TIME Extreme Sports

Dean Potter, Extreme Risk and the Allure of the ‘Dangerous Arts’

The BASE-jumping, mountain-climbing adventurer lived in the intersection between sport and spirituality

Dean Potter was six-foot-five, with large hands, broad, muscular shoulders and a thick mane of wavy brown hair. Like his appearance, his reputation was also outsized. When he died on May 16, along with his climbing partner Graham Hunt, while flying their wingsuits in Yosemite National Park, the 43-year-old Potter had accomplished many outlandish and improbable feats, including free-soloing the Swiss Eiger, slack-lining above 400-foot chasms and soaring at 150 miles per hour, a bird with nylon feathers, a few feet from a massive rock wall. Potter was an icon of the “dangerous arts,” as he called them. He did not want to die, he often said, but he was always keenly aware of the possibility. As the old saw goes, dine with cannibals and eventually you will get eaten.

Potter’s death, even more than his life, prompted an outpouring of stories, tributes and reflections on the meaning of risk, some critical, some reverent and lionizing. The widespread public attention is understandable. Potter pursued a lifestyle that was thrilling and terrifying, routinely flirting with disaster to a degree few of us ever will. It was hard to watch, but harder still to look away.

In recent years, researchers have attempted to understand what motivates men and women like Potter to play such dangerous games. Brain scans of adventure athletes have revealed that extreme sports light up the same reward centers as other potentially risky behavior like drug abuse, promiscuous sex, and gambling. Some studies indicate that risk takers may have relatively high levels of dopamine, a hormone associated with stimulation and pleasure, and need increasingly intense doses of activity to feel fulfilled.

“Doing things with serious consequences, whether it’s death or seriously mangling myself, puts me in a hyper-aware state, and has become somewhat of an addiction for me,” Potter said in an interview in 2010.

He took his addiction seriously. What appears in videos and magazine photos as spontaneous acts were, in reality, the culmination of weeks, or even months of dedicated training. He rehearsed his feats close to the ground. He conditioned his body like a Navy Seal, grunting out thousands of preparatory push-ups and pull-ups. He trained his mind to manage fear through hours of quiet concentration. Before his ascent of the Eiger, Potter spent weeks living in an alcove on the side of the mountain, “waiting for the clouds to part, meditating for big portions of the day, doing yoga to stay limber… watching the swirling clouds and living like plankton on that rock.”

It’s tempting to characterize him as a purist and an ascetic, but Potter was polarizing. He was also known to be a rogue and a scofflaw. BASE jumping is illegal in national parks, yet he performed it often. An ill-advised 2006 climb on Utah’s Delicate Arch, fiercely protected by conservationists, cost him a sponsorships from Patagonia. A 2014 video of Potter wingsuiting with his dog, Whisper, strapped to his back garnered more than a million views, further raising his profile—and controversy.

Despite his often cavalier persona, Potter was haunted by his exploits, which fueled nightmares of him falling out of the sky. In one vivid, recurring dream, “he was plummeting, out of control, a dead tree spiked up, like the hands of a corpse,” he told Alpinist magazine.

Potter didn’t shrink from what scared him, he climbed toward it, and somewhere in that process he felt the most free, the most alive. This may be, in part, why he would often correct those who characterized what he did as a “sport,” insisting, rather, that it was his art, or a kind of spirituality.

Whether you accept this or not may determine your ultimate feelings about Potter and the legacy he left behind. Were his outings just another reckless spectacle, entertaining a voyeuristic culture? Or did he offer something of more lasting value? A reminder, perhaps, that in our increasingly sedentary, insulated, comfortable, and convenient world there is something important to be found in genuine adventure, hurtling into the unknown where the risks are real and the outcome uncertain.

TIME Extreme Sports

Deaths of Dean Potter, Graham Hunt Leave Climbing Community Reeling

"I definitely felt Dean was invincible"

The death of rock climbing visionary Dean Potter, considered to be one of the most influential outdoor athletes of his generation, during a wingsuit BASE jump Saturday has sent shockwaves through the extreme sports world.

The 43-year-old and his fellow climber Graham Hunt, 29, died from impact after failing to clear granite cliffs off Taft Point in California’s Yosemite National Park, which can be seen across the valley from the infamous “El Capitan” rock formation. Rescuers said neither jumper’s parachutes deployed, according the to Associated Press.

“We as climbers are really good at justifying what we do. And those of us who push the safety aspect convince themselves that they are invincible,” said climbing contemporary Tommy Caldwell, who in January made the first ever free ascent of the Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan. “I definitely felt Dean was invincible and when something like this happens I get shattered and it makes me very introspective and makes us pause and take a reality check.”

Caldwell described Potter, a childhood acquaintance who was awarded the 2009 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, as “a total larger than life person in terms of the amount of emotion in him. He believed anything was possible and the times climbing with him were some of the most high-energy times of my life.”

