1966, my father was actually not at the race, but had heard about it because his coach was there and everyone was so blown away at the conditions, at the hospitality, at the mountains that the following year his coach brought the University of Denver ski team down there in the summer to train. Since the sixties, since 1967, it's really been a hotbed of summer skiing, not only for people like me who bring clients and guide down there and I run a ski camp, but also the U.S. ski team, the Swiss ski team, the Austrian ski team, they're all coming to Portillo Chile. So yeah, that was a pretty cool thing that we grew up hearing about. My dad would talk about skiing in Portillo and how amazing it was, and then years later, both of my sisters who were on the U.S. ski team and racing on the World Cup circuit, they were training at Portillo Chile, and I'm scratching my head like, I got to figure out a way to get down to this place. So, I started a ski camp, and we did it in Portillo Chile, So I've been there 20 years now.
Willy Walker: So, we're talking about your ski camp in a second, and we're also going to jump right to your skiing career at C.U. and how you got into Big Mountain. But one quick anecdote, because you talked about all the teams that are down in Portillo, and I was in Portillo skiing, I'm going to date this 1997 or 1998, and I was with a friend of mine who worked at Credit Suisse and a banker from Credit Suisse in Santiago caught wind that we were up skiing in Portillo. He had no ski clothes, hopped in a car, drove up to Portillo, and we were like, “What are you going to do for ski clothes?” He said, “I'm going to go down to the Octogono, which is the building where all the ski teams are, and I'm going to see if I can go buy some clothing from some of these World Cup skiers.” And so, he comes back, and he's got a brand-new jacket from the Italian team. He's got a new hat from the Swiss team. And he'd gone out and spent a grand total of like 100 bucks and got the best ski gear in the world. And of course, the team members were more than happy to sell him a jacket for twenty bucks because they weren't getting anything for it. So, it was really fun.
So, Dav, you went to C.U. as a racer and raced for two years and then sort of, if you will, got the calling for Big Mountain. Talk for a moment about why it was you switched from being an Alpine racer to going to Big Mountain.
Chris Davenport: Yeah, well, you Willy and all of your listeners or viewers will understand how important it is to sometimes be in the right place at the right time and just be ready for what's coming. So, yes, I had grown up in New England, in New Hampshire, ski racing. But as you mentioned, both of my parents have been out of University of Denver. And so, we had grown up coming to Colorado, so I wanted to ski in Colorado. So, I went to the University of Colorado and as you mentioned, ski raced for two years.
But this is the early 90s when some really seminal ski films had come out. Greg Stump's The Blizzard Of Aahhh’s, Warren Miller movies with guys like Scot Schmidt and Glen Plake, and the landscape was sort of changing. We were seeing really exciting things happening in the sport of skiing, and one of those things was the advent of what we used to call extreme skiing competitions, now we call it the Freeride World Tour or Big Mountain Skiing. But these things were just starting, the U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships in Mount Crested Butte, Colorado, the World Extreme Skiing Championship (WESC) in Valdez, Alaska. I started seeing these things and having friends that were participating in them and going, “Wow, this is really interesting. I've dedicated my whole life to skiing. I'm a pretty good ski racer, but I'm not going to make the US ski team or the Olympics. You know, maybe, I'll move over and give this a try.” This was 1992-93, so I kind of stopped ski racing and started flying off cliffs for fun and to describe what this is like, you're basically trying to ski down a steep mountain with trees and rocks and cliffs and ski as fast and as aggressive on the most difficult line you can and make it look good for some judges. Anyway, my first competition in ‘94 went great. I started winning things and by ‘96 I was World Champion. And the industry really sort of started taking note of this, I don't even want to say niche because it started getting quite big. We were skiing on the same products that the consumers buy, you know, racers, they use specialized racing gear. Nothing that any of us would ever buy in a shop or ski on the resort with. But we were basically creating a business for ourselves as brand ambassadors for all of these products and all of these brands and companies. And so, after winning the ‘96 World Championships, I basically wrote a business plan on the flight home with how I was going to take this title and turn it into what's now been really a 27 almost 30-year career.
Willy Walker: I find it to be really fascinating, Dav, in the sense that what you have done with your life in your professional career, that there was no role model. It didn't exist. And so, I think about entrepreneurs who come up with an idea about what to do, and you were as entrepreneurial as anyone out there in the sense of seeing this opportunity and creating not only a lifestyle around it but creating a career around it. What I mean, I think to someone like Tony Hawk, who during that period of time was really taking skateboarding to a different level, maybe Hamilton on the surfing side of things. But what was it that gave you the sense that there was actually money to be made and a career to be made around this extreme outdoor life?
Chris Davenport: Well, I think it might be a stretch to say that I knew at the time that there was money to be made. I knew at the time that I loved what I was doing, and I had a lot of passion, and I had some vision. I could see that there was something there. I'd gotten a great education. I'd gone to an amazing high school in New Hampshire, Holderness School, where I'm still a trustee. I'd gone to USC, Colorado and done well. I'd worked hard and I wanted to use these skills in some form of business. I mean, if I wasn't going to be a doctor or a lawyer, I wanted to do the thing that I really loved the most, which was ski. And very quickly, anecdotally, I had been on the chairlift in New Hampshire when I was 13 years old, on a particularly good ski day with a friend. And I'll never forget looking at each other on the chair lift and saying, “Wouldn't it just be incredible if we could ski every day for the rest of our lives?” And now here we are. Fast forward to your story. I'm starting to live this dream of that 13-year-old boy. I'm starting to go, “Huh, maybe I can actually ski every day.” So, I'm a big fan of performance attributes in successful people and passion is super important. One of those. But also, vision is where you take that passion. What do you do with it? So, in those early 90s years, I was starting to see that there was a pathway there and I was going to follow it.
