Liz Daley is a niche within a niche. Splitboarder, mountaineer, guide, Chamonix shredder, Daley is setting skintracks and climbing alpine routes where few others do. “In terms of human-powered alpinism,” says Russell Cunningham, Karakoram’s communications director, “I would say she is one of the most accomplished. She’s cutting edge on the female front, for sure.” Contributor John Wright traveled to Mt. Baker to ride with Daley last spring and profiles her in the February issue. Here’s an inside conversation with splitboarding’s brightest shredder.John Wright: What was your introduction to splitboard mountaineering?
Liz Daley: I climbed Rainier when I was like 20 or 21, and I walked down it…and I was like, I’m never walking down a mountain again!
JW: What do you love most about big-mountain riding?
LD: I love the adventure in it. I love everything that goes into climbing and riding a big mountain; the planning; the networking you have to do to find your partners. I love all of that, and then you go on the trip, and…. I probably like the climbing part as much as I like the riding part, which a lot people might think is weird.
JR: So, you can claim the first female snowboard descent of the Mt. Baker’s Coleman Headwall. Take me down that line.
LD: We climbed the North Ridge of Mt. Baker, which is a 50-degree ice climb. We were going to go up there and see if it was in condition, and if it wasn’t in condition for the tools we had, we were going to turn around and do something else. My buddies skied the Park Headwall and climbed back up.
We went over to the line, which is a total blind rollover, like can’t see anything. So, you get a good look at it from below, before you’re up there. We were camped right below it, and it was the Solstice so I was just staring right at it the whole night.
I had two buddies on the summit who were riding down the Coleman-Deming, and they were like, “Liz, well, if it’s too much, we’ll wait for you up here and then we can ride down the Coleman-Deming together.” And I was like, “OK, thanks guys, I might end up turning around.” You drop into it, and it rolls over and it just gets super icy and all you can see is the glacier 2,000 feet below. I was on my toe-edge and I had an axe in and it was super icy, and I looked at the three people in front of me—the skiers—and they were freaking out, and I’ve never seen these guys freak out before, so that started to get to me. I look up, and my friends are supposed to be waiting for me at the top, and they’re gone. I was like, well, I’m not climbing back up to ride by myself. So, I traversed over on my toe-edge in the ice, and there was this icy bergschrund that you had to hop over. After that first pitch, I finally got to corn, and it was super shreddable.
JW: Was that the heaviest line that you’ve ever ridden?
LD: Probably, just because the ice at the top. I think if there wasn’t that ice up at the top, it would have been a lot mellower, but I almost don’t want to ever ride that line ever again just because that top section was so gnarly.
JW: But ice is one of those things you have to deal with in big-mountain riding.
LD: Yeah. If you don’t climb the line, you’re not going to know exactly what it’s like, and even if you do climb the line, once you get to the top, the conditions could have totally changed, so you kind of have to be prepared for everything.
JW: Has riding in the Alps changed your style?
LD: Definitely. All of the sports work together when you’re in Chamonix because sometimes you’re climbing big couloirs or doing some mixed climbing on a ridge to get to a line. And the alpine rock is right there, so [access to] alpine climbing is just way easier.JW: Was guiding a natural progression for you?
LD: I was just trying to figure out how I could be a ski bum and support myself at the same time. I had been spending my winters in Chamonix and I was sick of waiting tables during the summer to save enough money so that I could spend my winters over there. The guides in Chamonix are pretty badass. I was like, maybe I could do this…
JW: Has guiding changed your style of riding?
LD: Yeah, it has. I’m more scared. The more experience and the more education I get and the more things that happen to friends in the mountains, the more terrified I am.
To read John Wright’s full profile of splitboard mountaineer and guide Liz Daley, check out the February issue of Backcountry Magazine on newsstands Monday, February 3.