Black n' Blue InterviewLocation: Rocky Mountains
Pursuiter: Austin Porzak
To put it simply, Austin Porzak is a crazy person. Not crazy in the sense that he finger paints with his own poops or that he believes that George W. collaborated with aliens to orchestrate 9/11. More so crazy in the sense that he will pretty much climb anything with skis on his back and then slide down said anything at a speed that is much faster than is considered safe. We had a chance to catch up with Mr. Porzak and ask him a few questions regarding his various endeavors and get a better sense of what makes this guy tick.
MHM: At what age did you decide you want to make skiing/mountaineering a lifelong pursuit?
Austin: At a pretty early age. When I was 4 I got my first taste of the mountains when my parents took me to Switzerland to see how I would do on snow and glaciers. At age 5 I accompanied my dad to the Makalu basecamp. Then at age 9 I went with him to Everest basecamp. These treks were way different back in the day and teams would typically be on the mountain for 6 months at a time so I really got exposed to prolonged mountain living at a early age. Growing up its pretty much all I knew and I just thought living in the big mountains was normal and figured when I was older I would do the same thing. What your telling me not every 5 year old lives at the Makalu or Everest basecamp haha. All my free time was spent in the mountains climbing with my dad. Also, my dad is a big skier so I started skiing pretty much just after I started walking. Mixing skiing and climbing was my calling and it was natural fit. It has allowed me to travel to every continent and work with some amazing people and companies. I feel super blessed. When you live in the mountains and put down challenging ascents and descents you create energy. That energy I believe lives with you forever because you lived that experience. When you come back home to your family and friends you can share that energy and everyone is uplifted and inspired because of it. To me this is the power of the mountains and this is why a career in the outdoors is so rewarding. It can take everything away from you or give you so much enlightenment and joy. I have seen both sides of this and have stuck with it. That is why I believe the mountains have rewarded me with so much and have allowed me to do this full time.
MHM: Out of all of the feats you’ve attained to date, what would you say is your best personal accomplishment?
Austin: One thing that really stands out to me is finishing skiing all of the Colorado 14ers. I dedicated years of my life to this project. Lots of my friends started out skiing them with me and they wanted to ski them all. However, over the years life happened and they dropped out of the project. I stayed with it and kept going. Climbing and skiing them all takes perseverance and tremendous patience. The stars have to align for perfect climbing and skiing conditions and then you have to work hard to get your ass up them. The reward for skiing them all is life changing and very enlightening. Its an amazing way to see the great state of Colorado. I have such fond memories from each mountain and I went to many areas in the state that I probably would have never visited.
MHM: You finished up skiing all 53 of Colorado’s 14ers last season, what was your best and worst experience from that pursuit?
Austin: The best thing with skiing the 14ers was just having quality time in the mountains with my friends and even myself. I learned a lot about myself while pursuing this goal. I believe some lesson in life can only be learned by scaring the shit out of yourself. And some friendships that are forged in hardship can never be broken. Some of the peaks are very serious and the time on those mountains with my buddies is something I will never forget. The worst experience on a 14er.. Thats a hard one. No single moment really stands out but I remember Holy Cross which we did in early spring ended up being over 30 miles and Snowmass was around 24 miles. I remember just being beat after those slogs. Another would be Capitol Peak. It took me 5 attempts to ski it. That mountain is a beast and skiing it is absolutely as real as it gets. You have to ski a very steep slope above a death cliff, if anything goes wrong you will most likely not survive. Some of those attempts were just heartbreakers. The approach is big and to go all that way and turn back is tough but I found success in those failures. Each time I learned something new that helped me down the road. That mountain pushed me harder than any other, it made me question a lot. I had to dig deep to get it done.
MHM: What is the scariest situation you’ve found yourself in?
Austin: The scariest situation would be when I shattered my leg skiing off a massive cliff in the backcountry of South America. I sent this thing big and ended up over shooting the landing and going straight into rocks. I had to crawl for my life for a day.. Eventually I made it back to the Cerro De Cathedral resort and they assisted in getting me to a hospital. I was in pretty bad shape by the time I made it back. I ended up being zero weight bearing for almost an entire year. You learn about yourself when you sit on your ass for a year. Going from being super active to living on the couch is brutal. Big thanks to my mom for getting me through that period of my life. During that year I just focused so hard on getting back and eventually when I started PT I worked my ass off. I was hungrier than ever. That beat down gave me tremendous strength in the long run. You live an experience like that and a ton of things in life that would normally be hard just seem downright comical.
