Words and photos: Ethan StoneFor hundreds of years European explorers attempted to find a sea route around the northern coast of North America. This fabled route, called the Northwest Passage, turned out to be a major bust: a few lucky captains eventually made it through, but the journey's shallow and ice-chocked waters erased all hopes for the Passage as a major shipping lane.Since the first Northwest Passage didn't work out so well, it's about time someone came up with a new one. Here's my suggestion: the road between Mt. Hood and Whistler. Like the old Northwest Passage, it promises adventure, riches and a whole lot of the cold, fluffy stuff—all year round.I undertook to explore this new passage with a few intrepid adventurers ready to put it all on the line: Brandon Pastucka, Andrew Napier, Witt Foster, Steve Stepp and Tom Wallisch. This is the story of our journey.The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first one to actually sail the entire route, but he almost didn't even make it out of his home port. Heavily in debt from outfitting his ship, Roald got out of town just before his creditors could stop him. Witt Foster's situation was similar: he started the journey with only $49 in his pocket, narrowly escaping from the snowboard-infested slum motel down the road from Mt. Hood known as The Ark.Early explorers to the Northwest Passage endured cramped quarters, ever-dwindling food supplies and fickle Arctic weather. All I had to endure was the overpowering stench of Witt's single pair of ski socks. I'd take scurvy over that any day.Like most trips to the Northwest Passage, ours encountered some foul weather. When we reached Whistler it was spitting snow and rain up on the glacier. Of course, in late June, that's nothing to be complaining about.Like explorers finally reaching their destination, we were richly rewarded by Camp of Champions with lift tickets, park passes... and breakfast!Witt also received a very special treat upon arrival: a welcome kiss on the cheek from none other than Max Hill.Without further ado, we set out to explore our new surroundings: the Horstman Glacier, jam-packed with just about every kind of jump, jib and scene you could ask for. Unfortunately, low visibility kept us mostly to rails.On the old Northwest Passage, fish, seals and polar bears were slain for food. On the new passage, rails are slain for fun. Nasty Napes prefers the .450 caliber. This down-flat at CoC was only one of many Napes 450 victims throughout our journey.But like any good explorer, Napier quickly set about documenting his surroundings for 4bi9.There were certainly plenty of odd specimens to observe, like this one: the green goblin.With the bigger jumps closed or unhittable due to the weather, this step-up at the bottom of CoC's rail park became the center of attention. I include this sequence just because of the fourth frame: the preemptive pole ditch!Meanwhile, Joe Schuster showed his campers the proper method of airing out sweaty coach's outerwear....and Wallisch's shot was poached. But that's okay, because as Witt knows...... Skiing is Fun!Many other colorful characters were out and about in Whistler: for example, Newschoolers' own Doug Bishop.Yes, the waters of Whistler certainly contain an incredible variety of very strange creatures. And the strong potions they drink make them that much stranger afterwards.Before departing Whistler to return to home port, we perused the riches of TMC Freeriderz, a rendezvous point for jib groms in the Village. Ample booty for any adventurer to take home with pride.One of the best places to find indigenous fauna (and flora!) was the skatepark. It seems that Whistler is a popular migration destination; skiers flock here every summer from all across North America, and from even farther away. We gathered some brightly-clad young warriors and asked them to represent their tribes for a Newschoolers group photo. This is what they came up with.Our time in Whistler came quickly to an end—Witt had to get back to work as Windell's kitchen bitch, and everyone else's wallets were empty. Actually, most of them had been empty at the start—just like Roald Amundsen.Eight hours, three highway car-to-car kiwi tosses and one magical visit from the infamous "Bubbleman" later, we were back at Hood. With clear skies and pristine parks beckoning, Steve dove right in to Horstman Glacier's southern sister: Timberline's Palmer Snowfield.This super-lippy jump in Timberline's public park was perfect for flipping. Needless to say, Tom and Steve didn't require any encouragement.Right above the backflip jump was Timberline's S-rail, which some skiers who will remain unnamed (Andrew Napier) insisted on hiking over and over again, to the perturbation of some of the other riders in our group.The S-rail saw lots of 270s and even some 450s out, but you won't believe what Wallisch got. It was so ridiculous I'm not even going to tell you, so the footy will blow that much more of your mind when you see it. Tricky, aren't I?Even more ridic, though, was Cosco's steeze, which is the real reason I included this picture. To everyone hating on his outfit in his NS cover shot: be thankful his jacket isn't open.Since the S-rail was such a popular hike spot, we took our Hood Newschoolers group portrait there.After a bit more warm-up in the public park.......we made our way to Windell's. Both the jumps and the jibs looked so good, we couldn't decide where to shoot. What does an adventurer do when he comes to two diverging paths? Easy—he takes both.With good conditions and a nice poppy jump at the top of Windell's to work with, I asked Tom and Steve to show off their new grab for the camera. They were quick to point out that Antoine Gagnier did it years ago in a Quebec ski movie—can't remember the name so I'll leave it for someone to get in the comments for me. But since they've breathed new life into the grab, they've slapped it with a new name: the ripdadank. I kinda like it.It's real confusing-looking at first, but it's really only half of an octograb, or what might be called a high Phil grab. And if you don't know what a Phil grab is, you need to beef up on your freeskiing history. If a mute can get high, why not a Phil? With the ripdadank documented, it was time to step to the rails, where Tom pulled out all the stops. In a week of skiing with Tom I think I saw him fall maybe twice while rehearsing and expanding his entire trick vocabulary almost every day. So... believe the hype.450 on, 450 out(Click sequence to go big!)lip 450, with a late "Where my hands at? Say somethin!" while reviewing the footage later that afternoon.Down at Windell's big jump at the bottom of the lane, Mt. Hood's summer wildlife was frolicking in its natural habitat.Windell's coach Brandon Becker......Pep and the rest of the Idea crew...And of course, lots of young talent like Bobby Brown. (Click sequence to go big)Bobby againAlex Martini, freshly arrived from his own road voyage to Mt. Hood, warming up with an uber-smooth 360.Not to be outdone, Tom decided to learn some new grabs. Click to see the full sequence.With many trials and travails the new Northwest Passage had been scoped, grabbed, stomped and documented, and all too soon, our journey had reached its end. Witt and Brandon were back to work, Napes and Steve back to the East Coast, and Tom back to Whistler. Our mission was complete, but the story of the Northwest Passage continues, and will continue for as long as skiers look hopefully to those two bright summer stars of the Western Hemisphere, Mt. Hood and Whistler. Hopefully our explorations will open these waters to more intrepid adventurers for summers to come.Napes was kind enough to put together a 4bi9 special for Newschoolers for this article: the Hephi edit. Enjoy, and peep 4bi9media.com if you like what you see.
Click here to download the Hephi edit (15MB .mp4)Special thanks to Ken Achenbach at Camp of Champions and Sean Harkins and Travis Erdmann at Windell's for helping us out.