Willy Walker: I think it was your friend Shane, who took you over to Crested Butte for the first big mountain race and you got a sense of it. To those people who don't know what we're talking about as it relates to big mountain skiing and extreme skiing. I have a photo that we're going to actually insert here during the replay of this of Dav going off a cliff that's got a 60 to 70 foot fall off of it. He and I were in Aspen this past weekend skiing together and we were on the gondola and there was a couple from Mobile, Alabama. It was their first trip to Aspen, and they didn't have skis on. They just wanted to go to the top of the mountain. They quickly figured out from comments that I was making and other people in the gondola, that Dav was truly a living legend in both the ski community as well as in Aspen. They're sitting there and I could tell that they couldn't get their head around what it meant to be the extreme skiing champion. And so, I went and I pulled up on my phone this picture of Dav, which you're now seeing jumping off this cliff. You should have seen the look on these people's faces. The woman immediately wanted to take a selfie with Dav. It was one of the greatest things.
But one of the things I want to understand, Chris, is how do you prepare yourself other than just sort of having somewhat of reckless abandon for that type of feat, in the sense that there's both the capability of being able to stand on the skis, turn the skis the way that you would very clearly learned as a racer. But going to big mountain there is that responsiveness, the reactivity to, “Oh, I'm about to go off this jump. I've got to get prepared for it. And I don't know what's going to come below.” How did you have to change either your training or your mental preparedness as you moved from doing gates to jumping off cliffs?
Chris Davenport: Yeah, it's a really interesting question and one that I think a lot about, because ultimately in the big mountains, things are dangerous. And I think of what I do as a professional, not just through the lens of being a skier, but I look at it through the lens of risk management. I mean, constantly on a daily basis, whether I'm skiing for myself, for a ski movie, with clients, with my own family. I'm thinking about how I'm managing risk and thinking about what's the worst that can happen in any given situation.
So, you just showed that photo, which was an incredible cliff that I had had my eye on for some years, it had never been skied off. So that's a calculated risk. I had thought about all of the things that could go wrong, I thought about all the things that could go right and just kind of done the math and felt on that particular day because I waited and waited and waited over a period of a couple of years for the perfect snow conditions where I felt like even if I didn’t go off accurately, was a little bit back or whatever it was and landed wrong, I’d still be fine because the snow was so deep and so soft. Now, that might sound crazy, but we’ll call it a soft landing. It’s almost like landing with a parachute. You know, you could land on your back and you’d be totally fine.
So, in that case, with that photo, that's more of a stunt. That's something that takes a lot of time, a lot of planning. You're talking with other people. I have a photographer there, a safety person there. I'm kind of like planning this whole thing so that I get the best possible outcome, the outcome that I desire. And, you know, nothing is going to go wrong. And I had a lot of situations like that in my career where I basically set these things up, did all the homework, the due diligence, if you will, to make sure that the outcome that I wanted was the outcome I was going to get. And if, in some way things went wrong, it still wouldn't be that bad.
Climbing in the Himalaya, or Alaska there's oftentimes things that are beyond your control, but you still have to sort of set these barriers on either side so that when it spirals out of control, you're still within your comfort zone. People oftentimes ask me like, “How do you deal with fear?” Well, I don't really deal with fear because here's what happens when you've already made a series of mistakes and then you're like, “Oh, shit, this isn't good,” right?
So, there's so many crossovers. And I know you know this because you and I talked about it a lot. There’re so many crossovers between being an athlete and business and the way that you sort of look at the risks that you're going to take, whether it's an investment or a new business partner or all these things, I think about it the exact same way. I really believe that a big part of my success as a skier and as an athlete has been that ability to kind of look at it from what we would consider a business sense of like, what's the outcome I'm looking for? Where's my tolerance? What am I willing to do to succeed? And all of those kinds of things. So, yeah, it's fun to kind of use jumping off a cliff as a metaphor for being a successful businessperson. But it's actually quite poignant I think.
Willy Walker: I've heard you talk about the language of the mountains, and that's what I'm curious about, Dav. When did you go from taking calculated risks. As you said that jump was more of a stunt, it's very planned, but at the same time, it was kind of throwing yourself off this cliff to really understand the language of the mountains. Because one of the great things you now have, having been in the mountains for as long as you have and guided as much as you had and summited Everest and etc., all the different accolades that you've done – you've developed this incredible knowledge of the language of the mountains. But when did you all of a sudden stop and say, I need to really be attuned to what's happening around me rather than what's right in front of me?
Chris Davenport: When I started educating myself in the mountains, and that means taking avalanche courses, guide courses, kind of more formal education, I realized that what I thought I knew was really never going to be enough. I feel like I'm always a student, I'm still a student. Sometimes I tell people I'm getting my Ph.D. in skiing, but I'm never going to graduate because we're always learning. And the people that are watching might be asking: the language of the mountains, well, what's that? Well, it's a certain fluency that we're talking about. So, for instance, if you and I are in the room and you're going off about all the details of consumer lending, like I'm not going to understand that. I'm not fluent in that space or in that language. Likewise, if I'm in the room with someone who's never been in the mountains or in snow before, and I'm talking about various persistent weak layers in the snowpack and avalanche hazard, they're going to have no idea what I'm talking about.
So, the language of the mountains really is just all of the information that we as human beings need to make good decisions or to make the right decision is literally right in front of us. Mother Nature does not hide anything. It's right there, so it's up to us as people to interpret the things that are literally right in front of us. And it's the same thing in business. Usually, things aren't hidden. I mean, there can be nefarious things that happen. But a lot of times this information is right out there in front of us, and it's up to us to do the due diligence and interpret it. And so, I've been working for 20 years on this fluency. So, when I go out there, I can listen, I can look, I can smell, I can use all of my senses, and most importantly, my sixth sense, my intuition to kind of feel how any given situation is playing out or is speaking to me. It allows me in most times to make the right decision, especially when it's a critical one, you know, one that might be life or death, whether it's to continue climbing higher on a Himalayan 8,000-meter peak or it's time to turn around, things like that. So, I'm a big believer in the idea of sort of plugging in to the natural world and getting all that feedback and having that inform my decision-making process.
Willy Walker: As I was talking to a buddy of mine last night watching the national championship, which really wasn't much of a game, he was talking about this aspect of you and all your training. And his question was when you think about the sixth sense in the language of the mountains, do you have an orientation, Dav, to conquer the mountain or becoming one with the mountain?
Chris Davenport: Yeah, I absolutely want to become one with the mountain. There's the word “conquering” I hate, I do have a ton of respect for the generations of skiers and climbers that have come before us, and especially going back to the golden age of mountaineering in the 50s, 60s and 70s, when a lot of the highest mountains in the world were climbed, those climbers and skiers oftentimes talked about conquering the mountain. But I feel like that's in a way somewhat disrespectful and I'm not judging them because that's just a different era. But I want to be one with the mountain. I want to respect the mountain. I want to be sharing the experience with all of my friends, partners, and clients and whoever it is, and kind of feel like we came away with a gift that Mother Nature gave us a wonderful day out there and we should feel full of gratitude, and we should feel lucky to have had it.
I think if you start thinking about it in the way of like, “I'm going to I'm going to climb or I'm going to ski this thing at all costs and I'm going to conquer it,” you're kind of missing the point. And that's just never really sat well with me. So, yeah, I'm a more of a guy who's going to do everything I can to be one with nature and get the best possible experience out of it and the best possible experience for the people, as I said, that are with me, because at the end of the day, I'm spending a lot of my year guiding people all over the world and showing them a good time, keeping them safe. And I want them to, at the end of the day, at the end of the trip, go home and say that's the best ski trip I've ever done. And you don't do that by saying we “conquered” it.
Willy Walker: Right. So, you do a camp down in Portillo every summer. Yeah, I want to dive for two seconds just if someone listens to this and says, I got this really great ski trip from Chris Davenport, a legend of skiing. First of all, in that week you do the camp I've heard you talk about the improvement that people have in the camp that seems very distinct from people going to a resort and having a private lesson for three days or five days or whatever the case is. Why do you think this sort of the camp experience is so much more beneficial to people's skiing skills?
Chris Davenport: Yeah, there's a number of reasons why this particular program works really well for advanced level skiers to take it to the next level. The first reason is my coaches are a Who's Who of the world's best free skiers, from Daron Rahlves to Cody Townsend to Ingrid Backstrom, to Wendy Fisher and other world champions, Olympians. These people are just unmatched and they're my close friends and colleagues, but also people that I have so much respect for. So, when you come to our program, it's a progressive week. We're going to start out slow and gonna get to know you as a skier, get to know your little quirks, bad habits and good habits because everybody has them. You know, no one skis perfectly, at least no one that I've ever met. And we want to kind of break down those things and then build them back up so that at the end of the week, you're literally having the best day on snow that you've ever had.
You're going to ski with a different coach every single day. The location itself, Portillo Chile, lends itself to this type of skiing. There's everything from amazing groomed runs to do little drills on, but then really big steep off piste runs. We do some hiking, some traversing. You're kind of learning how to be more fluent in that mountain environment, learning the language of the mountains, learning how to move across a traverse, learning how to read avalanche terrain. Just becoming a better sort of all-around or better mountain person. And so those two things, the coaches and the location are really important. But then also you're living in Hotel Portillo, which is kind of like a cruise ship. It's basically just one hotel up in the mountains. There's nowhere to go – there's no town, village or anything. And you get to know 30, 40, 50 other people that are in the hotel, they're all skiers. And it kind of elevates you as a dedicated skier. I think you come away from that program and you're like, you know what, I'm in. I'm like, if I wasn't in before, I'm definitely in now as someone who's committed to being a great skier.
Willy Walker: So, talk for a second about hands and knees, tips that people are going to take away from hearing Chris Davenport talk about if they can't come to Portillo to have you work on it, what are the two things they ought to take to whatever mountain they happen to be having this winter?
Chris Davenport: Well, it's funny that the fundamentals of skiing are pretty basic, and then you can just drill down through layers and layers and layers of details and nuance. And we continue to do that even as I've been skiing my entire life, 50 years, I'm still trying to, like, improve. But you mentioned the college football national championship. You know, if I'm a Georgia running back and you're a TCU linebacker and I'm coming at you with the ball, you're not going to tackle me standing tall with your feet together and your hands down by your side, I'm going to run you right over. It's the same thing in skiing. You're not going to be able to react to the terrain that is coming at you if you have your feet together, standing tall with your knees straight and sitting back.
