words by Julie Weinberger
A lot of people call themselves skiers, saying they do whatever it takes to make turns. Few, however, actually epitomize what it means to be a ski bum. Chris Tatsuno is one of those few.
I mean, come on, the dude lives in a van.
Growing up in Sun Valley’s backyard, Tatsuno has always had skis on his feet.
“People still come up to me back home and tell me they remember my dad carrying me up the hill on his back to get some early season faceshots,” Tatsuno said.
From there, skiing has simply been his lifestyle. After racing for the University of Colorado for a few years, Tatsuno knew there was more to be had.
photo: Will Wissman
“It was mostly a lot of partying and gate-bashing, and I realized I was spending more time in the halfpipe and chasing pow,” he said. “That’s also when I heard about the Crested Butte Extremes. I signed up without having a clue what I had gotten myself into, and I got spanked.”
But, Tatsuno did have the foresight to stick around for the rest of the competition. And, as anyone who has ever watched a big mountain comp firsthand knows, they suck you in.
“Seeing these guys throwing down sick lines without a care as to how shitty that snow is…man, you get hooked.”
Now, Tatsuno is a frontrunner on the big mountain tour, finishing 19th overall in 2006 as well as taking home a Sickbird award the same year. He also had two top 10 finishes in 2007. This winter, he plans to throw park tricks in his runs.
“It’s time that I start getting a little flippy in my comp lines,” he said. “I really like getting off axis, so I’d like to think I can find some good takeoffs for a few rodeos.”
While some people may think the Sickbird award is just given for a “leap of faith” or a “one-hit wonder,” more often than not, it’s given to the skier who can consistently go above and beyond.
For Tatsuno, the Sickbird is the most important award he has ever received.
photo: Will Wissman
“It stands for the spirit of the competition,” he said. “Sometimes, in the face of variable conditions, flat landings and crappy weather, you have to step above anything you’ve ever thought yourself capable of. It’s those moments when you put your skills and abilities on the line, and do it with flair.”
But, how does a college graduate wind up living in a van down by the river in Aspen? When your number one priority is going where the snow is, not worrying about paying rent in one place and making hotel reservations in another, it lets you go wherever the snow may be.
The van was introduced to Tatsuno when he was young, so it just seemed like the natural way to go. To start, his dad had a cherry colored VW bus.
“I even sat in a child’s car seat in the front seat, and it had a steering wheel,” he said. “Just like in the Simpsons.”
As he grew up racing for Sun Valley, the team spent most of the winter traveling and sleeping in a van. By the time he had gotten to college, he knew it was time to get one for himself. That was six years ago, and the Tatsbird, as he calls it, is still running strong.
photo: Julie Weinberger
This isn’t just an ordinary van. Aside from the visuals showing it is the ultimate ski mobile, it is also blanketed with stories and memories of road trips and ski days. Step inside, and the driver may never shut up about where he just was or where he is planning on going. This winter, that consists of the US Freeskiing tour events including Aleyeska, Jackson Hole, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley, Telluride and Taos. This is the first year Aleyeska will be a stop. Tatsuno also plans on doing some heli skiing while there.
And, to keep with Tatsuno’s lighthearted spirit, the outside of the van is strewn with inappropriateness. The inside is wallpapered with “Warning: Tow” stickers he has accumulated. All in all, he considers these things pieces of flair for the van that make it uniquely his. In total, there are 27. He also managed to fit over 20 friends in the van for his 23rd birthday.
Among his favorite phrases on the van are “Free moustache rides,” and “Don’t laugh, your sister could be in here.” Most of the stuff is a throwback to the 70's hot dogging era.
“Lots of guys were cruising their winters in vans back then,” he said. “I want to invoke that spirit again in all of the ski towns I go to.”
Even though chasing snow is number one on his mind, Tatsuno is also constantly putting his business marketing degree to use. He knows he will be skiing for the rest of his life, but he also sees a career as what you give back to the greater society. With that, he is working on developing a career that will inspire others to get outdoors and have fun.
“I like seeing people smile,” he said. “Any job I take will be an extension of that purpose.”
photo: Theron Odlaug
Ultimately, Tatsuno would like to continue growing within the ski industry and continue to get people involved with the sport on a local and international level. Currently, he has something in the works with Warren Miller. For now, Tatsuno can say this much: “Just know that when people say their ski town is the shit, they’ll finally have a chance to prove it.”
Head to Aspen, and when you hear a bunch of crazy kids who call themselves the Pow-a-Dactyls “Caw-caw-ing” down the hill, you’ll know you’ve found Tatsuno and his posse. And, who is his posse?
“It’s really anyone who wants to hang with some chill folks and get a little wild on the hill,” he said. “I’m looking to spread the gospel of the ‘Caw’ everywhere I go this winter.”
photo: Theron Odlaug
Hometown: Ketchum/Sun Valley, ID
Currently parked: Aspen and the open road.
Sponsors: AspenFreeride.com, Backcountry.com, Blizzard, Columbia Titanium, Froth Clothing, Marker, Scott USA, Technica, Discrete