The Sandy High Freestyle Ski team consists of just two 16-year-old skiers, but they’ve got some serious skills.
Editor’s Note: Asit Rathod has skied all seven major descents from the summit of Mount Hood: 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 recently climbed to the summit and skied down for the 200th time.
I thought my two hundredth ski from the summit of Oregon's crown jewel Mount Hood would have been a little different. It was a peaceful day with no wind and the sun shining down on me. Walking towards the summit, I broke down and began to cry from the flood of emotions. I started thinking back on the years since my first summit and was amazed at what surfaced.
Sitting on the summit I could only remember less than a dozen epic ski descents out of two hundred. So the question hit me hard.... "Why have I kept coming back to this place so often if it wasn't about the skiing?" The tears slowly began turning into uncontrollable laughter as the memories of all the wild and special times came flooding back. In that moment it all made sense. It was never about summiting or the skiing.
The fact is I must have climbed up and skied down from high on the mountain five to six hundred times or more. More times than not, I turned around before reaching the top. That’s because I have always followed two cardinal rules in the alpine:
If either of these rules is broken I'm back at my car heading home to spend time with my loved ones.
Knock on wood, I have never gotten hurt on Mount Hood. I have definitely been caught in some serious white-outs on the summit, but we’ve always made it out just fine.
Now that I’ve gotten a bit older, the weather has to be almost ideal for me to try for the summit. If it’s obvious the clouds are moving in or the the winds are picking up, I’ll just turn around and head back, because it’s not worth it.
The first time I climbed to the summit I was 19 years old and I had no idea what I was doing. I bought some crampons and an ice axe, brought along an apple and a power bar, and tried to catch up my friend Bryan Sutherland. He really didn’t want to be responsible for me. But I finally caught up to him on the Hogsback, and I made it to the summit.
Soaking in the sun, I remembered the first time a climber was really mean to me for bringing my skis to the summit because he felt it was dangerous and he would have to rescue me if I got hurt.
I remembered skiing the north side naked for the first time just because I could.
I remembered bringing up a stuffed Booby Bird for the son of my love because he wanted his Booby to get to the summit.
I remembered the ashes I've spread of friends dying way before their time. I remembered watching a boy named Bryce become a man before my eyes while spreading the ashes on the summit of his father Mark Cartier, one of the greatest climbers I've ever known.
I remembered spreading the ashes of too many friends taken before their time.
I remembered every smile of every friend who climbed with me to the summit for their first time. Tommy Ellingson. Zach Carbo. Carlos Martinez. Sammy Carlson. Blake McCoy.
I remembered the faces of all the friends who told me while standing on the summit that this was one of the greatest days of their lives.
We go to the mountains for many different reasons.
It can be to escape the humdrum of day-to-day life.
It can be that we are searching to understand ourselves just a little better.
It can be to feel, just for a moment, like a superhero.
It can be that we need to find a bit of happiness when it feels like the darkness of life is winning the battle.
What I know is the evolution of skiing and mountaineering has led us to this moment. It is no longer about being the first, the fastest, or who's done it the most often. It is about being like an artist entering the mountains with fluidity and harmony. Matching the vibrations of this moment in our life with the alpine. Pushing the human spirit into places that once lived in our dreams.
The Dali Lama has been asked many times "What is the meaning of life?" He has always smiled and said "Happiness."
So what I do know now on my two hundredth summit that I did not know on my first is, we go to the mountains to find our happiness because the future is beautiful my friends.