Julian Carr sends a 175-foot cliff:
Julian Carr is not just a skier, but a business owner and holder of two world records. During 2006 in Engleberg, Switzerland, Carr front flipped a 210' cliff, winning him the world record invert, he also holds the title for world record cliff in competition, a 140' front flip at Snowbird, also in 2006. He hasn't looked back since, racking up features in Warren Miller, Outside TV, and Sherpa's Cinema, then going on to win Powder Magazine's Photo of the Year-- he indisputably just loves to ski. There is not a dull bone in Carr's body, and despite sending massive cliffs, the bones seem to be all intact. It is impossible to summarize Julians words into a short introductory paragraph- this interview is not a series of cookie cutter questions, as Carr is not a man of standard ways. So sit back and read, before you know it you'll be captivated by his experiences, and your mind will be next to him on top of a 185' cliff.
Carr hitting a cliff in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Will Wissman photo.
Is there a specific cliff in particular that you remember as really just sending it huge for the first time?
Yes. Absolutely. Up until one particular 80 foot cliff, the largest cliff I had jumped was around 50 feet. This one was around 80 feet. I was absolutely stuck at 50 feet for a few years. I just couldn't wrap my head around anything bigger, it scared the shit out of me is the bottom line to think of airing anything bigger. I'd air 50 footers all day, but anything bigger? NOPE.
That is until Teton Gravity Research High Life came out, Jamie Pierre's segment was unreal. The dude shredded everything in sight and sent every air in the Wasatch, none of his airs were under 50 feet! haha. I studied one air he did in particular that was over 100 feet. What I realized was all it simply took was to keep your composure together in the air for another half a second to go from 50 feet to 100 feet. But to apply this..
The next season I was lucky enough to stumble upon this cliff:
LCC, UT. Adam Clark photo.
I sauntered up to the take off and had a look. Oh boy. Looked good to go. But the landing was pretty far down there. Way further than anything I'd jumped before. My instant reaction was to get off the cliff, keep moving on, "next time" or "next cliff".. maybe I'll feel better about doing it next time.. At that moment I knew there are no such things as "next time". It was right then and there, if I was going to progress my skiing, I had to stare down the barrel and pony up.
I gained a sharper focus, directed Rob Holmes (fitting isn't it?) who was with me to probe the landing, for I knew I could trust his judgement (anyone who doesn't know Rob's history in pioneering big air, find an image of his famous Alta cliff), he probed, it was golden. My take off was golden. My focus was golden. I shit you not, at that exact moment Jamie Pierre pulls up. What in the?!... Of all places, seriously it was pretty rad. First time I had met him was right there right then and there. He took a look and saw that I had done the scoping, the take off was ready and asked if I was about to hit it, I said "yes right now". No conversation was had, he was super respectful and completely stepped aside and watched me do my thing. I gave the "ten seconds!". I took a few deep breathes, remained calm and focused, I had instilled the composure into myself I knew I needed to harness and continue as I became airborne until I hit the snow.
I got off the cliff and took a tight body and found my center of gravity, and held it for days!! That extra half a second was rowdy! I was about to hit the ground and became ultra relaxed and took a deep exhale. ..I never even felt the ground.. like a never ending pile of leaves. I popped up and skied away laughing, at that moment my life changed. I was licking my chops. At that moment I knew there was no height limitations on cliffs, it was all conditions dependent and mental dependent. The following year I proceeded to air well over twenty 100-footers including a few high-profile airs, one being a 140-footer during the US Freeskiing Nationals at Snowbird, which won me the coveted SICKBIRD award. Another in Engelberg Switzerland, 210 foot cliff which won me Photo of the Year from Powder Magazine, both of these airs are still world records for biggest cliffs with invert during competition and overall. Pretty sweet. My love of this aspect of my life isn't diminished in the slightest, as I hit the 2nd biggest air of my life just two seasons ago in Whistler filming with Sherpas Cinema, 185 footer as it was laser measured.
