Local Legend Chris Landry: Lessons from a phantom pioneer

Chris Davenport, two-time World Extreme Skiing Champion and the first to ski Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot peaks in a single year, often recognizes Lou Dawson, the first ever to ski all of the 14ers, as his key ski-mountaineering mentor. “I had Lou’s guidebook when I was in college—Dawson’s Guide to Skiing the Colorado Fourteeners—and that was like my Bible,” Davenport says. His other influencers are quite literally harder to find—namely Chris Landry, whose notorious 1978 descent of the east face of Colorado’s Pyramid Peak redefined “steep” in the U.S. and whose trust and camaraderie Davenport earned over time. Here’s his take on learning from Landry. —Lucy Higgins

Chris Landry hangs it all out. [Photo] Michael Kennedy

Landry is a recluse, that’s a totally fair word. I think he might even characterize himself that way. He was a very influential skier in the ’70s and ’80s not only doing the first descent [of the Landry Line] on Pyramid Peak but also the first descent of Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier, which was huge and not repeated for many years.

Landry hung it out there so far that, after awhile, he realized that if he didn’t stop and quit cold turkey, he was probably going to die. So he did just that. He quit mountaineering and moved out of Aspen and, after living some other places, ended up in Silverton, which, in the ’90s, was very quiet. He was doing avalanche forecasting for the Silverton Avalanche Center and then became more and more into the science of snow, specifically studying the effect of dust layers in the snowpack. We get storms in the spring that pick up dust in the desert or atmosphere—sometimes this stuff is red or gray, and it affects the melting of the snow and affects layers and other things. Landry was very scientific, studying these things quietly in Silverton.

When I was skiing the 14ers in ’06 and ’07, I reached out to him a couple times by email, and I think I even called him. He knew what I was up to, because I had a lot of friends in Silverton, and I had been down there a lot. He knew I’d finished the 14ers and repeated his line on Pyramid. But he was definitely playing hard to get. I think he probably felt that I was this young, arrogant modern skier and he wouldn’t have anything in common with me, I guess.

Then I reached out to him again in 2007 and 2008 when I was writing my book about the 14ers (Ski The 14ers) to see if he might want to include some thoughts about Pyramid back in the day for historical reference. He never got back to me.

It took a number of years, but I finally met him in a coffee shop in Silverton and broke the ice. Then I met him a couple of other times socially over coffee in Silverton and, finally, we got out and went skiing together. Since then, we’ve done a few ski tours down in the San Juans, and he’s taken me up to his study plots where he’s done his snow science.

I think he now has some respect for me and others of my generation. I think he thinks it’s pretty cool. But I do think there was a time when he didn’t want to be associated with being the guy who led other people to do dangerous things, perhaps.

He’s a very nice guy. He’s a strong intellect. He’s a strong character and he’s very opinionated. He’s the kind of guy you just want to listen to, rather than tell him anything.

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