On December 20, 2009, Duncan Adams’ phone rang. Josh Berman of Level 1 Productions had some news to share.
“It’s not 100 percent sure, but it’s 99 percent,” Berman told Adams. “You got your first Powder cover.”
a Breckenridge team rider, had just turned 17. The photo that graced
the cover, shot by Vail-based photographer Jeff Cricco, showed Adams in
perfect form on top of a steep powder spine in Haines, Alaska.
Adams, known by most as a promising pipe skier who took third at the
2008 Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge, the Alaska photo was not only the
biggest thing to happen in his career, but also proof that he was a
more complete skier than anyone realized.
What got lost in
Adams’ glowing moment, however, was the event that immediately preceded
its capture. At just 16 years old, he’d flown to Haines to ski some
gnarly lines for one of the industry’s leading film companies. He’d
climbed out of the helicopter for their first run, perched on top of a
massive cornice. One guide scrambled to unload their skis from the
basket, while another held the door. A second athlete got out, then a
Suddenly, a huge chunk of cornice calved off the
mountain and began rumbling down the steep mountainside. Adams and
Stefan Thomas, another pro skier, went with it. They fell an estimated
400 vertical feet before coming to rest 100 feet above a giant crevasse.
following morning, still shaken from his near-miss, Adams dropped in to
a spiny line called Dick’s Picks. It was the first run he’d ever skied
in Alaska. It became the February 2010 Powder cover.
named the No. 3 skier in the world under the age of 18 in the
accompanying story. Berman, an esteemed talent evaluator, was quoted as
saying, “I don’t know of anyone outside of Tanner Hall that was on the
podium in a major pipe or slope comp and rounded out their season
shredding big lines in AK. Duncan is well on his way to a long,
successful, and comprehensive professional ski career.”
has come far, fast. He grew up in Stowe shredding with his friends, not
skiing in any sort of structured program. “We pretty much just skied
park and all the trees and stuff,” Adams recalled from Crested Butte,
after a day of backcountry filming with Level 1.
The son of a
former World Cup racer (his mom is Tiania Tutt, who raced on the U.S.
Ski Team in the late ’70s), Adams caught the eye of Berman, Spy’s team
manager, when he was 12. His parents soon moved him and his sister
Colby to Breckenridge so they could train full time.
Adams said the Powder cover didn’t change much right away. “My sponsors
are the same — they have been pretty much the same since I was 14.”
They are: Dynastar, Spyder, Spy, Level Gloves, and Breckenridge.
is already earning a salary in addition to the gear, travel budgets and
incentives — a rare distinction for a skier so young. His largest
salary is $10,000. The largest incentive he received for the Powder
cover was $1,000. “It was a logo-displayed cover,” he said, adding:
“But you have to think about the expense that goes into that cover. I
spent $7,000 on the trip.”
Still, Adams is happy with where he
is in the industry. “It’s starting to work out,” he said. “I can pretty
much travel to wherever now, for whatever opportunities that turn up.”
year, that means going to Mt. Baker; British Columbia; Aspen for the X
Games; Vermont for the Dew Tour; Laax, Switzerland; Tignes, France, for
the Euro X Games; Aspen last week for a Spyder shoot; Crested Butte;
and he’ll finish with a filming trip to Valdez, Alaska, then some park
shoots in Mammoth.
Adams still signs his share of Powder covers
(the issue is on newsstands through the summer) for sponsors and shops,
and when he’s at the family’s home below Hoosier Pass, he’s not above
shoveling the deck or washing dishes.
But things have changed
nonetheless. No longer is he just following the sport’s park and pipe
pioneers; he’s also absorbing everything he can to become a better big
mountain skier. He admires in particular snowboarder Gigi Rüf, who rips
perilous spines like they’re park features; the king of versatility,
Candide Thovex; and the incomparable Sage Cattabriga-Alosa.
But as hungry as he is, Adams is not intimidated.
“Being the youngest,” he said, “is something I’ve gotten used to at this point.”