For anyone stuck in the 50-foot range, I hope you find this answer an instruction manual to up your game! I had actually broke my femur a few years earlier, my first year as a sponsored skier, I took it as a reminder that what I was doing was very very very dangerous. I promised myself to lose my loose ways and be 100% sure of anything going forward. Funny thing is I concentrated my way through hitting big airs, I KNEW I would be ok. And that was my promise to myself. So my broken femur actually forced this progression upon me. I would've never had the mental tenacity to stare something like this down without that accident.
Do you have a time that sticks out as the scariest moment in your ski career?
When I broke my femur, my leg was draped across my chest like a wet noodle. My boot was up by my head. I grabbed my detached leg, it was broke in 11 pieces, and aligned it back down normally as I was laying there, only thing that was going through my mind was that I could be paralyzed or bleeding internally and could possibly die. Those critical 5 minutes, realizing I wasn't paralyzed and wasn't going to bleed to death were the scariest 5 minutes of my life. But, like I said, was absolutely critical in forming my thought processes for safety protocol for my entire career and to this day. And it even applies in business.
What goes through your head before you send a large cliff? Are you plagued with fear or has it become more than just an adrenaline rush?
It's crazy and hard to explain, i'll walk through you the mental experience in great detail of hitting a 185-footer in Whistler, you can see me just starting my front flip in red top of frame:
Whistler, BC. Dave Mossop photo.
I found myself up at Whistler on a deep blue bird morning, headed straight for the 185-footer. We unload and rally to the Jordan zone. I had never been there before, so a local, Christian, shows me the way. We roll up on the spot. I look down and see a really obvious diving board that shoots you off into the oblivion, off what I instantly knew was the famed double stager called Air Jordan. So far, so good. Intense.
I ski carefully down to the take off of the diving board and have a look over the edge. Oh boy. I knew that in order to air the whole zone it was not going to be a sheer cliff, but when I first looked over the air, it was far from sheer. It appeared, to get over the rocks and cliffs below, I’d have to travel very far to get out to the landing zone, way down there. Instantly, my gut reaction was gripped with fear and a fleeting mentality. Nope. No way was this cliff doable. Dang. Oh well. Holy shit it was terrifying. I’m out of there. Too bad.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait a minute,” my inner voice was saying to me. “You don’t know it’s not doable.” I realized I had to make absolute certain, with my intellect, not my fear that the cliff wasn’t possible.
After I got comfortable and found my footing underneath me, I took it all in. Was it impossible? No, it wasn’t. In fact, it looked very potentially doable. Dang it! I studied it intensely for 10 minutes. It was doable. The take-off would take some time to stamp out and manicure, but it was doable. I looked up and saw that Christian had made friends with a handful of hungry locals wanting to hit Jordan as a double. They all told me to take my time. They wouldn’t hit it. What a bunch of badasses. I told them I was going down to inspect the landing, probably for 30 minutes, then hustle down to catch another chair—and hopefully not have to wait in line.
Gopro POV in Whistler Backcountry.
I went down to the landing zone. Probed. Landing was great. I could penetrate the snow with my entire pole, then my whole arm to my shoulder. Perfect. The only way I’ll jump off 100+ footers is to have snow like this. I was stoked. But also not sure about the air still. I like to hit sheer cliffs. This cliff was not sheer, any mistake on my speed calculation would be certain death. And I not only couldn’t under-calculate the speed necessary, I couldn’t over-calculate, for there were trees past my preferred landing spot.
I headed down to the chairlift and knew I’d stare the dragon in the face and make a decision once I got back up to the take off. Breathe. Let the calm and meditation start to seep into my being. For I was going to need it. I could not simply make a mental “choice” to hit the air. I knew that. I was going to need to make a full body meditational, universal, present awakening of intent up there. I knew that. Breathe. It’ll all unravel in the way it should. Whether it works out or not for me to take it down. Breathe.
I was lucky enough to cut the line again. So many people! Wow, I was treated to a show on my way up the lift. Matt Elliot nailed a super impressive air and stomped it. Same with Hoji and a handful of rippers. Whistler was going off. I cruised back over to the top of Jordan and in classic Christian form, he tipped his cap to me. No words were spoken. None were needed. Quite a few people had gathered at this point. Everyone gave me all the space I needed. I skied back to the take-off and had another look down to my landing zone. Holy smokes this was a spicy endeavor. I still couldn’t gauge my yes or no, so I simply decided to start making my take-off and while I did this I knew my body would start to make sense of the energy around me and in the feat.
As I sidestepped up and slid down time and time again to form my take-off, it literally became a booter off the diving board. The in-run was about 50 feet long with a steep down ramp—set back about 30 feet from the actual take-off. On top of the steep down ramp was the deck where everyone was hanging out. I knew I would not only need a well manicured 50 feet of in-run, but another I’d need another 50 feet to pole push my way into the steep in-run if I were to have any chance of needed speed. No games here, kids. Any miscalculation would have me coming up short. I immediately thought of 90’s deceased cliff jumper, Paul Ruff—RIP. He miscalculated a 140 footer, came up short and passed away due to internal injuries—he ruptured his aorta on impact. I would not have this happen.
By now, Stan Ray pulled up and asked if he could hit Jordan as the double while I hit it as a single. Of course. He got into position. Lots of people were showing up now. All the other skiers had nailed their lines and now it was my turn. The attention of the Sherpas magic Peak shoot was now on me. I still didn’t know. Breathe. Breathe. Meditate. Think. Don’t think. Be. Free. Be free. Absorb. Be the in-run. Be the air. Be the landing. Breathe. Breathe. I made the in-run picture perfect. It was solid. I couldn’t run the risk of having any of the in-run become “soft” as I railed into it. I needed to have it fast and ready for me to pop like a champion off the end of it. I still didn’t know. Breathe.
I stood at the top of the in-run, all 50 feet of it. Even with a really steep ramp and a massive booter, it wasn’t fast enough yet. I stamped out the snow leading up to the down-ramp. It was a blind rollover situation, so I marked the snow where I needed to be aimed in order to have me squarely coming down the ramp with maximum speed. Point of no return situation on my hands. Instense! Breathe. I still didn’t know. Damn this was rowdy. A very tremendous energy field had formed in the area. It was thick. Breathe.
I backed up all the way to my start point, a good 150 feet away from the booter. I mimicked my pole push into my ramp. I had a fair amount of speed that would lead me into the point of no return, steep ramp directly into the booter. Ok, ok, ok, I’m getting a grasp of this… I did that a few times. Then skied down to my take-off again. I began to have body affirmations all was good. I like that. It was not 100% yet. I sidestepped back up, on the steepest part of the in-run. I really became the in-run. I felt an authentic connection between every cell in my body and every particle of snow that made the in-run and shared a vision of exactness together. It was total unique affirmation. It wasn’t a choice, this was the meditation I was awaiting. To become hyper-aware of all things in my vicinity. I am the vicinity. Breathe.
I started to sidestep up to announce I was ready. But I had a powerful voice come from somewhere inside me, and it said, “Julian, you just had one affirmation, and that is great—you need to step back down to that exact spot back there and think this through with your intelligence to back up your meditational affirmation.” Indeed, it was my body checking in with me. It said, “That’s fine and dandy that you’re in a profound state of zen right now, but you are a living, young healthy human right now. If you make any mistake right now, right now, this exact moment, it will be taken from you.” Breathe.
I stepped back down. Closed my eyes. Had a complete visualization of the physical aspects of the feat from start to finish. I liked it. Then my whole body took over my thinking self. I was now again part of my surroundings. I was seeing and being from the cliff’s perspective, the snow’s, my skis, the air, myself, my ego, my detachment from self, from the atomic level. It’s really a magical transmission. I opened my eyes, I now was 100% certain in my pursuit.
I hiked up to the top of the in-run. I took in all the people that were now up there with me. We had a lot of “extras” for the shot to be skiing in the background while I aired. Stan was in position. What a pimp. He’d been hanging out for a good hour now. I announced to all the extras that under no circumstance were they to make a right hand turn once they started to descend in their respective paths. If they made a right, they may just have my skis chopping their head off as I land on them, killing both of us. I heard a little bit of chitter chatter as I announced this. I had no problem asserting myself and clearly announcing again until I had every single person nodding their head in understanding.
I stepped back to my start point. Crazy thing is my heart rate—after the transformation to pure confidence—takes out the intensity of the situation. For I see it for what it really is: it’s a sharing of my energy field with the energy field of the in-run, take-off, air, cliff, and landing. I was in harmony and had achieved equilibrium with the frequency of the feat between all these components. So I do not have a fast heartbeat. I do not have any need to yell or scream into the air and bump my chest. I am not here to dominate my surrounding, I am here to share with it.
Breathe. I radio I am ready. Sherpas radio back. They’re 1-minute out. Breathe. I am in-air on their 5 count. Stan drops into line at 8 count, and the extras start to ski at the commencement of the 10 count. Breathe. Focus. Maintain the equilibrium. Momme with Sherpas starts the count: “Ten, nine, eight!” I start to push with my poles. “Seven!” I pick up speed towards my blind rollover to my down-ramp. “Six!” I crest my blind roll-over and am hauling ass, perfectly, down my steep ramp. As we’ve all experienced with going fast on firm groomers when your skis chatter a bit, I experienced a bit of chatter on my down-ramp—I was moving, I internally smiled to myself, I was going fast. As fast I needed to. Nothing more, nothing less. “Five!” I pop off the booter and I am now airborne, and moving fast. I love it. Usually I have some time to take it all in, but this time I’m moving so quickly that things are moving fast in my peripheral vision. Last thing I see is that I am beyond the bottom of the cliff as I begin to flip my front flip over. What a feeling to swan dive off a cliff going that fast. I was now into the safety zone.
I switched gears mentally to have total relaxation upon impact with the snow. I breathe out and go limp entirely. This is all instinctual. I have thoughts react and catch up to what my body already knows and is executing on meditation-wise. I am still not me. I am everything around me. But I still have vision and internal dialogue of self. Very interesting. I am the observer. Even though I am the subject. I make impact as the observer and feel the interaction of the energy of body and snow. It melds together seamlessly. I don’t feel a thing. Pure energy sharing. Amazing. I’m a spectator in awe. I have no explanation. I have no way to attach meaning to it from anything I’ve read or studied. It’s pure. Transcending boundaries of human supposed limits. With no abrasiveness. It’s all the same frequency. There is no way to define the difference in energy in myself and energy in the snow. It’s one. In a continuous motion, I am back on my feet skiing away out of my dust of smoke. Magic. Haha! Breathe. Laughing. High fiving. Yelling with happiness. Yelling again from charged particles in my body. I loved my time in Whistler, what an amazing opportunity. Breathe!
140ft backflip, Wolverince Cirque, UT. Will Wissman photo.
What are your thoughts about people that like to bring up the ‘stomp factor’ and safety disregard it implies, [since you land on your whole body to distribute the impact], and some people think that is garbage?
For those people, I invite every one of them to join me on the take off of a big cliff, I dare them to look over the edge and not shit themselves haha. But really, that’s ok, I see that as that is their perspective of how they like to interpret the sport. I respect that. But for me, I always try to think of more perspectives of just my own, if they wouldn’t fail to do that, these people would realize it’s a way I love to interact with the mountain, it’s something I love to do. I would never attack someone’s passion. But it’s all good. As far as the safety thing, for me, it’s all about safety. Sometimes on the landings I get plugged, or lose a shoe, when I ski away clean that is a total bonus. The feeling of mentally accomplishing a big air, visualizing it, then when you actually get to do it, with full confidence, the physical feeling mixed with the mental stimulation, literally flying through the air knowing what you’re doing should be impossible, but having 100% confidence and knowing 100% you’re going to be ok, it’s absurd the satisfaction and joy I get from it. The visuals are otherworldly. And so when I land, I don’t even feel it, I’ve just experienced something so rich, so powerful, it’s almost beyond the human experience. I love it. So if people would prefer to see someone stick it, I urge you to watch Hugo Harrison highlights, anything Ian McIntosh is doing, it’s in my wildest dreams to stick 80 foot airs like those guys, but for me, my skill set is a little different, and plenty of people get stoked on what I do, and that stokes me out.
What made you decide to start Discrete and take on a business role?
When I began skiing professionally, I was finishing up College at the Univ. of Utah, I was infatuated with creating a brand name, I didn't know what kind of company it would be, but I wanted to create a brand that's all I knew. As I graduated and things took off for me on the skiing side, I immediately knew I had to put priority in making sure I had something established for income alongside skiing, reason being, as I entered the pro skiing scene, some of my heroes, some of the biggest names in the sport were getting 'old' and literally being dropped by all their sponsors, and not just B-team pro skiers, I'm talking about some of the biggest names in the sport at the time. I saw some of them going back to school, starting landscape businesses, or wasting away at the bar with no direction. Right then and there, I was like, OK.. i am going to start a brand, give it marketing and visibility.. and turn it into a real company at some point down the road, but at least start it. So that's what I did. I just spent a little bit of money on blank beanies from 2005-2008, a logo I made, pixel by pixel, in MacPaint haha, i had it embroidered on 4" cuff beanies that I uncuffed so it would be rocked 'slouch' style or reservoir tip, that didn't exist in the industry at the time, was rad to see all that stem from our first beanie, the "Doyonator". In 2009 we went to our first tradeshow, and within 1 year we were in Backcountry.com and some other kick ass retailers, the first year Backcountry.com carried us, they couldn't keep the Doyonator in stock. They reordered so many times cause it was selling out so fast. The very next year, we saw most brands follow suit with a tall/slouch style. Very proud Discrete introduced that style to the market.
How big of a challenge is it to manage a ski career and a business? Do you ever see yourself having to choose between the two?
You know, they overlap so much, I can't distinguish one from the other haha. Just kidding, it's pretty wild sometimes. But I think I learned to be scrappy from being a professional skier. When you're a skier looking for sponsors, you hear a lot of "no thanks, our budgets are tapped.". It can be discouraging, but I knew I had contributions to the sport I wanted to make and I felt that the companies that said no thanks we're making a mistake and I never wavered in that confidence. It definitely applies in the business world, plus as a skier, I play the role of producer quite a bit, conducting business is a constant production.
On location in Jackson Hole, WY. Will Wissman photo.
Who are your favorite photographers to work with?
Will Wissman is a real struggler.
Adam Clark is way better than Wissman.
Adam Barker is the worst.
Seo is mad chill.
Oskar Enander is the euro-man.
Scott Markewitz will still out-hike anyone.
Chris Bezamat is an odd one.
Jeff Cricco is a piece of work.
Bruno Long is 2nd fastest to Markewitz.
Steve Lloyd and Lee Cohen are legends.
What's the best thing about being a pro athlete?
I love stepping up to a new area, brand new terrain you've never seen before, and having to step to the plate. I love the critical thinking it takes to assess the terrain quickly and orchestrate a professional production with other athletes and storytellers. The amount of logistics that goes into traveling, filming, taking photos, accomodations, safety protocol, management of personalities, etc.. it gets stacked. I love the relationships I've formed and all the inside jokes that form over the course of a trip. And, end of the day, my favorite part of being a professional is the artistry to create a great image. I love thinking about the perspective the photographer has, the communication that takes place to nail a perfect shot.
Frontflip at Snowbird, UT. Keith Carlsen photo.
What's the next place on your list you've been dying to ski but haven't yet?
New Zealand, Greenland and France. I've been to South America seven times and Europe five times including Iceland twice. But I still have yet to go to Chamonix and I really want to check out NZ. Greenland would be so insane.
20 years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?
That I loved to ski.
Julian is supported by: Gopro, Icelantic, Goal Zero, Spyder, Discrete, Snocru, Gordini, HiBall, Mark Miller Subaru, Backcountry.com, Protect Our Winters, Wolfgang, Daleboot, BERN, MyPakage, Forsake, Dissent, Snowbird/Alta.
Julian rocking a Discrete beanie in Long Beach, CA. Paige Jones photo.