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From 90-Foot Cliff Drops to Backcountry Pond Skims: Reviewing Owen Leeper’s 2018 Ski Season

For a guy recovering from shoulder surgery, Owen Leeper got after it during the 2018 ski season. If you count front flipping off massive cliffs as “getting after it,” that is. I’m going to assume you do.

Although he’ll still be skiing likely every month until the official start of the 2019 season, we talked with Owen about his best—and worst—moments plus his favorite—and gnarliest—lines from the winter gone by.

How’s the spring/summer skiing going? How much longer do you think you’ll be skiing in Jackson?

There’s still quite a bit of snow up high. Now in the park it’s about an hour approach to when you start skinning. The tram at Jackson Hole is open, so you can get some laps off the top. It’s a little limited with what you can do up there, though, to make it worth it. We should be skiing through the end of June here.

For after that, there’s this guy who wants to shoot a video down in Argentina, so I’m headed down there August 1. Bariloche for a week, and then Icelantic is doing a trip down to Las Leñas September 1. So two trips down to Argentina this summer.

Owen Leeper's 2018 ski season backcountry pond skim
Why resort pond skim when you can backcountry pond skim? | PHOTO: Sasha Motivala

How was the snow in Jackson this winter?

It was really good, especially up high. Off the Tram and in the backcountry was great. Tougher down low. It rained a few times down there. Overall it was a bit above average for the five winters that I’ve been here so far.

Where else did you ski this winter?

It was a little slower this year because of my shoulder surgery. So I was up around here until March, and then we went up to Canada for about 10 days. We hit Fernie and Revelstoke. That was the main trip of the winter. Then this spring, we tried to go up to Alaska, but we kinda got rained out up there around Haines and didn’t really get to ski at all. So we left a week early, and I spent the second half of that trip down in Utah skiing Snowbird and Alta.

british columbia backcountry skiing owen leeper
Owen Leeper skied his most aesthetic lines in the British Columbia backcountry this season. | PHOTO: Sasha Motivala

How was Fernie?

I had never been to Fernie. There’s some good terrain in-bounds, but the best part up there is the really good side country. The funny thing there is that you can’t ski it while the lifts are open. The backcountry runs come down on top of groomed, easier skiing, so they don’t want people setting off avalanches and killing tourists.

So you wait up top in the backcountry until the lifts close. And then you can ski backcountry right off the top and back to the resort. It’s a unique thing. You’d get up there at 3:30 and wait until Ski Patrol goes down and then you can ski these really neat chutes all the way back down. It was really cool.

Where did you have your best day of the winter?

The best day—really four days—was over at Targhee. It was one of their biggest storms of the winter. They got 55 inches in three days, and Julian Carr called me up and asked if I wanted to meet him over there. Off the backside, Targhee is known for these huge cliffs that you can jump off. So we went back there and hit some of the biggest cliffs of my life.

The Diving Board is this 70-footer that we hit three times, and then we did a couple simul-airs of these smaller 45-foot cliffs. One of the days, it just kept snowing. It was probably 30 inches just that day. You could ski about eight turns before you had to stop to let the snow settle down so you could see the trees so you could keep going.

It was definitely the deepest snow I’ve ever skied and the biggest cliffs I’ve ever jumped off. So it was probably the highlight of not only the year but my ski career so far.

You said you guys went about 90 feet on one hit. What’s the secret to landing a massive air like that?

On any big cliff, you’re basically trying to land as parallel to the slope as possible so you don’t knee yourself in the face or end up breaking your neck or leg or something. But the snow was so deep that you’d air off and land basically flat on your back because it was too big and not steep enough to be able to stomp it. You’d land and just get buried about eight feet deep. So the main thing there is making sure you have someone above you to pull you out if you can’t get out on your own. Pretty scary if the snow starts falling in on you.  

What was your sketchiest moment of the season?

I was skiing in the Once is Enough Couloir off Cody Peak in my normal boots but a different ski that wasn’t mounted correctly. I made one jump-turn, and both of my heels came out, so I started sliding on my stomach down this rocky chute and almost went off this 40-foot cliff into rocks.

Gnarliest line?

Probably the scariest one was at Jackson, and it’s called Three Times a Lady. It takes a bunch of snow to fill in, and it didn’t fill in this year until the second-to-last week of the season. It’s this pinner couloir that’s not wide enough to make turns in, so you basically have to work your way through it and then straight line out the bottom. It’s probably 300-400 vertical feet that you have to straight line, and then you pop out in this bowl, so it’s probably 1,000 feet total. That was pretty much the tightest one—my skis were basically touching both walls.

couloir skiing jackson hole
Point and shoot. | PHOTO: Owen Leeper

Best view?

We brought our snowmobiles up on our trip to Fernie and Revy, and one day we went up and were able to sled up into the alpine on this huge glacier overlooking The Bugaboos, these huge granite peaks in BC. We were sledding and sled skiing up there, and it was definitely the best backdrop I saw all winter.

Favorite ski?

The Icelantic Nomad 115 is my go-to. It’s perfect for Jackson because it’s wide enough on powder days but it’s got camber underfoot so you can charge through all the crud. All the terrain around Jackson requires some kind of crud skiing or tighter jump turns in couloirs. So it’s definitely the best one for all that.

targhee backcountry skiing owen leeper
“Off the backside, Targhee is known for these huge cliffs that you can jump off. So we went back there and hit some of the biggest cliffs of my life.” | PHOTO: Jana Rogers

Favorite song?

I’ll listen to music on the hike up or if I’m skiing in bounds by myself. It’s not a safe idea for the backcountry. But I usually just throw on a Pandora station and see what comes on. Anything that’s upbeat and makes you want to ski faster rather than slower. Electronic, like Calvin Harris type stuff. When you’re skiing, you can’t hear the words anyway. You just hear the beat and that gets your tempo going.

Go-to snack?

I always have a couple Power Bars in my pocket. But my go-to is trail mix, and it’s gotta have double the chocolate. I usually add another bag of M&Ms.

Favorite beer?

It’s usually the cheap stuff, usually Rainier. That or PBR. It’s cheap and in a can.

What’s one thing you didn’t do this year that you want to do next winter? 

Haines is definitely on the trip list for next spring, and I’d love to go over to Europe and ski some of the couloirs around Chamonix and Zermatt. I’ve been over there once and basically saw everything I’d like to ski but didn’t get a chance to. So that would be my goal for next year, to go spend a couple weeks over there skiing big peaks and couloirs.

Get to know Powder7’s first sponsored athlete: Owen Leeper



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