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Winter to the Max: Your Sport + Ice
This article by Bart Jackson as published
in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 18, 1998. All rights reserved.
Rapehua was already erupting. The morning’s pristine
powder was turning black with spewed ash and visibility was dwindling
to a squint. The geologist beside me who was shooting lasers to
mountain movement remarked, "You got down just in time."
Then, a puff of wind parted the cloud and two snowboards piloted by
crazies tore into view. Number one swerved for a stone outcrop,
off and swirled two full helicopters while dropping 25 feet into the
ashy mush. Number two followed with a full flip and merrily cascaded
along. Mt. Rapehua on New Zealand’s north island is a typical volcanic
cone and my scrabble up to the crater’s edge had demanded two
axes and terrifying 60-degree steeps on the way up — and down.
But these tool-less clowns had scrambled up here so they could catch
beer-commercial-size jumps as the earth trembled beneath them.
We chatted as they tossed gear in and out of in their VW bus. The
geologist packed up his lasers, shook his head and left. The two
waved a cheery good bye as they started clambering up for a second
run. Amid the plaster of bumperstickers on the VW, one asked in large
letters "Snowboard – Die – What else is there?"
Winter has long passed from the season to huddle in, to the ultimate
stage for the extreme sports person. Sheer ice and steep snow have
become the new fields of challenge where the extreme athletes and
endorphin junkies get their fix. The pioneers push hard and the
trudge in not far behind. Runs and climbs that 20 years ago were
10 years ago terrifying, are today ho-hum formulaic.
Even the staid Olympic Committee now grudgingly takes these new
athletes into its fold, legitimizing mogul in — this year —
adding snowboarding to its gold medal pursuits.
Joggers bundle more on, hikers turn into snowshoers
and bikers go to Jay’s Cycle to special order double wide or studded
tires for those truly awesome runs. That wonderful essence in man
that just doesn’t know when to quit prods the hardy out weekend after
weekend. With a little adaptation, everything has become year round.
The phone rings January 12th. It’s Glenn Spellman, fanatic whitewater
paddler in Princeton. Ice has broken in the upper Hudson.
It would be a bit of a wade dragging the boats through the two-feet
of snow to the put-in, but what a run! Wanna come? Why quit paddling
just because it’s 10 degrees?
Princeton mountain bikers wait for the first few inches to dust over
Allaire State Park so they can add hidden ice and slick surfaces to
the normal trail runs. Interestingly, in all of this winter cavorting,
the athletes do not seek to tough out cold, or "take it like a
man." Leave the thrill of the chill to those ancient wool-wearers.
Today, the play alone’s the thing and comfort’s deemed a necessity.
Wick-away fabrics, comfort-zone layering, endlessly gadgeteered
and outerwear allow us to move the gymnasium outdoors.
Of course, the few bold ones see winter not as pesky, but as the
of new challenges. One top-end mountain biker I know totes both
and bike to Blue Mountain ski area and when the action’s slow shushes
the slopes on his mountain bike. "Steeps" and moguls are fun,
but dodging the ski patrol adds just that extra flavor.
Hey,"’ came the invitation, "how about going
to a land that boasts the ultimate ice on the planet and the world’s
most beautiful women?"
"Seems like a very logical step," shrugs Anthony Lorenzoni.
I envision Lorenzoni a month from now sprawled on the 600-foot
glacier in Iceland, ice axe in each hand, crampons kicked in, ropes
all dangling down, puzzling whether the ice screws will hold on this
absolutely horizontal overhang. Somehow his logic escapes me.
But if you live to rock climb and also run Lorenzoni Landscaping,
which gobbles up seven days a week during the spring and summer, your
climbs necessarily get transferred to winter’s icy faces.
Mountaineering has always demanded some ice climbing. Yet most
summit attempts entail routes that avoid the slick stuff in favor
if good solid stone. You’re scaling a more predictable surface, with
more solid anchor points, and, hey, it’s warmer. But as technical
rock climbing became a sport in itself, ice climbing followed as a
natural outcrop. Today ice climbing has soared in popularity with
estimates as high as 7 million participants and a half million avid
faithful. Some credit the lighter gear: boots, crampons and ice axes,
available in the last five years for this spurt. The more romantic
just see it as the next, newest thrill. Whatever the reason, "Rock
and Ice Magazine" recently found that at least 27 percent of its
readers are scaling the white in addition to rock.
