In November 2019, a team of Olympians, professional athletes, and Protect Our Winters (POW) ambassadors Danny Davis, Nick Russell, and Elena Hight embarked on a journey to ski and snowboard amidst the rugged terrain, breathtaking glaciers, and exotic wildlife in one of Earth’s last frontiers - Antarctica. This team of friends brought their world-class talents to the highest, driest, and coldest continent on Earth with the team at Ice Axe Expeditions. This 14-day adventure not only brought these three friends on a unique experience to the frozen continent, but also brought individuals representing 20 different countries on an experience of a lifetime and to ultimately return home as new ambassadors to the most fragile environment on our planet.
"Riding Remote" - A Trip To Antarctica with Danny Davis, Nick Russell and Elena Hight
More people have summited Mount Everest than have skied and snowboarded Antarctica. Founder and President of Ice Axe Expeditions, Douglas Stoup, characterizes Antarctica as a rose...
“...Getting to Antarctica is like passing through valleys of thorns as you cross the Drakes Passage - the most dangerous ocean passage on Earth. But once you get through the thorns, you are rewarded by the most visually stimulating and beautiful landscape you have ever seen - those like rose pedals...”
20 years ago, Doug Stoup had a dream to bring 100 of his best friends on a trip to Antarctica to also experience the pristine and awe-inspiring white continent that had changed his perspective on life. Inspired by the legacy of Antarctic discovery, adventurous friends from around the world can now journey to Antarctica to ski and snowboard with some of the world’s most experienced guides. Doug has built a team of world-class guides from around the world to ensure the safest and most transformative experiences in an effort to create memories that last a lifetime.
Danny Davis, Nick Russell and Elena Hight together traveled through alleys of icebergs and explored harbors and bays while surrounded by clouds of seabirds and curious Antarctic wildlife. While adventuring across 50,000-year-old glaciers, they were immersed in the raw beauty of a land covered by ice. The fragility of the environment echoes as you hear magnificent glaciers calve into the Southern Ocean.
However, traveling to Antarctica incurs a cost. Danny, Nick, and Elena along with their guide team and camera crew each traveled from Lake Tahoe, California. This long-distance travel created a significant amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere that, in turn, leads to the continued and unfortunate collapse of these glaciated environments.
In association with Protect Our Winters (POW), a non-profit organization that was founded by Jeremy Jones with a huge alliance of athletes, brands, scientists and artists who work to mobilize all members of the outdoor community in climate policy, advocacy, and activism. This Antarctic team used POW’s Cost of Carbon Calculator as a method of offsetting their carbon footprint from their homes in Lake Tahoe to Antarctica and back.
"...With the POW Cost of Carbon Calculator, each member of the team was able to purchase offsets and chose where their carbon offset credits would go towards..."
Each member of this team’s carbon footprint amounted to about 16,000 pounds. With the POW Cost of Carbon Calculator, each member of the team was able to purchase offsets and chose where their carbon offset credits would go towards. Some of the verified and registered carbon offset programs include the Wisconsin Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Project, forest management organizations, biomass projects and more.
In addition to the carbon emitted, you also don’t want to bring any foreign organisms into the environment. Before arriving in Antarctica, every member who hopes to step foot off the ship must vacuum every pocket of their outerwear, clean all their gear and wipe down equipment and shoes to ensure the continued protection and absence of foreign objects being brought to the continent.
As professional athletes, guides, filmmakers, scientists and adventurers, there is an inherent cost of experience. It is true when those say that first-hand experiences are the most powerful and bringing back visual stories can help bring awareness to those that don’t have the ability to visit these environments. This awareness comes with a cost and with the help of progressive organizations like POW, these athletes and storytellers have the means to support innovative programs that forge what it means to be an imperfect advocate.
This Antarctic adventure was documented and recently released across all of the Outside TV platforms as a 20-min short film called ‘Riding Remote - Antarctica’. This film is presented by Ice Axe Expeditions and Tahoe Matt Media in association with Outside TV, Protect Our Winters, and Neon Wave.
Stein is a professional ski mountaineer, Ice Axe Ski Guide, adventure photographer/filmmaker, and activist from Olympic Valley, California. He has spent the last 4.5 years training under the mentorship of polar explorer, Douglas Stoup and spent 8 months of his life between 2017-19 on expeditions above the Arctic Circle or in Antarctica working with explorers, visual artists, and conservationists. He has lead ski expeditions to some of the World's northernmost mountain ranges and has guided trips for Ice Axe Expeditions in both the Arctic and Antarctic.
Stein was stoked and honored to be involved with the "Riding Remote - Antarctica" project as it was a dream to ski with the crew: Danny, Nick and Elena.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST LOGISTICS ISSUE IN PLANNING A TRIP LIKE THIS?
Founder and President of Ice Axe Expeditions, Doug Stoup, could definitely speak more to this, but happy to answer based on what I know… Antarctica the most remote continent on Earth with nearly no one living there full-time. The logistics of bringing people down to Antarctica takes a huge permitting and application process. You have to abide by the rules and regulations of a couple different Antarctic organizations protecting the continent. The logistics of putting together a film crew is next level because you have to account for the overall safety and comfortness of guides bringing athletes and filmmakers on the ice. Antarctica is known to be one of the most difficult places on Earth to guide because there really isn’t much if at all, specific ‘beta’ on routes, avalanche forecasts, crevasse movement and expansion. It’s extremely taxing to constantly be aware of your surrounding and keep a team of people safe. If someone gets hurt, the entire ship has to go North and you need to board a small plane to fly several hours to a hospital in South America. It’s an intense environment that takes a ton of preparedness and numerous years of experience to do what Doug has put together. I have utmost respect for what Doug has created with Ice Axe Expeditions.