So, the human athletic position is the same for all sports, you know, And it's hands up, eyes forward, knees bent, generally in a very forward position, ready to move at anything that comes at you. And so that's the same in skiing. We want to be ready, especially when we're off the groomed runs and we're in crud or varied terrain where the mountain is sort of changing as we're skiing down and we might be going 20, 30, 40 miles an hour. Right. So, you got to be bent at the knees. We like to tell people to “knees to skis,” push the knees to your skis, feel the front of your ski boots. If you're feeling the back of your ski boot in your hands or down by the pockets of your pants, you're going to have a bad time. If you're sitting on your heels and your feet are together, you're going to have a bad time. So, we want to be forward, right? Everything is moving down the mountain. And one thing that's interesting is the steeper that the mountain gets, the more in our mind kind of want to get back because we're a little bit afraid, perhaps. And actually, the opposite is true. The steeper it gets, the more forward you actually have to get over the front of your skis. So that's one of the fundamental things that we work on because we see people with all sorts of different body positions fundamentally on standing on their skis, in their ski boots. And we want to try to work with that. And then we just take it to deeper and deeper levels.
Willy Walker: So, let's talk for a moment about, if you will, the synthesis of the combination of your mountaineering background and your skiing background. In 2011, you headed over to summit Everest, which you did. I believe on the 20th of May. But before you summited Everest on the 20th of May, you skied the Lhotse face. And I've seen the video of you skiing the Lhotse Face, which is just an unbelievable thing. And we're going to put a picture in here for those that are watching this to show the camp off to the right where you all were living, if you will, ready to summit Everest. And then the tracks that you and Neil made as you ski down the Lhotse Face. Talk for a moment, Dav, about what that experience was like. And I guess just as a quick question, I mean this with all sincerity, any bodies or oxygen tanks that you had to avoid as you were skiing down the Lhotse Face?
Chris Davenport: So, no bodies or oxygen tanks, which was nice. No one actually goes out on to the Lhotse Face itself because it's a big, steep exposed piece of real estate. So, 99.9% of Mount Everest climbers stick to the edge of the Face where the fixed ropes are, and they're on those fixed ropes in a boot pack climbing up. And it's kind of just that's where everybody is. So going back to the beginning of your question, yes, 2011, I had a client that I had guided in Colorado fourteeners. We actually just started skiing together and then that went to mountaineering. We went to Denali in Alaska and at a base camp in Denali, after summiting and having a great trip there, he turned to me and he's like, “Hey, what do you think about going to Everest next year?” And I was like, Big smile, you know, those goosebump moments in your life where you'll just never forget it? And I actually get goose bumps even thinking about it. This Everest trip and especially that ski descent and being on the summit was all of that – just top, top, top moments of my life. Before we left, I went to my client and I said, “Listen, since we're going there, do you mind if Neil, the other guide who I was working with and I bring our skis?” because, you never know. Maybe Mother Nature gives us a gift and there's some good skiing to be had. He said, “Sure, that’d be cool.” So, we brought skis, you know, thinking maybe there's a 10-20% chance that we get to use them at all, because generally these high Himalayan mountains are pretty icy, very windy. They don't get good ski conditions. It's very, very, very rare. But we put ourselves in position to succeed, we were there at the right place at the right time, and Mother Nature did her thing and it snowed about a foot on the Face before our second rotation as we were acclimatizing. So, it wasn't when we were summiting, it was like a week before and we did all of our avalanche sort of due diligence, and it seemed really safe. We felt good about it, that intuition was kicking in. I'm like, you know what? I actually feel this feels good. And Neil and I went up to about 24,000 - 25,000 feet, and we skied down the Lhotse Face. At the time, it had only been done five or six times in history. And we skied in powder snow. And it was just like, pooft… I mean, yeah, I can't even really describe the feeling, but talk about being a fly on a gigantic wall. You're a little teeny human on this massive Face going, “Wow, this is pretty scary.” But it was fantastic.
Willy Walker: What was more exciting, Dav, that actual moment of skiing and saying, “man, we're actually doing this and making beautiful turns and beautiful powder on Everest” or summiting?
Chris Davenport: Yeah, I think, you know, to be honest, I've never been asked that question of which one of those was more exciting. In some ways they're a little bit different because the skiing was a bonus. It wasn't something that we knew we would do. It wasn't something that we thought would happen. It was just kind of like, “wow, that was really cool.” Okay, so now that that's done, we really got to focus on getting our client, the person who's paying to be there, paying us to do our job, get him up and down safely. And it's a funny little anecdote. So, we're standing on the summit of Everest. It's a gorgeous day, no wind. I mean, literally could not have asked for a better day. And I had a satellite phone in my hand. Before I left Aspen, my wife, Jessica, who is a mountain person and totally understands the risks involved, she's like, “Whatever you do, don't effing call me from the summit.” And I love that. Why would she say that Willy?
Willy Walker: Because she’d think that you were in trouble.
Chris Davenport: No, no. Because getting down is the most important part. No one cares if you get to the top. They care if you get back down. Right. Ed Viesturs famously said that our mutual friend from Ketchum, Idaho. Ed was the first American to climb all the 8000-meter peaks. I can't remember the exact words, but he told me, “No one cares if you get to the top, they care if you get to the bottom.” So that's what my wife had said to me. So, I didn't call her from the top. We had a great climb, got back down the next day, got all the way down to base camp. And then I called her. I oftentimes joke, if I ever write an autobiography, it'll be called Don't Call Me from the Summit.
