With blood smeared across his cheeks and down his chin and congealing under his nose, 15-year-old freeskier Kai Jones looked at fellow pro Tim Durtschi and declared, “Best day of my life.”
Durtschi, Jones and another surging young skier, 21-year-old Parkin Costain, had escaped into the backcountry around Cooke City, Mont., last winter to shoot a segment for Teton Gravity Research’s latest ski film “Stoke the Fire,” which aired in Salt Lake City on Monday. Sizing up his crew, Durtschi, 35, immediately recognized his role. Though his ability to bring big tricks to the backcountry has earned him an appearance in nearly 20 ski flicks since 2008 — and he can still throw down — this time he had been cast as the mentor.
And he was perfectly happy with that. Proud even.
Mentors, the longtime Utah pro believes, are the nuts and bolts that allow the sports of skiing and snowboarding keep rapidly progressing to ever-astounding heights.
For Jones that meant sailing off an approximately 60-foot cliff, the biggest of his young life, with Durtschi’s nod of approval. Sure, the kid had knocked his nose in the process and came up a bit bloodied, but he’d also knocked down what he thought were the limits of his abilities.
“Every generation is willing to take it a little bit further. And you see a lot of these younger kids really impressing and outshining the legends that came before them,” said Durtschi, who moved to Jackson, Wyoming, in 2019. “It’s exciting. I feel a lot of pride to be a part of that and be able to see the next generation take what they were given and put their own flavor and spin on it.”
As Durtschi noted, “there’s no guidebook to professional skiing.” Athletes often launch their pro careers by entering contests and posting videos of their antics on Instagram. Yet when they finally get the attention they’re seeking, like getting a movie deal, they often don’t know what they’re in for. How big should they go? What should they wear? Who gets the first line?
That kind of information, Durtschi said, gets passed down from skier to skier through the generations. In some ways, it’s comparable to how some indigenous tribes disseminate knowledge through experience and stories. Climbing has similar traditions, and so does snowboarding.
Salt Lake City pro snowboarder Ryan Hudson said doesn’t know where he would be without his mentors. They literally helped him get off the streets and onto the mountains. And last winter, he joined with one of them, the legendary Jeremy Jones, for a 10-day Alaskan expedition. That adventure is captured in another TGR film out this fall called “Mountain Revelations.”
“In terms of mentorship, Jeremy has been there since Day 1,” Hudson, 32, said. “The first brand new snowboard I ever had was his. And I’ve only ever ridden Jones boards since then. And he’s always been a beacon of just knowledge, wisdom, information and just so much energy. It’s just great to have in my pocket. I can pick up my phone and choose to text or call and get the information or supplies that I need at the time. He has been there to help me and guide me along the way.”
Durtschi had a similar connection with his mentors, especially JP Auclair and Julien Regnier-Lafforgue. They took him on his first heli-skiing trip to Alaska for a film shoot, where he said he was all nerves. But they showed him the ropes and encouraged him to try new stunts.
Now he’s establishing a similar relationship with 15-year-old Jones. The two have been skiing together since Jones was 10. Over time, they’ve built a bond.
“You get a nod from a guy like JP, and you know you’re making the right decisions,” Durtschi said. “And I think Kai feels the same way. He’ll ask me a question and I’ll say, ‘Go for it. You got it.’ And I mean, that’s like a million percent of confidence right there.”
So, when Jones wanted to huck himself off a 60-foot cliff, Durtschi knew he was ready. He gave the kid the green light.
Sure, it ended with Jones a little battered and bloody, but also with him beaming with pride.
“It’s a lifelong bond I formed with my mentors,” Durtschi said, “and so it just feels natural to pass that on. It’s a beautiful part of the sport.”
Both “Stoke the Fire” and “Mountain Revelations” will be available this winter on Teton Gravity TV for a monthly subscription.