Potter was renowned for pushing the limits of extreme sports. He slacklined over deadly precipices and climbed thousand-foot cliffs with no ropes and then BASE jumped from the top. Recently, he became a hit on YouTube for BASE jumping with his dog.

In 2006, Potter courted controversy by climbing Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, which was not illegal but drew rebukes as the rock is considered especially fragile.

On Sunday, the climbing, mountaineering and extreme outdoor sports community, including free-soloing star Alex Honnold, took to Twitter to pay tribute to a lost icon.

TIME Extreme Sports

Watch These Wingsuit Daredevils Make Risky Jumps for Internet Fame

Videos featuring extreme stunts are more and more common online, but some worry about the consequences as amateurs attempt riskier jumps

Wingsuit flying – a sport in which people glide through the air while wearing a specialized suit – was first attempted in Switzerland in 2003.

More than 10 years later, the spectacular sport attracts hundreds of aficionados every year: recent estimates put the number of people practicing wingsuiting at about 2,000, AFP reports.

And as the sport becomes more popular, so have the videos shared online featuring daring stunts, turning expert wingsuiters into Internet sensations. Some are seen flying perilously close to mountainsides and approaching the record flying speed of 363 kph.

“Video has a positive side,” Vincent Descols, a wingsuit flier, told AFP. “It allows us to fine-tune the art of flight: the accuracy, the height at which to open the parachute.”

“But other videos are a problem because they give the impression that it’s easy,” Descols added.
Some worry that the online spread of wingsuit videos could be encouraging amateurs to take unprecedented risks. According to the Base Jumping Fatality List, there were 21 wingsuit deaths worldwide in 2013.

 

 

 

TIME Tourism

Ski Resorts Want You to Pay for Next Season’s Skiing Right Now

Resorts are trying to get skiers locked in as loyal guests next season—and simultaneously keep them away from competitor mountains—with major deals for early-bird purchases.

America’s biggest ski resorts are at it again. For a variety of reasons, starting with recent seasons of less-than-stellar snow and ending with increasingly aggressive tactics in the pursuit of customer loyalty throughout the industry, resort companies are upping their game to convince skiers and boarders that they should pay for next season’s skiing mere days after the current season has ended.

And how do they get customers to commit so far in advance? By waving special offers that are often so good customers can’t refuse.

Two of the industry’s biggest players, Vail Resorts and Intrawest, make it easy even for those who are currently struggling to pay off credit card bills related to the ski season just in the rear-view mirror, by allowing customers to lock in pass prices now with only a $49 down payment. Once that’s been paid, the company has your credit card information—and before next ski season begins, your card will automatically be charged for the balance.

Vail, which owns and operates ten major ski resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Heavenly, and Kirkwood, offers a wide variety of passes. The unrestricted Epic Pass is at the top price-wise, running $729 (up $40 from special prices available last summer), with a range of cheaper options for special buyer categories (kids, seniors, college students) and for skiers who can live with more restrictions (blackout dates, fewer resorts, etc.). Considering that a single-day walkup ticket can run well over $100 at a place like Vail, it’s easy to see how these season passes are well worth the money for even a moderate skier who figures to log in, say, 10 or 12 days of making turns each winter.

For diehards putting in a few dozen days per season on the mountain, these passes are no-brainers. They’re probably even underpriced. Why, then, do ski companies keep prices so low?

The big reason is that they want skiers to commit their money—and their loyalty—early, long before anyone can tell if the season’s snow will be good or bad (and potentially not worth the trip at all). They also want customers to commit because doing so largely eliminates the possibility that these skiers will wind up spending a day, let alone an entire week’s vacation, at a competitor resort. After you’ve already coughed up a few hundred bucks for a pass, after all, you’ll want to use it rather than paying more money out of pocket.

The ski companies are also well aware of the powerful trickle-down effect of selling one pass. The likely result is that the passholder will wind up spending money in resort-area restaurants, bars, and hotels, perhaps over the course of seven, ten, or many more days. And pass purchases beget pass purchases, as skiers and boarders tend to buy passes at the same places as their skier and boarder family and friends.

In fact, the Intrawest Passport pushes group sales by directly incentivizing family and friends to buy their passes together. One adult pass, which grants six days of mountain access at each of the company’s six North American resorts (including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Stratton in Vermont, and Tremblant in Quebec), costs $589. But up to five additional adult passes purchased at the same time cost $449 each, and up to five kids ages 12 and under are totally free. The deal gets more appealing when you add more people to the mix—and bringing more customers to Intrawest’s resorts is exactly what the company wants.

Each of the many ski pass programs in North America features different price points and inclusions, but they all have one thing in common: They want your money asap. Intrawest is only guaranteeing current pricing through April 30. The Mountain Collective, which provides two days apiece at resorts like Whistler-Blackcomb and Aspen-Snowmass and 50% off the regular rate thereafter, is throwing in an extra free day at your choice of mountains for a vague “while supplies last” period. The Mountain Collective pass is now $359, up from $349 last season, and runs $99 for kids 12 and under.