Willy Walker: It's great. So, let's take a little bit of a world tour, Dav. You've skied everywhere in the world and just give our listeners an idea of why they want to jump on a plane like you're going to do tomorrow and go to Japan? We’ve already talked about Latin America, so let's leave Latin America behind. Why do they want to go to Canada? Why do they want to go to Europe? In summary fashion, why would someone want to hop on an airplane and travel outside of the continental United States to go ski?
Chris Davenport: Yeah, that's something about the sport of skiing. And there are some other sports that offer the same type of experience, but the characteristics of skiing are different everywhere you go. And a real dedicated skier wants to experience all of those different feelings. So, for instance, tomorrow morning I'm going to Japan. Why am I going to Hokkaido, the north island of Japan? It is literally the snowiest place on the planet. It is cold. Just to the west, you've got Siberia, like 3,000 miles of tundra and cold air. And then you've got the Sea of Japan, 600 miles of open ocean, and then you've got the Japanese mountains. And that cold air comes and picks up all that moisture and lifts it. And it just snows and snows and snows. And it's just, never mind culturally and the food, it's just an incredible powder skiing experience, not super steep, but really deep. And once people go there, they, nine times out of ten, they're blown away and they keep coming back. You know, skiing in the Alps, for instance, in Switzerland and Austria, Italy, France. There's so much culture. It goes back hundreds of years to these high alpine valleys and villages with interconnected lift systems and incredible restaurants and bars all over the mountains and in great terrain. That itself is one of the great skiing experiences.
I've skied on all seven continents. And just a month ago, I got back from skiing in Antarctica – that's right, Antarctica. People are like, “What? How?” Yeah, the bottom of the earth. We take a boat, a ship from Ushuaia, Argentina. We sail across the Drake Passage, which is one of the gnarliest or most treacherous sections of ocean on the planet. And you arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula after two days and you're skiing on Antarctica, which is the coldest, driest and highest, tallest continent on the planet. People don't know that. But we're living at sea level on a ship. We're taking Zodiacs to shore, we're skiing amongst penguin colonies, whales, seals, like the wildlife experience is incredible. I could talk for an hour about Antarctica, but we've got limited time.
Let's go to Africa. Wait… skiing in Africa? Yup, skiing in Africa. The Atlas Mountains in Morocco, just south of Spain. The Atlas Mountains go up to 13,000 feet. They're huge. The latitude is the same as New England. We don't think about how far north sort of northern Africa in Europe is compared to the United States. But it snows there. I was there, actually, right as COVID was kind of taking a grip on the planet in the beginning of March of 2020. And we had to get out of Marrakesh as quickly as we could. But the skiing there was fantastic.
People loved to ask me where I hadn't been? And so, I'll quickly wrap this up by saying I've never skied in Greenland, but I've got two ski trips off of a yacht in Greenland this coming spring, and I'm really looking forward to visiting Greenland.
Willy Walker: So, if I gave you a plane ticket to anywhere in the world to ski on your last day, are you hopping in your car and going down to Ajax? Are you hopping on an airplane and flying to Portillo? Or are you going somewhere else? You're going to Valdez and going back to where you won the World Championship?
Chris Davenport: Willy, first, I have to applaud you for your very interesting questions. That's a good one that I also don't think I've ever had. Last plane ticket for my last run? I'm going to Valdez, Alaska, and I'm getting on a 3,000-foot, 50-degree face in perfect powder conditions. And I'm going to go 50 miles an hour down that sucker, laying huge turns, just like you mentioned earlier, Laird Hamilton, the big wave surfer getting on a run like that in Alaska is like riding Jaws or Mavericks or Nazaré in Portugal, these famous big waves of the world. It's the same experience of intense connection to nature. You know, if you make one mistake, you are going to literally tomahawk your way all the way to the bottom, upside down, lose all your gear, but you get to the bottom in one piece and you're like, “I'm good.” It doesn't get any better than that.
Willy Walker: So, you've made a career and a living out of what you've done. Your first sponsorship was with Salomon's Skis, and then you went to Kästle Skis where you were for quite some time. Talk for a moment about the business of outdoor guiding, skiing, hiking, mountaineering, biking. You and I've done bike trips where people you know, you're an amazing all-around athlete. You're known for your skiing. But I will tell anyone who has biked with me, I'm a reasonably good biker – Dav is a really good biker.
So, talk for a moment I guess two things. One, how did you make a career out of it? And then after we've talked about that for a moment, I want to jump to fitness, because unlike those of us who are weekend warriors, you rely on your body and your body must perform. And so, I want to talk for a moment about how you stay in such good shape. So actually, let's go with that first. Let's do the shape and then we'll move into the sponsorships and how you made a career, because I then want to go to Peak. So, let's do it that way. Let's go health first.
Chris Davenport: So, I was lucky enough to kind of grow up in a family that really valued health and wellness in athletics. My siblings and I were all athletes doing many different sports from team sports like lacrosse and soccer, to individual sports like skiing and climbing and cycling. You just mentioned cycling. I mean, I bike-raced at a very high level and cycling has been, I will say, my other very important passion in my life outside of skiing. I literally ride my bike every single day that I'm not on skis or at least from May to October.
So, I guess our parents, and maybe to a degree, my grandfather kind of instilled in us this idea of athleticism and well-being being connected to success in life in general. And I still believe in that. I don't have any tattoos, but I always thought if I got one, it would be a #AlwaysBeTraining. You know, I don't walk up steps, I run up steps. I don't take elevators; I walk up the stairs. I like to constantly be moving in a way that feels like it's kind of helping me be more fit. I've been a vegetarian for 35 years. I never really liked meat in the first place, but I look back on that now and that's actually been an important part of my healthy diet and kind of disposition.
