Special Climbing Power
- author Kevin Fedarko
Liz Oakes: Special Climbing Power
Ski mountaineering lets her break all the unnecessary rules.
Ski mountaineer Liz Oakes was born into the ultimate powder fantasy – she grew up in Aspen, and her dad was a Snowmass ski instructor. But early on, she abandoned inbounds for off-piste. “Resorts always just seemed so controlled and confined,” says the 24-year-old, somewhat sheepishly. “I mean, you have to turn in certain places and ski specific lines, and it just seemed like there were an awful lot of rules involved.”
To avoid those bothersome restrictions, Oakes took to the backcountry, a world where “you can ride that fine line between life and death.” Over the past five years, she’s done just that in Alaska, the Himalayas, and the French Alps, where she tackles big-mountain classics like Chamonix’s Glacier Rond and the Pan de Rideau. Yet Oakes seems supremely uninterested in carving a name for herself. She’s never competed in a randonnee race and has yet to claim a first descent. Instead, she’s focused on attempting to complete the brutally intensive regimen to become the youngest of only four American women certified by the American Mountain Guides Association (the U.S. arm of the International Federation of Mountain Guides), which applies rigorous European guiding standards. This spring, if she passes the test, she hopes to guide skiers in Europe and, though she doesn’t have a specific job lined up, “help them to experience their passion for skiing in a totally new way.”