Robin Kaleta – Freeride skier on majesty and danger of Alaska’s peaks
Earlier this month four professional Czech skiers set out for the trip of a lifetime: skiing some of the steepest peaks in the world in Thompson Pass, Alaska. The team included former world skicross champion Tomáš Kraus, Olympian snowboarder Michal Novotný, snowboarder Martin Černík, and freeride skier Robin Kaleta. For seven days or so the four tackled some of the toughest faces in the area for a short documentary.
“I was first in Alaska back in 2002, but back then it was just for the summer, working in local hotels, so I didn’t get to ski there. But I did see the mountains and I knew that I had to come back one day.”
You said it was difficult to describe what it was like now that you did ski there, many different impressions… what was your first one?
“Scary. Extremely scary! I never thought it would be that steep, I never thought that the cornices would be that big. It really scared the hell out of me and it takes a lot of time to mentally prepare yourself to ski at your edge. That’s the thing that I still have to accomplish, because what I did was ski far below my limit. It was just too scary to push it!”
That sounds extraordinary, given your experience with freeriding, you’ve skied all over the world, what is it about Alaska that is the biggest difference?
“I think mainly that it’s the snow, because there it sticks to any slope, up to any steepness that you can imagine. Up to 60 degrees it is still powder and you can rely on the snow no matter how long it has been there, regardless of how much slough has gone down. It’s still pretty soft. On your way down you know you are not going to hit an ice, any ice fields or any crust. You just need to go where you are going and to be as fast as possible so you don’t get hit by the slough (a smaller avalanche) from behind. I can usually estimate what is dangerous and what is safe, how big a cliff I can drop from, so it’s basically just about experience.”
There were four of you (two skiers, two snowboarders) with different specializations: how did these help or hurt you?
You said that you skied well below your threshold; all the same was there any point when things got out of hand? It was mentioned that you had one more potentially serious fall…
You guys got in about seven full ski days: what did a typical day look like and how did you get to many of these peaks?
“Mostly by helicopters, to save time. You choose where you want to go and five minutes later you are standing on the top waiting for the cameraman on the other side to begin filming. That was most of the time. But on days when our budget was tighter was also relied on skidoos or just ski touring to get to smaller lines, so even if you don’t want to fly, there are a lot of options at Thompson Pass."
The pilots that you flew with are obviously pros, but some of the places you landed looked very tight, even risky.
Why did they drop one of you at chosen locations?
“They didn’t have to, but they dropped us off around 200 or 300 metres apart for the film. So the cameraman could shoot each of us coming down in pristine, untouched snow, without any other lines. That’s why.”
Most of these photos look absolutely fantastic, some of these slopes being steeper than 45 degrees. You can almost reach out to touch the 'wall' behind you...
“If it were in Europe, it would be ice and you wouldn’t be able to go at all fast. Very technical and you have to be careful. But here you could drop into it and ski a 45 degree slope as if was 40. It takes time but then it clicks and you get into it.”
What was one of the mountains that you guys skied that you won’t forget, that we’ll see in the film?