"...It’s extremely taxing to constantly be aware of your surrounding and keep a team of people safe..."
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THIS TRIP?
Really long story short, during our last semester of college, my best friend and I met Doug on a chairlift in Whistler, BC. He introduced us to the concept of being able to ski in both the Arctic and Antarctic. He also introduced us to the concept of adding impact or purpose to each adventure. Since then, he has been our mentor for polar exploration and remote ski mountaineering.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN GUIDING IN THE BACKCOUNTRY?
Just to note, I am not an IFMGA guide or AMGA guide like most guides on the Ice Axe staff. I have been fortunate to have Doug as a polar guide mentor for the last 5 years.
I grew up ski racing my whole life and only started backcountry skiing in 2016. A couple years later, Doug recommended that I guide a project in the Arctic when I was 22 years old and being that I had never been there before. It turns out that it was Leonardo DiCaprio’s film crew and I was guiding them for 3 weeks. Since then, I had spent 8 months of my life between 2017-19 in either the Arctic or Antarctic regions ski mountaineering or on film projects. I also guided in Tahoe backcountry since I was 15 years old.
"...I wished I was born 200 years ago to truly experience what it was like to truly explore. But now, I have the opportunity to work with some of the World’s best and bring back stories from insanely epic environments around the World..."
WHAT FIRST ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS LINE OF WORK?
I have always been attracted to remote environments and the professionalism of accomplished guides who brought teams to the world’s most remote environments. I wished I was born 200 years ago to truly experience what it was like to truly explore. But now, I have the opportunity to work with some of the World’s best and bring back stories from insanely epic environments around the World.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL SET NEEDED TO WHAT YOU DO?
Preparedness, organization and mindset.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
In 2019, I led an expedition to one of the northernmost mountain ranges of the World - just a few hundred miles from the North Pole. My team consisted of my younger brother, Thor, and pro photographer, Erin Hogue. We lived and skied in the middle of the Arctic after a 140-mile snowmobile trek across glaciers and -40F temps. We had various first ski descents and ultimately created experience and memories that I will remember forever. We also have a short-film called “Area 11” about that expedition.
"...Nature is humbling and must be respected..."
HOW TOUGH IS THE ANTARCTICA TERRAIN TO CLIMB? WHAT WERE THE DANGERS?
As mentioned above, Antarctica is one of the most intense places on Earth to ski mountaineer. There are millions of crevasses that you can’t even see. The South Pole sits at about 9,000 ft and it’s a pretty shear elevation gain from the coast. Antarctica holds about 98% of the world’s ice and it’s always changing. You can’t constantly look up recent data on routes, glacier movement, weather, crevasse location, etc. You always have to be vigilant, use your experience and be prepared and organized for the worst.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THE MOUNTAINS?
Nature is humbling and must be respected. You can't control the weather and movement. Be prepared for anything - listen, learn, breathe and enjoy every moment you have to spend in such incredible places.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE GETTING READY TO GO ON A TRIP LIKE THIS?
For me, it was a lot about finding mentors and finding ways to always provide more value that what was expected. I also love the concept around “You are the average of the 5 closest people you surround yourself by” - pick your friends and backcountry partners who help you constantly learn and enhance the experience. There is so much out there that we don’t know until we ask.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR SUGGESTIONS AND PHILOSOPHIES FOR AVALANCHE SAFETY EDUCATION AND PREPAREDNESS IN THE BACKCOUNTRY?
Yeah, back to being prepared and the willingness to learn. There are some excellent courses out there with some extremely experienced instructors. I would honestly start with enrolling in some beginner avalanche courses, Wilderness First Aid/Responder courses. There, you can meet others who are also hoping to explore the backcountry more. Always make a plan and be prepared. Build a team that compliments each other well. Surround yourself with people you can learn from.
WHAT TYPES OF MENTAL AND PHYSICAL CHALLENGES DID YOU DEAL WITH ON A DAILY BASIS?
I do my best to train both physically, mentally and spiritually. I spend as much time as I can in the mountains. I read a lot. Over the last couple months, I am at about a book a week - short and long. It’s great to read articles on the sport you are trying to explore and follow people who can share information. I go to the gym often and stretch. It’s important to practice harder that what would be in the “game” or in an expedition scenario. You will be bummed if you wish you learned more or wished you worked out harder.
"...If Antarctica melts, our oceans rise significantly and ocean current and atmospheric weather patterns change substantially. Antarctica can and does affect our whole World. Antarctica must be protected..."
HOW IS ANTARCTICA SIGNIFICANT TO YOU? WHY SHOULD IT BE SIGNIFICANT TO PEOPLE NEAR AND FAR?
Antarctica is one of the most absolutely stunning and jaw-dropping place I have ever seen. No where on Earth compares to Antarctica. You literally can’t compare it to anything. It’s in a category of its own. Antarctica holds 98% of the World’s ice which is most of the World’s fresh water. If Antarctica melts, our oceans rise significantly and ocean current and atmospheric weather patterns change substantially. Antarctica can and does affect our whole World. Antarctica must be protected.
Directed and shot by Matt Hardy
Executive Producers: Stein Retzlaff & Matt Hardy
Produced by Doug Stoup, Dan Brown, and Scott Burgess
Athletes: Danny Davis, Elena Hight, and Nick Russell,
Guides: Stein Retzlaff and Andrew Eisenstark
Additional cinematography: Kaya Lampa, Danny Davis, Elena Hight, Nick Russell, and Stein Retzlaff
Edited by Kate Bengston
Writer: Nick Myers
Coloring: Rob Faris