People will stand at the top of Chair Eight at Mt. Baker to watch this guy ski lines off the Shuksan Arm. Arriving from Gold Hill, Colorado, Zack Giffin and his brothers showed up in Washington seven years ago, not to become local celebrities, but to ski a place that gets more snow than anywhere in North America. After working in the park and patrolling, Zack now spends most of his time shooting with local photographer, Grant Gunderson, or skiing the resort’s extensive sidecountry. We caught up with him in between trips to Mt. Shasta and Nelson, after a day of schralping the holy ground.
When you talk to Zack Giffin about skiing, it is enough to make you question your own levels of enthusiasm. Spending years living in his van in the Mt. Baker parking lot and time on Glacier’s infamous Czech Road, Giffin has made all the sacrifices for blue, stable, pow days at Baker. In addition to his country-club days on the Shuksan Arm (when it’s not raining), he now spends time traveling and skiing in places such as B.C and South America. Giffin explains all when it comes to stomping airs, escaping the rain, and his early influences.
You are one of the local skiers that most people know at Baker. Why do you think that is?
When I first moved to Baker I worked in the terrain park for two years. This was at a time when Baker was really pushing the terrain park movement and I think I got a lot of credit for making it happen, even though a lot of that credit is a little undeserved.
So, it has nothing to do with the way you ski?
That may have helped me get noticed. One thing that may have distinguished me from the other rippers at Baker is my terrain park background (I grew up in Colorado). Having those acrobatic abilities really has helped my skiing.
You ski at a mountain that made riders like Craig Kelly. Who were some of your early influences there?
I moved to Baker after the Mt. Baker hardcore era, when riders like Craig Kelly, Jamie Lynn, Chris Fulton, and Tex Davenport were dominating the scene. When I showed up, the influences I had were the kids who had grown up around that, but were too young to participate at the time and were coming into their own, such as Blair Habinecht, Sean (Donnkie) Mansfield, and Patrick McCarthy. My main inspiration for where I want to take my skiing has always been Temple Cummins, who is respected for his ability on the snow rather than in the air.
So, were most of those people snowboarders?
Yes. Hanging out with snowboarders helped me learn how to enjoy billy-goating, using trees limbs to lower yourself from ledge to ledge; the snowboarders at Baker are comfortable on anything. I learned to have fun on more technical, steeper, lower-speed lines. Also, a snowboarder’s perception of landing an air is different than most skiers. If a hand hits the ground that is a hand drag and means you didn’t stomp the air clean. If you backslap and try to claim you stomped an air at the bar, to a snowboarder that’s a joke.
What helps you stomp an air?
My terrain park experience; in the park you don’t have the option to go to your back. A lot of people that grew up hitting cliffs and jumps into powder didn’t get experience in a place where you don’t have the option to fall. At Mt. Baker we are blessed because we have nice, steep landings for airs.
Steep landings, record breaking snowfall, rad snowboarders…what else keeps you at Baker season after season?
Every time I check off one of the lines on my “hit list” I add two more.
What about when it is raining?
You go somewhere else. At Mt. Baker weather patterns stick around for awhile, whether that pattern is snow or rain. If it starts raining or snowing, there is a good chance that it is going to be doing that for awhile. This is the first year that I have really been able to travel and escape the rain.
What has allowed you to travel this year?
I am maybe not quite as broke as I have been in years past. I also got some invitations and decided to go.
Photographer Grant Gunderson says that he published 54 photos of you this year. Do you think that has anything to do with it?
I think it has a lot to do with it. Grant and I have been traveling a lot together this year; we make a really good team.
What do you guys have planned for the rest of the year?
We are going to straight destroy the Cold Smoke Festival photo contest, a five day photo contest in Nelson, then some heli-skiing for a Gordini team shoot…we’ll see from there.