Willy Walker: Any difference in nutrition as it relates to winter sports versus summer sports? In other words, do you go back to the same type of nutrition when you're biking and mountaineering that you do when you’re skiing?
Chris Davenport: No, they’re kind of different. So, the winter sports are more power-driven and less aerobic, although I do a lot of skinning, meaning like backcountry skiing…
Willy Walker: You did the PDP last winter?
Chris Davenport: I did. The Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG) race.
Willy Walker: Sorry. The PDG.
Chris Davenport: So, yeah, I mean, that's more like a cycling thing. Typically for me, I'm at least 10-15 pounds lighter in the summer during the cycling season. Because in cycling, it's all about your power to weight ratio. But when we're doing a gravity sport like skiing, it's not about that. You know, gravity is pushing us down so we can be a little bigger and a little stronger. So, I've kind of always enjoyed this fluctuation in my sort of body composition, if you will, where in the winter I can be, you know, and I don't really do this anymore, but I used to lift weights a lot. I'd be in the gym seven days a week getting ready for ski season. I think my obsession with fitness in my sort of mid to late teens through my early thirties was a bit much. And so now I hate the gym and the outdoors is my gym. I mean I'm recreating outside every day and that's how I get my fitness now.
But I think just generally having a mindset of taking care of your body, being conscious of what you're putting in and, you know, living in the outdoors as an athlete, it's like it's a pretty great way to go. And, you know, sometimes I'll just do two runs of skiing in the morning and then I immediately feel like I am so much more productive, and I can go bang out a bunch of work, much more so than if I didn't do that. You know that, when you get up at five in the morning, go for a run, go for an early morning bike ride, then you go to the office. You're way more productive than if you haven't done it.
Willy Walker: Yeah. So, let's talk about the business side of things. So, as I mentioned, Salomon was your first sponsorship then with Kästle for a long period of time. As you think about how you've made a career and a living out of what you've done, how much of it has been sponsorship dollars versus guiding dollars versus paid appearance dollars? How can we all think about what you've done to make such a successful career and quite honestly, in a very entrepreneurial way because no one had ever done before?
Chris Davenport: Yeah, So I wear a lot of hats in the business of skiing.
Willy Walker: Basically, and literally. Both sides, right?
Chris Davenport: It's true. Yeah, literally and figuratively. So, in our sport, as a professional skier, I'm independent. Basically, you have to be entrepreneurial. I'm not part of a team. I'm not part of a league. I don't have a schedule. You know, I got to play football for the Denver Broncos or whatever. Like that is your job. That's all you're doing. You're playing football for the Broncos. So, I have to be creative. I've got to come up with interesting ways to deliver value to people that I'm working with. And those could be sponsors like brands. You mentioned: Salomon, Kästles Skis, my new ski company that I have with Bodie Miller, Peak Skis. We have to think about how we get creative. We can't just kind of sit back and get a paycheck and do nothing – that doesn't work. You're going to have a very short career.
So, you asked about the income side. So right now, and this is sort of fluctuating over time, but right now probably 50% of my income is these brand partnerships that I have with a company like Peak Skis, Norrøna clothing or Aspen Snowmass, on and on and on. I've got probably 12 or 13 brands that I'm working with. Some of them I'm invested in and part ownership I have equity with, and some are just, you know, partners that are supporting me. And then another probably 20% would be paid speaking engagements. I do a lot of slideshows, corporate speaking, different things, talking about risk management and goal setting and performance attributes as it pertains to my life and business. And then, the other 20%, is guiding – taking people all over the world on these trips that you and I have talked about, like going to Japan tomorrow. I've got three weeks in a row of three different groups of clients that I will be guiding around and showing an incredible ski experience to.
And then some smaller bits on the end. I've written a couple of books, as you referenced, so those books have sold really well. Some television stuff, working with outside TV. I do the World Cup race announcing for the upcoming races in Aspen, the World Cup ski races. I've done a couple of Olympics so, you know, event announcing and yeah, other little things but that's kind of a picture of what my business looks like. And I love it. It's fun because every day is different. It allows me to be creative and kind of use all the different skills that I've learned.
And listen, there's not many professional athletes that are my age in skiing or really in any other sport. One of the things that I've kind of figured out I think I'm still working on is the key to longevity is collaboration, is good communication, is being a good partner, right? Like being there for the people that are paying you and not having it be a one-way street, but a two-way street where you're delivering, as I said, the value that they're looking for and also coming up with new ideas and new ways for them to grow their business.
I mean, at the end of the day, I'm trying to ski every day, but I'm also trying to sell skis, I'm trying to sell clothing, I'm trying to sell energy drinks or, people coming to Aspen, Snowmass, what have you. I am basically a walking billboard for these brands that are paying me to be like, let's go, these are the best skis out there.
Willy Walker: So, we'll talk about skis in two seconds. I say to those listening, I’ve had Dav speak and ski with client groups – he is truly exceptional. And what he talks about and what he gets our clients to think about are all the things that we've talked about today as it relates to risk management, as it relates to building a business plan on your career, on building your business, and how you're going to build it. Dav's really big about planning because in many of the places that he gets to, you don't have the ability to make an error. As we talked about previously on the top of Mt. Everest, I mean, when you get into those circumstances, it's one thing to make an error of making a bad investment (and hopefully we don't all make many bad investments) but when you're sitting there in your life is at risk. Back to Jessi’s saying, “You don't call me from the top. You're not done with this until you get down to the bottom.”