MHM: Do you have any regrets from your experience in the mountains?
Austin: No regrets. I cherish all the experiences, good and bad. So many ups and downs in the mountains but without the downs the ups wouldn’t be as awesome. Also, the downs are necessary to prepare you for difficult situation that you will face in the mountains and in life. Learning to keep your cool when shit hits the fan is very important. In the mountains you must stay focused so you don’t make mistakes. Mistakes can cost you your life.
MHM: What’s something you’d absolutely never do again?
Austin: During my 14er project I did a bunch of the ski descents solo like Crestone Needle. I don’t think I would do those solo again because it’s just too dangerous. If anything goes wrong you are just plain F’d and I have seen things go wrong. I also said I would never ski Capitol again but one of my buddies wants to ski it at some point in his life and I promised him I would help out so… Others would be the Matterhorn, Khan Tengri and Denali. These aren’t the hardest climbs but they tested me tremendously. During my last climb of the Matterhorn I took a huge chunk of ice to the chest and head while on rappel. It must of come down from 100’s of feet above me cause when it hit I got straight knocked out. Luckily I had the ends of the rope tied so I didn’t slide off to my death. On Khan Tengri I got very sick and had to descend the mountain from the high camp in really bad weather. It was a dangerous descent down the South face in the middle of the night. Khan Tengri is no joke! On Denali I had a week long storm. We had to ration our food but luckily the weather eventually died and we got it done. Also, everyone who was stuck at the 17,000 foot camp during that storm retreated so some kind people gave me extra food etc.
MHM: You were recently caught up in a scary ass avalanche in Vail, what is the biggest lesson you learned from that experience?
Austin: The avalanche this year really beat me up. I’m very lucky to be alive! I learned life is very precious and the mountains don’t care who you are. When you go into the mountains be as prepared as you can, you just never know what can happen. Don’t ever be complacent.
MHM: What is the worst beating you’ve taken in the mountains and what happened?
Austin: The worst beating has to be when I broke my leg in Argentina and not too far behind that was the first time I blew an ACL. I was at the top of East Vail and didn’t stomp my cliff air and just started rag dolling down the slope. I heard it pop and getting myself out after that was a brutal ordeal. I had to drop a few 30+ footers with a blown knee.. It was bad and the recovery from a blown knee surgery is about 6 months. You have to work really hard in PT to get full movement back, then you have to get over the fear that it will happen again. Injuries are strange in that you have the physical recovery period then you have the mental recovery period where you have to rebuild your confidence.
MHM: Your dad is a proper badass himself, have any good stories from his pursuits?
Austin: My dad has seen it all in the mountains! He climbed half of the 8000 meter peaks back in the day when Sherpas just helped carry loads to basecamp. They didn’t help with any of the climbing so he set the routes himself etc. I think his hardest experience in the mountains besides him seeing people get killed by avalanches and altitude sickness would be 6 years ago while he was climbing Little Pawnee with me and my buddy. A massive rockslide took him off a 100+ foot cliff. I down climbed to give him life saving CPR. The rescue took nine hours and a helicopter. He was in a coma and fighting for his life for along time. Luckily he’s tough and made a full recovery but it took almost 2 years. Huge thanks to RMR for helping rescue him. That ordeal made me question my mountain pursuits but eventually I knew it was just a test that I had to overcome. God gives the hardest lessons to the toughest soldiers! I went back a few years after that and did the first ski descent of the South face of Little Pawnee. I named the route the RMR Line in honor of Rocky Mountain Rescue. It was a very difficult ski descent and was very touching being back in a spot where I once thought my dad would die in my arms.
MHM: What is at the top of your list for future endeavors?
Austin: My project now is climbing and skiing the 50 highest peaks in RMNP. My dad was the 1st person to climb them all and in doing so he helped map the parks borders. This project is about following in his footsteps and honoring his climbing legacy. So far the project has been amazing and has proven to be very difficult. There is no beta or anything like that so its a real adventure.