Another pass partnership, the Powder Alliance, hasn’t announced its policies for the upcoming season yet. If they remained unchanged from 2013-2014, all season passholders from a dozen resorts will automatically get three free days each at all of the other participating resorts, including Stevens Pass in Washington, Crested Butte in Colorado, Snowbasin in Utah, and Schweitzer in Idaho. And yes, you can expect discounts for buying passes early. The pricing at Schweitzer, for instance, generally calls for 2014-2015 passes to rise by $100 as of June 1. The takeaway is pretty obvious: Smart skiers will want to lock in a lower price now.

TIME Accidents

Skydiver Participating in World Record Attempt Dies After Chute Malfunctions

Skydiving Death
Henny Wiggers—AP Members of the World Team join together in a missing man formation during a jump over Eloy, Ariz., Thursday, April 3, 2014, after one of the group died during a jump earlier in the day.

"It had nothing to do with the size of the group or the aircraft," a spokesman for her team told media. The attempt to have 222 people skydiving simultaneously over Arizona would have set a new world record

Officials in Arizona have confirmed that one skydiver died on Thursday after her parachute malfunctioned during a 222-person jump aimed at setting a new world record.

German skydiver Diana Paris reportedly fell to her death after her main parachute was released too low to the ground for the reserve chute to work, according to CNN. Paris was a member of World Team, which was trying set a new world record by completing two distinct aerial formations with over 200 participants.

“It had nothing to do with the size of the group or the aircraft,” World Team spokeswoman Gulcin Gilbert told the Associated Press.

Paris reportedly had completed more than 1,500 free-falls before the ill-fated jump.

[CNN]

TIME

Surf’s Way Up: Garrett McNamara Claims to Ride Record Wave in Portugal

To Mane—Barcroft Media/Landov Jan. 28, 2013. U.S. surfer Garrett McNamara rides a wave off Praia do Norte beach in Nazare, Portugal. McNamara is said to have broken his own world record for the largest wave surfed when he caught this wave reported to be around 100ft, off the coast of Nazare. If the claims are verified, it will mean that McNamara, who was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts but whose family moved to Hawaii's North Shore when he was aged 11, has beaten his previous record, which was also set at Nazare, of 23.77 meters (78 feet) in November 2011.

On Monday, Garrett McNamara surfed what’s thought to be a 100-foot wave, the largest swell ever ridden by a surfer. TIME spoke with McNamara about his incredible feat.

“In Nazaré, Portugal, the ocean is known as a place of death, not of riding waves,” pro surfer Garrett McNamara admits. If that’s the case, McNamara must be the tamer of the sea. Because on Monday, January 28, he surfed what’s thought to be a 100-foot wave, the largest swell ever ridden by a surfer.

McNamara, better known as GMAC, is thought to have broken the world record previously held by, well, himself. In 2011, at the very same spot, he surfed a 78-foot wave, getting his name into the record books. For him, it was an experience so thrilling that Monday, he was at it again, surfing some of the largest waves in the world, including a possible 100-footer that is expected to shatter his previous record.

In the small town of Nazaré, on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, a single red lighthouse stands at the shoreline. The small road leading to the lighthouse is, on any normal day, completely deserted. But on Monday, hundreds of people packed the road — photographers and spectators — as the huge swells battered the rocky shoreline. But most cameras seemed unable to capture the height of the sea from such a close vantage point — lauded surf photographer To Mane took a much wider angle, ultimately capturing a stunning view of McNamara’s ride atop the unfathomable wave.

The shoreline of Nazaré produces some of the biggest waves in the world because of its physics: a canyon about 10 miles out into the Atlantic, McNamara says, that’s up to five miles at its mouth, gets narrower and narrower as it approaches the shoreline. “They get compressed, and just before they reach the rocks on the shoreline they stand up and reach their full potential,” he explains, giddy as a child.

And it wasn’t a mission without danger, McNamara recounts. As he sailed down from the top of the wave, he paddled frantically to escape the crush of oncoming waves. The footage from his GoPro camera strapped to the edge of his board revealed he made a near-deadly turn, ending up perilously close to the rocky coast.

He first surfed Nazaré in 2010 at the behest of a surfer friend, returning in 2011 to break the world record. Initially thought to be a 90-foot wave, it was later measured to be 78 feet high, no less a stunning feat and enough to get his name into the record books.

And he returned again this year to best himself – by all spectator accounts he seems to have done so. But it’s not about breaking records for the 45-year-old surfer: “The only competition is myself, and even still I work every day to not have to do that,” he says.

To be instated in the record books, the team at Guinness will now have to research exactly how high the wave stood up. While it may not measure up to the predicted 100-foot mark, it’s no smaller of a feat.

But as the euphoria subsides, McNamara, for his part, is unconcerned. He’s simply focused on his next surfing mission — finding “perfect barrel” waves on his home beaches in Hawaii or perhaps even on the reefs of Indonesia or Tahiti.


Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone.


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