Catching Up With Owen Leeper
From massive tandem front flips to narrow couloir straight lines, Owen’s ski season was certainly one for the books. Taking advantage of the amazing storm systems across North America as well as traveling overseas, Owen’s ski adventures were endless, and he isn’t done skiing yet! We caught up with Owen to hear about his epic season and what he has planned for the summer.
What was your best day of skiing this year?
There were so many incredible days of skiing this year that it is hard to pick one “best day”. The best couple of days that I had were probably a few days that I skied in Wyoming with Julian Carr. We got an 80-inch storm in three days, which allowed me to hit some features that I’ve wanted to hit for a while. One of these features was a big cliff under the tram at Jackson Hole that I had been eyeing ever since moving out here. We probed the landing and then after it snowed more that night, conditions were perfect for hitting it the following day. After that, we headed over to Targhee where we had a beautiful bluebird powder day. Last year, Julian and I did a tandem jump off of this 45-foot diving board cliff and had talked about doing tandem front flips off of it. This year we were able to make that happen! Those few cliff drops as well as the deep snow and awesome weather were probably my best days skiing this year!
Did you achieve any big goals this year?
In terms of goals for this year, thanks to the awesome storm cycles, I was able to ski lines that aren't usually ski-able. The wind also played a huge role and deposited snow into areas that are almost never covered. One line that I watched all year, and patiently waited to fill in, was a couloir called 3 Times a Lady in the Jackson Hole backcountry. This line was particularly scary because I had to step down a small rock face with my skis on in an absolute no fall zone right above the couloir. Once inside the couloir, it was so steep and narrow that besides the mandatory slight left-hand turn, I basically had to straight line the entire thing.
I also got to travel around a bunch which was a big goal for my season. I did a trip in Austria and Switzerland which was cool because of how different the skiing is over there. In Europe, they essentially just put a ski lift on top of the biggest mountain they can find and from there, it’s a free for all. There are a bunch of super fun big mountain features that are accessible right off of the chairlift. However, you need to be really careful because almost nothing is marked. If you’re not paying attention, you can easily find yourself skiing off of a 300+ foot cliff.
I also got to do a ski trip to Japan which was a really unique experience for me because of how different the culture and skiing is over there. In Japan, they drive on the left side of the road which took a while to get used to. On top of that, Google maps wasn’t very accurate and there were multiple times where the maps told us to turn into these massive 15 foot snow banks. The skiing out there was awesome and it was everything I thought it would be. There aren't a lot of really steep lines or big things to jump off of, but the snow is DEEP and if you know what you are getting into, you will have a great time.
Every time that I go out skiing, I try to scare myself a little bit. For the bigger lines that I ski, I watch the snow pack and study where the rocks are. I also probe the bottom and the landing to ensure I’m not going to land on any rocks. I try to study and account for every variable that is out of my control so that when I am dropping into the line, I know that if I do everything right in terms of my skiing, everything will turn out well. I try to be pretty confident when dropping into a big line but of course there always is a little bit of fear.
What preparation techniques do you recommend for hitting bigger lines?
I recommend going out and finding something at your home mountain that has about the level of risk that you are looking for. Ideally something that you can ski with confidence but is difficult and pushes you out of your comfort zone. Keep going back to the same feature after every storm and keep pushing yourself a little bit harder. If you are trying to push yourself on something new every time you go out skiing, you won’t progress as quickly, and you won’t feel as confident. If it’s a cliff, hit it a little bigger or if it’s a steep chute, ski it a little faster. I used this technique in a couloir in Jackson Hole called Twice is Nice. I’ve probably skied the couloir more times than anything else because it fills in the earliest and is usually still skiable into July. Twice is Nice is a dogleg couloir meaning that when you’re looking down into it, you can’t see the bottom. When you're skiing down it fast you get quite an adrenaline rush going because it looks like you are skiing straight into a wall. The first 5-10 times I skied it, I skied pretty normally and just kept going faster and faster every time. Eventually, the conditions lined up and I was able to straight line down the entire couloir. Since then, I have continued to progress in this same couloir by pushing the line left and right into more technical areas.
What does your typical late spring/summer skiing mission look like?
I like to pack light and skin up and ski down before I get hungry. I usually eat a bowl of cereal in the morning and then drink coffee on the way to the mountain. Right now (early June), in the Grand Tetons, you have to climb at least 4,000 vertical feet to get to anything worth skiing. I skied the South Teton a few weeks ago. It took 5 hours and we ascended about 5,700 feet. On the way down, we got to ski about 4,000 feet before we ran out of snow and had to bushwhack 3 miles back to the car.
What are your summer plans?
I’m hoping to ski out here in Wyoming into July and I’m also planning on doing some ski trips in Colorado. (Owen came down to Colorado since this interview and skied some incredible lines in Southern Colorado). With California’s snowpack holding strong, I might also make a trip out to Squaw and Mammoth. In terms of bigger trips, I’m planning on doing a trip to Bariloche in Argentina sometime in August. However, if they don’t get much snow, I might go to New Zealand to ski instead. I took a 10-day beach trip to Hawaii earlier this summer and now I’m ready to get back to skiing as soon as possible!
What are your goals for next season?
As of right now, I’m not quite sure what my goals for next season are. A goal that has been on my list for a long time is to go and ski Mount Rainier and Mount Denali. Unfortunately, I didn't get to do a ton of ski mountaineering this year. April and May are usually the best months to go ski mountaineering in the Tetons because it gets really cold at night and warm and clear during the day which makes for perfect corn skiing. Unfortunately, this year there were a lot of rainy days and the mountains were really socked in. I’m hoping to still do some more ski mountaineering this summer skiing volcanoes in California and Oregon.
Be sure to follow Owen Leeper on Instagram @o_leeps to keep up with his adventures and watch the footage of some of the crazy lines he talked about in this blog!