Chris Benchetler’s Brave New World

The last year and a half has been one wild ride for skiing’s Chris Benchetler. A staple of the iconic Nimbus crew and an endless source of creativity in the mountains, Benchetler and his wife, pro snowboarder Kimmy Fasani, welcomed their second child, Zeppelin in early 2021. But this past November, before the excitement of the family’s newest addition had settled, Fasani was diagnosed with breast cancer, entering an unending cycle of doctor’s visits and chemotherapy.

Usually working on film parts or planning the next ski trip, Benchetler has spent most of this winter at home in Mammoth Lakes, CA, taking care of his two young kids while Fasani undergoes treatment.

At the same time, Benchetler is balancing a new role as Atomic’s Creative Director of Freeride and Freeski, bringing his 15-year relationship with the brand full circle, as well as exploring new avenues to bring his unique artwork to the masses. It’s a heavy juggling act, but one that the 35-year-old says has helped him appreciate a different outlook on life, family and the larger ski community.

We checked in with Benchetler to learn about his newest chapter and how he continues to keep the creative fire burning amid life’s peaks and valleys.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ABOVE Amid a life storm of epic proportions, Benchetler has found solace in the hills around his Mammoth Lakes, CA home this season. Photo: Christian Pondella

The Ski Journal: Hey Chris, we’re definitely catching you at an interesting time. Since Kimmy’s diagnosis, what has life looked like in the Benchetler household?

Chris Benchetler: I’m just trying to be here for my family and do everything I can. Kimmy is in treatment every three weeks. Each treatment lasts a week and its down at a treatment center in San Diego. She’s usually too worked during or after treatment, so I’ve taken over a lot of the time with the kids up here in Mammoth.

That’s a lot to handle, and all of a sudden, no less. How are you holding up?

That’s a good question. I’m doing good, there’s not really another option. One front in front of the other.

[This whole experience has] really opened my eyes to the importance of community. We don’t have much family around to help, so we have leaned on our friends and it’s been incredible to see the outpouring of love and support for Kimmy and our situation.

Every week a new friend reaches out to help. Sherry McConkey came down for a week, so many others have come back into my life. That’s a testament to the wonderful ski community and this life that we built in the ski and snowboard world. I’m hanging in there and that’s all thanks to the amount of friends and love we get thrown our way.

This isn’t your first bout with hardship. You’ve lost family members and more than a few friends in the mountains. Your latest art project dives into that grief a bit. Can you explain what you’ve been working on?

Art is perspective and intended to provoke thought and emotion. I’ve had a profound relationship with my own mortality, and continue to pour that into my pieces. Between my own spiritual journeys and connections with mentors, family, and friends—I try to inspire those who are viewing the art to ask their own questions of mortality. I find it healing when souls are returned to the mountains or the sea, as a reminder how life and death fit into our daily existence.

ABOVE Benchetler sends a rooster tail into late afternoon light. Smooth and silky as you like. Photo: Christian Pondella

How does that show up in your newest project?

I painted this piece after the [2021] heli crash in the Tordrillos. Knowing two of the five passengers, and knowing many others that have been lost to the mountains, I was asked to paint something for a t-shirt design for [the late Greg] Harms’ memorial, but took the inspiration further and wanted to donate the original to Harms’ infant daughter who was ultimately left behind. When our community lost Shane, JP, Andres, and many others it moved me deeply, but I didn’t understand the weight of having children of my own at that time.

Now this project is a little different than some of your past work. This art is available as an NFT. Why did you decide to expand into the digital art and crypto world?

Basically, the top level reason of why I made Paridisal Transcendence is evolution. I never knew where I was headed skiing and where my art could take me, but the whole reason I’m where I’m at today is because I didn’t put limitations on myself. I had a lot of people that I trust and respect say it’s a very valuable space for artists, that it broadens the reach of my art. The whole point is to share my perspective on my past experiences and how I see the world and nature and all these deeper parts of my life and perspective, so this is another platform to share my journey.

You seem pretty hands on, does the NFT world feel digital and cold?

It does and it doesn’t. I’m not necessarily the digital collector if you will. So many of my photography friends were so hesitant to switch from 16mm to digital, or upgrading hard drives year after year. That evolution is inevitable though.

Still, I’m not painting my NFTs digitally, I’m still painting. I still have that tangible paintbrush to canvas. It just offers another medium for people that really enjoy the digital space.

I have hard drives and hard drives of early ski footage but don’t necessarily have that original VHS, so in that respect my life is digitalized and saved already. Why would I not try to do something similar with my art work?

The artwork itself is really introspective what does it say about your own personal journey?

I have some perspective I guess. I’ve experienced so much loss that there’s a numbness I’ve built up over the years, like I realize I’m a very small speck in this grand scheme of the universe and beyond. For my mental health I’ve never steered towards depression, I just keep aiming for the light and I have a lot in my life to be thankful for.

Life has taken me to some crazy highs and lows. Just a couple short years ago, I was making a movie with the Grateful Dead. There’s no telling where the road will lead, you have to just enjoy the ride.

Yeah, where has that road been leading you this winter?

Toward a lot of fatherhood stuff. I‘ve been trying to get the kids out skiing. It’s been a bad snow winter, so I appreciate the universe giving me that blessing. If it was pow days every day, I’d have a tough time with all the time indoors.

My children give me so much joy and at the same time expose my flaws as a human. They test my patience, make me look inward because they are just being exposed everything for the first time. That’s been a lot of learning for me.

ABOVE Benchetler has made a name for himself with a flowy, surf-inspired style. Sometimes that wave is best appreciated from above. Photo: Christian Pondella

What has it been like to pass the ski gift on to the next generation?

It’s insane, it speaks to the ultimate happiness, seeing the joy [my oldest son] Koa gets from skiing and accomplishing something. He’s not on a leash anymore, he’s turning and wants to hit jumps and he’s not even 4 years old. They have so much available to them because of the life we live. It’s the fact that they enjoy it and want to be outside.

It snowed a little bit a few weeks ago and Koa was excited to get outside at 6 a.m. He wants to just be outside, so that satisfaction that we’ve shown the importance of nature and living outdoors has already sunk in.

Do you think that has evolved your relationship with skiing?

I would say skiing is an extremely selfish act as a professional, you don’t care about much else and you focus your time and energy on mastering it. I still love skiing to death, I just don’t have the same time to do it as I once did, so just giving back to my kids during this time and watching them become their own little people is so rewarding. I still miss running up a mountain to ski a couloir—I still love skiing a lot—and definitely don’t want to completely stop my progression, but right now I have more important priorities.


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