Currently Lorenzoni trains on ice up in Rieglesville, just across
the river from Frenchtown, in preparation for his Iceland expedition.
Looking at his lean, fairly solid 29-year-old frame, one somehow
more from this level challenger. But little things give him away —
the strong fingers, the muscles on the forearm. Anthony’s got what
As with so many outdoor fanatics Lorenzoni forges a patchwork of jobs
that all flex to his climbing career. When landscaping is not in
Lorenzoni works as a salesman at Eastern Mountain Sports at
There he encountered another ice-climber, James Battaglia. It was
Battaglia who proffered the ultimate ice of Iceland to Lorenzoni and
in accepting, Lorenzoni was clipping onto a truly renaissance
who has done it all.
Battaglia’s resume would make Harrison Ford pause: River
raft guiding on Colorado’s Arkansas river; founder and co-owner of
Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center; exploration of Amazon basin in Brazil;
trainer in outdoor leadership seminars; Grand Canyon kayaker;
rock climber in the early ’80s in Colorado’s Clear Creek Canyon; rock
and ice instructor on both coasts; work on a farm in Hawaii; financial
consulting in California — 46 years of doing it very much his
If that’s not rugged enough, consider that Battaglia has continued
his passion for these endeavors despite a medical obstacle that might
have sidelined many others — he’s the recipient of a kidney
(see sidebar, page 45).
Like virtually all ice scalers, Battaglia and Lorenzoni came to the
sport through a strong background in technical rock climbing. Much
of the gear, basic strategies and techniques, and the teamwork remain
the same. But there it ends. Rock is as constant as a stone. Ice,
however — well you know what happened to Frosty the Snowman.
"The real trick," states Battaglia, "is that ice varies
constantly. The consistency changes from day to day, morning to
The route scampered up madly at 9 a.m. — the one that held each
ice screw solidly — may take the afternoon sun and grow too mushy
even for an axe to grab. On the other hand, if the temperature dips
too low, no tool can penetrate. Such temperature swings threaten
particularly. Iceland verges on the Arctic Circle where north winds
collide with warm Gulf Stream waters. Premier climber Dougald
calls it a geographical stewpot.
Like life, victories won on an ice face stand precarious and
Pressure makes ice melt, so best not to stand poised in your crampons
more than a few seconds. Axes will quickly refreeze solidly into the
ice sheet so best yank ’em out and move on while you can. And watch
out for windblown ice. Don’t be like my friend Ginny, who took a
chunk to the cheek that was inadvertently cast off by the climber
up the line. And don’t even mind the fact that your fingers may get
a little cold.
Fear haunts the climber’s every move. It draws the few to the sport
and repels most from it. Veterans joke that ice climbing entails very
few injuries — except among the dead. For Lorenzoni, "it’s
really a matter of using the right protection." (The amazing host
of piton-like gadgets slung onto your belt such as ice screws,
"friends," bird-beaked specters — and the usual stoppers
and chocks for encountering rock.) You can even toss a sling over
a cauliflower (ice outcrop) and wedge it in tight, and tie off.
"That’s what will save you," he tries to assure me.
if you fall, you’ll only drop the length of your rope, plus the
Of course, on ice, the sharp shards and icicles can get rather
For Battaglia, one would guess, fear’s a flickering concern. His is
the calculated risk born of long years and great trust. Upon arriving
in Reykjavik, Battaglia will be joining old friend and employer Jeff
Lowe — inventor of the internal frame pack. They will discuss
the routes. He has arranged for Iceland Alpine Club members to host
the team. Battaglia reads the ice expertly, absorbs the advice and
scopes out a strategy.
"Glymsgil is magnificent and offers the full range of ice from
moderate to ultimate. We’ll bite off as much as we can, but no
Judging from Battaglia’s taste for serene beauty, for life and all
things spiritual, that should probably be a major mouthful.
Last season 52 million visits were made to commercial
ski slopes by over 14 million "sliders" in the United States
— 10.5 million skiers; 3.7 million snowboarders. The sport has,
in the estimation of the National Sporting Goods Association, pretty
much plateaued. But within, major shifts toward the snowboards are
taking place. A new generation that has learned the moves on
and skateboards finds two skis a cumbersome arrangement. Even some
of the extreme ski athletes sheepishly admit that if they had it to
do all over again, today, they’d hit the board.
Virtually everyone admits that the snowboard is easier to master than
the longer skis which need be kept parallel. Granted the tumbles are
a bit rougher, but most new skiers favor its learning curve. "Not
only does the total novice learn faster on his first days out,"
says extreme skier Rich Konczyk, an engineering consultant by
"but it helps many folks make the jump from intermediate to
Should you ever spy a refrigerator on skis hurtling
off a 25 foot rock cornice and cutting hard for the trees below, you
will probably be witnessing Larry Hartenstein. Pity the pine bough
this lad smacks. At age 22, Hartenstein breaks all the rules and skier
stereotypes. Extreme skiers are supposed to appear sylph-like in form,
balletic in grace. They train on bicycles, roller blades and
Hartenstein, a student at the College of New Jersey and a manager
at the Ski Barn on Route 1, primarily powerlifts, pumping his thighs
to the size of most cyclers’ chests. Football and soccer "help
the old wind" and keep him limber. The mountaineering just
his soul. "Five foot nine with a fighting weight of 210?"
gawked fellow expert Rich Konczyk. "Can’t believe he’s any
But any man who joyfully squats 1,000 pounds and jumps any steep that
comes his way, is not a man to be argued with.
Now, 42-year-old Konczyk is more like it. The lean athletic build
moves lightly, with total control — fulfilling our visions of
the ultimate skier. And unlike burly Hartenstein, he does train on
bike and roller blades. With Princeton Freewheeler friends in the
steep-seeking Hillbillies group, Konczyk puts 4,000 miles annually
on his Cannondale. "So much of skiing is respiratory, I always
ask would-be fellow skiers what their other sports are."
Two dedicated athletes, each sculpting his frame drastically
towards a common sport. Not all rockets must look alike. Never judge
a skier by his frame — or headstone.
Hartenstein first stepped on skis at age seven and ever since his
early teens (when his brother got a license) spends 55 days a year
on the slopes — or past the back fence. Racing came early, and
today he typically gleans silver or gold both locally and out West.
But all that formal stuff is a mere sideline.
Spirit, lungs and risk expand out in the back bowls and off in the
trees. "Give me a tight, tight trail, silent through the woods,
with plenty of steeps and chutes. Love it." Hartenstein lapses
into swiftly shifting reminiscence about routes found out back in
Squaw Valley: 200 centimeter skis turning down a trail 190 centimeters
wide; tight narrow openings, fast jump turns of 120 to 150 degrees;
bypassing even the expert slopes in Crested Butte, Colorado —
trails with in-your-face names like Banana Nose and No Fat Chicks
— and hiking to the site of the Extreme Ski National Competitions.
Forty degree pitch is common — your shoulder scrapes the snow
and jumps of 25 feet . . .
I interrupt Hartenstein’s reverie with a question: Just how does one
deliberately run a 25-foot rock overhang that may drop another 10
feet before you hit snow again? "Well, on that one, I saw the
lip and a boulder about 45 feet downhill demanding a hard cut
afterward. I angled toward the edge, trying to gain as much
speed as possible without losing control. Then it was a matter of
aiming for the lip — the highest notch in the boulder with enough
angle so you would land with a downhill ski ready for the cut to the
left." All so elementary.
Hartenstein rolls restlessly on the couch and flips back the afghan
revealing The Leg. Currently it holds a titanium rod: souvenir of
his recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Shucks, Mam, ’tweren’t
Just a fluke that came from a little five foot jump when his ski tip
shoveled too deep into the powder. "As the ski patrol sledded
me down to the hospital, I asked `When do my endorphins kick in?’
`They already have’ was the reply."
At this point, Hartenstein is very busy cramming four years into five
at College of New Jersey. He will graduate with a major in sociology
with minors in biology, psychology and oh, yes, women’s studies. Days
are spent with classes until 12:30 then a quick race to the Ski Barn
until 9 p.m. Then it’s back to the dorm and homework ’til the wee
hours. "There doesn’t seem to be much time for TV," he laughs.
In the future, Hartenstein seeks more northern exposure. His sophomore
year was spent as an exchange student in Calgary. "I let the
slip to Bs," he admits, "and spent most of my time on
Then the call for new ski equipment drove him up to the little village
of Pelican on an island 70 miles west of Juneau. He started as just
another "Funigee" (f — -in’ new guy) at the crab plant but
soon parlayed his way up to manager.
Everyone is a little scared on the extreme runs, unless they’re a
damn fool. "Well, I guess, I’m a damn fool. I’ve yet to see
I wouldn’t run. On the other hand I’ve never been to Valdez, Alaska.
One thing for sure, there’s a whole other level above me that I’ve
just encountered and that’s where I’m striving."
I look at the leg: skin graft gouges, quarter-size stitches
of a Transylvanian seamstress. "The doctor says four months total
recovery. I may not get total dorsal motion (foot lifting) and
says for gawd’s sake you’re out this season. But I’ll be on skis again
this year. If I waited a year, I might grow scared. I’ve got to go
— just enough to put fear in its place." The hat says "Ski
Extreme skiers don’t exist in the East, some people
claim, certainly not along Route 1 in New Jersey. Tell that it to
the Outer Circle Ski Club of Plainsboro. "Actually," counters
Rich Konczyk, "you check your list of top racers — you’ll
find a strong majority started out in the East: ice makes folks
And, he claims, the reaction time demanded helps in the bigger steeps
out West and abroad. Our Eastern ice, after all, has set West
Donna Weinbrecht tearing up the Olympic moguls course at Nganago.
He should know. When the group heads for the back fence and looks
down a totally unrun chute, they invariably choose Konczyk as the
probe — (that sucker making the first run. If he dies, probably
best to bypass this one.) For the past dozen years, Konczyk has led
groups of up to 75 all over the world and found for himself mastering
the most difficult routes the mountains can offer.
It all began about age 30, he had been round the world twice, raced
motorcycles and blended his thrills happily with his engineering jobs.
Then one day he was called upon to play golf. "They all had pot
bellies, cigars, and were talking about retirement funds. Even the
young guys gabbled about nothing but business. I said to myself, `I’m
not old enough to play this sport.’"
With that watershed, he put his clubs in the basement and began
his life around the realm of the physical. Today he runs Control
a one-man engineering consulting firm from his Hillsborough home.
His specialty of plant start-ups has the occasional emergency
a 36-hour straight work binge, but mostly it’s a straight 40 hours.
"And my clients know better than to call me on weekends."
The rest of life is sport — 45 days a year are spent on the
including at least two major expeditions. "Three years ago in
Chamonix, France" he recalls, "powder up to your neck; then
over your head. You ski blind and keep your mouth closed so you won’t
choke. Only occasionally could your head pop above the snow line
to see some obstacle." Then it’s a quick slide, plant pole and
jump — and pray you have jumped that ski high enough so it won’t
catch the rock.
Fear seems to play little part in Konczyk’s strategies. "I’ve
always figured that I wouldn’t have gotten to this mountain top if
I weren’t good enough to run it." Like Anthony Lorenzoni’s, his
logic also escapes me, but I guess it works for him. He’ll jump and
grab 25 feet of big air without a thought.
Konczyk also draws strength from the group. He always runs in groups
with a clearly defined probe and pole (a sweep skier who follows to
‘pick up remains.’ "Obviously, skiing is individual, but being
with a group affords you a trust and support to try new things you
never would alone."
But despite all the calculation of risks, the teamwork, the thousands
of hours training the body, the injuries come, of course. They are
a given for the top end. Konczyk refused to have a broken knee cap
wrapped and chose to hit the Colorado’s slopes with pain-killing drugs
as his only protection. How long can this go on; I mean you’re not
22 any more. "Oh I don’t know. It worries me from time to time,
so I figure I’d better grab what I can while I can still walk. After
that — maybe then it’ll be time for golf and an ocean cruise."
Few common chords bind extreme athletes Lorenzoni, Battaglia
and Konczyk. Each one explodes the myth that success demands being
focused on a single activity. But perhaps more important is the
to take the big risk — not the risk of the jump or grabbing big
air, but the risk of marching to a different drummer. We have armored
our world today safe, cozy and totally adventure free. Contemporary
Achilles and Odysseus must seek out their own voyages and battles.
For all who aren’t, these extremists are "crazies." We delight
in their broken limbs, and often frequent poverty. "Just
Extremists like Rockefeller, Trump and other robber barons we can
understand. Their greed is comfortable, perhaps because their track
is well trod and their goals tangible. Maybe, however, we should
and not condemn our loved ones to "have a safe trip." But
instead wish them a joyous galavant through life. After all, risk,
excitement, death — what else is there?
Corrections or additions?
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