Mount Hood ski racer Alice Jacklet took first place in slalom and second place in giant slalom in the 75-79 year-old division at the 2017 NASTAR nationals in Colorado. So allow me to dispense with...
Asit Rathod knows Mount Hood.
He has climbed and skied Mount Hood 234 times and counting, and completed all seven of its classic ski descents. Over the course of his adventures Asit has accumulated serious insight about the 11,239-foot summit of Mount Hood.
His goal is to distill his knowledge into a book and video documentary project due for release in the fall of 2018 and, as always, to have a good time in the process. He describes the project as "an ode to the mountain we love."
The film portion is titled "Seven Summits in Seven Days," and it shifted into high gear this spring with helicopter rentals, aerial footage and high-energy group efforts. Asit and his mountaineering partners Carlos Martinez, Brian Ellsworth, Blake McCoy and Shawn Hokkanen have been tearing it up in the fast-melting spring snow, while photographer Richard Hallman and videographers Pierce Hodges and Rod Parmenter capture the action from above.
The conditions on Mount Hood this past month have ranged from solid ice to quicksand-like slush, forcing some high-consequence on-the-mountain decision-making. Asit invested $5,000 in a helicopter rental with the plan to ski down the Newton Clark Headwall on May 10th, but he eventually decided to turn back due to unsafe conditions in favor of a more stable route down the mountain's south side. On April 29th he radioed in from the summit to call off a different planned heli shoot, after determining that conditions were too hazardous.
Asit's goal is to document all seven of the ski lines down from the summit: Wy’East Face, the Newton Clark Headwall, Cooper Spur, the Sunshine Route, the Sandy Glacier Headwall, Leuthold’s Couloir, and the South Side Route.
He says his favorite line down Mount Hood is the one that scares him just past the point of comfort.
Conditions always determine what that line will be. The line that makes me most comfortable is Old Chute to West Crater Rim. The line that makes me feel most uncomfortable is Sandy Glacier Headwall. Sandy is one of the most aesthetically beautiful descents on Mount Hood. It also has the greatest exposure to get out of to safety. Too much traversing below big exposure after the fun is done.
Here are a few sketches from Asit's book project to whet your appetite:
The end product of Asit's Mount Hood Project will consist of three components: a guidebook for ski mountaineers to carry with them on the mountain, a coffee table book featuring Asit's stories and Richard Hallman's photos, and a documentary mixing the serious with the playful. Asit and his friends spread the ashes of Michael Leming, a great climber who died in a wingsuit accident in Norway in June of 2016. They also did their usual share of goofing around. Asit's top two priorities in the mountains are always safety and fun, and in the spirit of his late friend Shane McConkey he likes to poke fun at skiers and mountaineers who take themselves too seriously.
"Some of these backcountry guys these days are starting to take themselves too seriously," he says. "There’s a little too much elitism for me. That's why I like to bring in the smoke bombs and the nakedness, to keep things loose. We need to get back to that fun spirit where you bring people together."
Under the terms of his permit agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, Asit is not allowed to bring in any commercial sponsors for his project. So he has funded it entirely himself. The helicopter rental through Precision Helicopters of Newberg, Oregon costs him about $5,000 per shoot, but he says so far it has been worth it. In addition to getting aerial footage of the natural playground he knows so well, he also has been able to give his 83-year-old father a magnificent view of an important aspect of his life. His father, Narendra Rathod, used to race rally cars in East Africa, so he understands the power of adrenaline. He moved from Tanzania in East Africa to the United States with Asit's mother Kundan Rathod and worked as a civil and mechanical engineer before opening his own car shop, H&H Automotive. There were family cross country ski trips to Trillium Lake when Asit was young, but his dad never had the opportunity to watch his son ski down Mount Hood — until now.
Asit and his dad trace their bloodline through the Rathore, a clan in Northern Indian known for its warrior ethic. "There's no need to fight any more, but that spirit of adventure is still in my blood," he says. "I think it helps explain why I love extreme situations so much."
Asit was 18 years old when he skied Alpine for the first time, and within a year he had completed his first climb to the summit of Mount Hood. Not long after that, he moved from Portland to Chamonix, France, and skied five winters in Chamonix and four summers in Las Lenas, Argentina, competing on the big-mountain freeskiing tour in its early days.
The sport has come a long way since those days. Ski mountaineering gear keeps improving, resorts get more and more crowded, climate change threatens the future of low-altitude snow, and ever-growing numbers of adventurous souls are drawn to extreme but accessible places like Mount Hood, which gets climbed about 10,000 times per year.
"The sport is evolving and it is going to keep evolving," Asit says. "The resorts can only handle so much and the population is just going to keep growing. I see backcountry as the future of skiing."
Asit's plan is to keep climbing, skiing and shooting as long as conditions allow this spring, and to add in a couple of pristine powder days documented by helicopter next winter as well. That will give him the summer of 2018 to put finishing touches on the books and the film for release next fall.
As for the long term, Asit says he plans to continue exploring the upper reaches of Mount Hood for years to come: “I hope to accomplish as many summit skis as are written in my future. The number doesn't matter, just the experience. The day it stops being inspirational or fun, I'll stop.”
Here's a photo I shot two springs ago of Asit on top of Mount Hood on a sunny day. That's Carlos Martinez on the left and Humaira Falkenburg on the right, with Asit in the center of the frame: