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The Denali Experiment with Conrad Anker

Posted on: March 27th, 2012 by Pete Takeda

In June of 2011, Conrad Anker (past board member of The American Alpine Club), Ingrid Backstrom, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Lucas DeBari, Giulia Monego, Hilaree O’Neill, Emilio Previtali, and Jim Zellers tackled Alaska’s Denali, at 20,320 feet the highest peak in North America. What made this trip unique was its fusion of alpine climbing, big mountain skiing, and snowboarding across multiple generations. The team, rounded out by Jimmy Chin and Matthew Irving comprised some of the finest athletes and filmmakers from The North Face. The title of the soon-to-be-released video, says it all. “The Denali Experiment,” was a hybrid of climbing and riding in the Alaska Range. It forced the team to dig a little deeper on North America’s biggest chunk of snow and ice.

“There were many wonderful mornings enjoying coffee, serene sunsets, and hours spent toiling with a sled attached to one’s ass…”

Says Cattabriga-Alosa: For years Conrad brought up the idea of climbing/skiing Denali together. I’ve always known it was an opportunity not to pass up, but I wasn’t exactly proactive in making it a reality. Finally, last year around this time, we were at a TNF team meeting discussing future expeditions when it became a reality.

Adds DeBari: The idea has been going around TNF since before I was involved… All it took was a little bit of enthusiasm and all the climbers involved were stoked. It wasn’t until last fall that we started planning for the expedition. Everyone involved was hyped about going on the adventure.

We asked Conrad Anker—expedition’s mastermind—a few questions.

Pete Takeda: Tell us about the roots of The Denali Experiment?

Conrad Anker: At an athlete meeting Sage, Hilaree and I came up with the idea to cross-pollinate alpine climbing, big mountain skiing, and the various generations we represent. I kept after Sage to keep June aside one year to ski from the summit of North America. He was psyched to make it happen.

Pete Takeda: How long did the project take to come to fruition?

Conrad Anker: It was talk for about four years and eventually made the rounds to be an expedition in 2011.

Pete Takeda: Who were the participants?

Conrad Anker: We had a great team. Hilaree O’Neil, Ingrid Backstrom, Guila Monega (Italy), Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Lucas Debari, Jimmy Chin, Jim Zellers, Emelio Prevatelli (Italy), and Matthew Irving,

Pete Takeda: Would you judge the project a success?

Conrad Anker: Yes. There were no injuries, all friends and a summit to boot. It was great to share winter camping skills and glacier travel with the young generation of skiers and riders.

Pete Takeda: Was there a defining moment in the expedition?

Conrad Anker: Aside from standing on top of Denali, which is the cliché moment, watching Sage do a back flip off of an ice bump over a crevasse was that moment. There were many wonderful mornings enjoying coffee, serene sunsets, and hours spenttoiling with a sled attached to one’s ass.

Pete Takeda: Does a project like this reflect the values of the AAC?

Conrad Anker: The AAC looks to increase mentorship, encourage safe mountain practices, and share the stoke of being in the hills.  These values were met. This was a great combination of all these attributes with friends and a top-drawer creative team to capture the story.