Let's talk for a moment about Peak, because I find it to be amazing. You mentioned it. You and Bodie have started this new ski company. I remember specifically, Dav, when you got your first Canyon bike and Canyon approached selling bikes through a direct-to-consumer channel. And they basically said, we're not going to sell through bike distribution companies and bike shops. We're going to go direct to the consumer. And Canyon has been a massive success on the bike side. You and Bodie are focused on not only have you built an incredible ski because you nicely gave me a pair to ski with you on last weekend and boy, oh boy, did they rip, said anyone watching this who is in for a new pair of skis, I would strongly suggest you go to https://peakskis.com/ and look it up. And they've actually got a promotion right now. I'll do it for you, Dav. They got a two for one special going on. So, if you go on and buy them right now, you can get two pairs for the cost of one and you can actually get the 104s or the 110s for your powder skis and the 98 for your more cruiser skis. But I will tell you, there is something else. But talk for a moment about how I mean, I think about you and Bode and your skiing type that as you sat around and talked about what kind of skis you want to build, there's a difference in what you are looking for in a ski and what Bodie is looking for in a ski, basically based off of your backgrounds. But then talk about the DTC model and how you all are going about building the company.
Chris Davenport: Yeah, well, you're hired, by the way, already a great salesperson. So, I have to also just mention that the founders of Peak were Bode Miller and Andy Wirth, and he's our CEO. He came from years as the CEO of Steamboat Springs and then of Squaw Valley, now Palisades Tahoe. So, he brings kind of a strong business acumen to our Peak Skis brand. Bodie is a legend in the sport of skiing, and he's also an incredibly detailed engineer, kind of almost like a mad genius when it comes to thinking about the performance of the skis and how we build the skis. And then, you know, of course, I come with all of my experience into this group.
Willy Walker: I do want to know one quick thing, Dav, that you actually have a business title, which just cracked me up, because here's my buddy who's like, lived his whole life outside of the corporate world, but then incredibly well as an entrepreneur. But you're actually a senior director of skiing and innovation, which I love. I think I'm going to call you a senior director from now on. I love the fact you have a corporate title. Anyway, sorry to interrupt you.
Chris Davenport: No, that's fun. Yeah, I'm Senior Director of Skiing and Innovation and it's my job to in some ways be the face of the brand. And you mentioned Canyon Bicycles and it's a great case study. We actually have the president of Canyon USA is on our Peak Skis board. We are really modeling our business practices and business model after the way Canyon has done their business. I think the most important part of the direct-to-consumer experience is the fact that we own the relationship with our customer. So, you buy a pair of skis, we know your name, we know where you live. We've got all sorts of information about you. We're going to put handwritten notes in your box. When we deliver the skis, we're going to call you. I mean, I'm literally calling Peak customers saying, “Hey, it’s Chris Davenport, thanks for buying these skis. How do you like them in there?” They’re like “What, Chris? Really?” You know, other brands don't do that and really can't do that because when you buy a pair of skis at a ski shop, it's only the ski shop that knows who you are. The company does not know. So, we love that close knit connection to our consumers, to our customers. And it also allows for a lot more feedback. In the end, we can build things that our customers are asking for and we will do that going forward. We're a startup right now. We're in our first year. We've been raising money; we've been building skis and selling skis. And our first collection this year is just six models. Next year that grows, we’ll have coming in ‘23-’24 Peak by DAV, which is my personal collection, basically backcountry skis, lighter weight skis meant for going up and down. Bodie’s collection is the alpine skis, very high-performance things for skiing on the ski resort. As you and I tested the other day, they're fantastic.
We feel like the success that we've seen with Canyon and other brands, there's a golf brand that's done particularly well. And I mean, look, Apple has, of course, brick and mortar stores, but it's basically a direct-to-consumer company. Most people are ordering their Apple products on Apple.com. So, we feel like we can do this. And it's an exciting time. And there's a transitional period where people are like, “I don't know if I can buy these skis. How do I test them? How do I demo them? I don't know if I like them.” It's a 100% money back guarantee for a month, buy the ski, ski it. If you don't like it, we take it back for free. So, there's no risk.
You mentioned Salomon. That was my first sponsor. I spent 12 years with them. I learned a ton going to France every year in the engineering room, building skis. We built some really famous models. I wrote some design briefs. I took that experience and left Salomon to help start Kästle Skis, an Austrian brand, of which I was an owner. We sold that in 2018 and I guess for a few years I was kind of still with Kästle, but I was kind of looking around for what might be the next thing. And I'm so thrilled that this is the next thing, because it's not just another ski company. We're looking to do what hasn't been done before. And by the way, we're not just selling skis in the next three to five years. We want to reimagine the entire manufacturing process, license all of this IP and build skis for everybody. We'll see what happens. But that's part of the goal.
Willy Walker: I want to get to the volume number here in a second, because I don't think anyone really understands how many pairs of skis you need to kind of manufacture and sell to kind of have a successful ski brand. But one just thing, I was thinking that Kästle was Austrian built and then it was bought and moved to Czechoslovakia and the skis were now built in Czechoslovakia. I was just curious, was the tragic death of the Czech billionaire the same gentleman who bought Kästle skis and took it to the Czech Republic?
Chris Davenport: No. And thank you for clarifying. Yes, it's the Czech Republic, not Czechoslovakia, that country ended.
Willy Walker: The Czech Republic.
Chris Davenport: Actually. So no, that accident with…
Willy Walker: Your friend Greg Harms.
Chris Davenport: He was a Czech guy but not the owner of Kästle. Our skis are actually built in Slovenia and at the factory from Elan. Elan is an old and storied ski brand in Slovenia. And that's what our OEM partner will call it right now. So, they're making our skis and we're pretty flexible. So, we might manufacture some skis with one partner and some skis with another partner in the future. We're not necessarily locked in to building all of our skis with one manufacturer, but right now it's in Slovenia.
Willy Walker: But a manufacturer like K2 will sell how many pairs of skis on an annual basis, and what do you will focus on with a more kind of niche brand in Peak?
Chris Davenport: Yeah. So, some of the bigger brands in the sport of skiing we’ll call it Head, Atomic, Salomon, Fischer, maybe K2, Völkl, would all be around 100,000 pairs or give or take 20 or 30, sometimes on a good year, maybe they're up to 140-150,000 in that space. Sort of more mid-range brands like a Kessler, Stöckli or some others might be selling 20-30,000. And then you've got a lot of smaller players that are in that 100 to a couple thousand pairs. There's a ton of boutique brands that really, as a segment of the industry that's exploded in the last decade. I can't tell you the exact number, but we're somewhere. I mean, again, this is a startup. We're in our first year. We're doing thousands of pairs of skis and we feel very comfortable that we can grow into that sort of bigger category in the next two to four years.
Willy Walker: So, let's finish on Protect Our Winters. We are having a wonderful winter in the western United States as it relates to snowfall. I had a colleague of mine today on a call talking about all these rains in California that nobody's really talking about the fact that the water table is filling back up. And obviously there's the issue of how much are we actually capturing. There's a ton in the snowpack that we're capturing for at least now, But a lot that's going on in L.A for instance, it's just runoff and we're gonna have mudslides and it's actually going to cause more damage than help. But you've been the leading voice on Protect Our Winters. And I've heard you at length talk about the fact that the winter sports industry creates a huge number of jobs. And it's not to try and move away from the fossil fuel industry, to try and impact the people who work in the fossil fuel industry, but it's to protect our winners, to be able to keep the industries and the jobs and the recreation that happen in winter sports. And if we don't, I mean, look at Europe this winter, where the resorts that are just shut down, they're trying to run a World Cup race and they've got one little streak of snow that goes down the middle of just a brown field. Talk for a moment about I mean, I know why you're so passionate about it, but talk for a moment about Protect Our Winters and what you're trying to do.
Chris Davenport: Great. Yeah, thanks for that. For those of you that don't know, Protect Our Winters is a nonprofit that basically is bringing together the outdoor industry, sort of to have a singular voice to protect the things we love, these snowy winters and these wonderful public lands and outside spaces that are so valuable to so many people. And you mention it. It's not just about recreation and resources, it's about economy and jobs, basically. There's over 50 million people in the United States alone, that recreate in the outdoors in one form or another. And it might be hunting and fishing, hook, and bullet sports. It might be skiing or biking, running, camping, rafting, you name it. These create something like an $850 billion industry year over year. So, this is worth protecting because a lot of these communities depend on snowy winters to fill up the chairlifts, to fill up the restaurants and the hotels. So, people are buying equipment at these retail shops and other things.
When you have a good winter, obviously the economic benefit in mountain towns is good, like everyone's making more money. But when you have a bad winter like they're having in Europe right now in the Alps, you mentioned that. I mean, there's no snow in the Alps. It's quite sad. I think there's some snow in the forecast. But the negative economic impact is much worse than the positive impact of a good winter. The negative impact of a bad winter is tens of percentage points worse on these economies. So, they're struggling over there. When there's no snow, no one buys skis, no one goes on vacations, no one goes to these restaurants, no one books the hotel rooms, and everybody's left still having bills to pay. Because when you order things for your restaurant or your retail store or your hotel or your ski resort in the spring or summer prior, you have no idea what the weather's going to be like.
Anyway, long story short, we as an organization are just trying to bring people together not only to educate and understand what the impacts are, but to create activists so that you can call your local elected officials or, get out there and vote with your dollars, whatever it might be like. If you care about the outdoors and you care about clean air and water, which I think everybody does, it's up to us as humans to do something about it. Because frankly, Willy, you and I know this, we're not going on a very, very good course right now with what's happening on the planet. I mean, I'm in California, I'm in Marin County right now. It was just hailing and thundering here. And it never does that in Marin or in San Francisco. My sister's driveway was like a river. They need the water. But yeah, you mentioned capturing it, storing it. That's all really important. And you're not going to do that with one cycle. You need ten years of wet to kind of get rid of the drought in the western United States. And by the way, you mentioned good skiing in the west. Yeah, the snow has been awesome. But if you go to the east, which is a huge part of the national ski market, there is no snow at all.
Willy Walker: Dav, it's super. I mean, I love skiing with you over the weekend. I'm super happy you took the time to be able to do this. You're a dear friend. You're also a gift to the skiing community, the outdoor community, and to our overall community. Have a blast in Japan. To anyone who wants to follow Dav's postings on Instagram, his handle is @steepskiing. So, look it up and you will see great pictures of Dav with powder snow going over his head in about two days. And I look forward to seeing you in Aspen soon, my friend.
Chris Davenport: Thank you so much, Willy. And thanks, everybody. This has been a blast. And Willy, I can't wait to get back on the slopes with you. And I pray for some more snow out there.
Willy Walker: Great. Thanks, everyone, for joining us today. We'll see you again next week. Take care.