Chris Figenshau Gallerie

It was the last day of a weeklong 2003 Teton Gravity Research trip to Alaska’s Chugach Mountains and the boys had zilch in the can. The week had been gray, snowless and windy, everything locked up and scratchy. Determined to find something soft for the athletes before their time ran out, Valdez Heli Ski Guides’ Mark Newcomb and Rob Hess decided to fly south from the Tsaina Lodge to an often-overlooked zone near the head of the Marshall Glacier, gambling the last of TGR’s heli hours on the hope of a miracle.

Tall, tan and unflappable, Chris Figenshau was already a seasoned mountaineer, photographer and forest firefighter by then. But as the ship clattered over the Chugach’s frozen whitecaps, he was sweating bullets. Sponsors had kicked in a portion of travel expenses and heli budget, but he was still on the hook to TGR for $9,000. He’d brought 50 rolls of slide film with him, and there was not a frame on any of those rolls that would pay for any of this. Besides the poor conditions, athletes Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, John Jackson, Frederik Kalbermatten, and Dave Short were all Alaska newbies, and their on-camera AK initiation in such tough conditions had been frustrating for all. As the heli touched down atop a complex, precipitous ridge generically called “the Wall,” Chris loaded a fresh roll of Fuji Provia slide film into his Canon SLR and tried not to think of the impending financial black hole.

The guides’ instincts were right. Tucked into a north-facing, wind-sheltered basin, the Wall wore a thick, foamy layer of surface hoar. As the heli roared into position above the run, Sage dropped in and all hell, or heaven, broke loose. The surface hoar made for particularly fast, billowing slough, immediately overtaking and surrounding Sage as he dove down the face, unaware or unperturbed by the chaos around him. He launched off a mid-run cliff and grabbed blunt…

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