Cracking Jokes and Dropping Cliffs:
The Non-Native guys continually crack jokes. Quotes from Dumb and Dumber. Talk of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” as a pre-ski pump up jam. No jokes now, though. Above cliffs of consequence, the crew is all business.
Ed Dujardin howls through a hefty double line in the Berthoud Pass backcountry. His technique is textbook (he’s a freeride coach, after all). He drops the top cliff, throws a quick turn and angles into a 25-foot straight air off the second cliff.
Berthoud is bottomless, courtesy of a freak April storm.
Ed lays out a few more turns, slices to a stop and yells uphill, voice muffled by his mouth guard. “Send it Max! You better three that! It’s about 22 feet. Snow’s good. Landing’s a bit flat but you got it.”
Max Durtschi peers over the top of the double. He’s 19 and Ed’s his coach at Western State. A week ago, Max won the North American FWQs to qualify first for the world’s premier big mountain competition: the Freeride World Tour. He’ll be one of the youngest competitors on Tour, quiet, humble and nearly invisible until he clicks in and lets his skiing speak for itself.
JT stands next to me, camera aimed up at the cliff. Pat’s voice crackles through the radio, “You guys ready?”
Alex radios up from the side of the road. “All set down here.” With a telephoto lens resting on the cab of Ed’s truck, goofy camaraderie is replaced by sharp focus.
I nod to JT and he hits the walkie. “We’re ready, too.”
“Max dropping in five,” radios Pat.
“Send it Max! Three that shit!” bellows Ed from below.
Max comes into view. Shutters click. He drops over the first hit, sets up for the second and slowly spins a three. His tweaked skis catch wisps of snow, dragging them through the sky like the contrails behind an agile jet.
It looks solid at first, but he over-rotates. Max double ejects in a bombhole. Snow shoots up as though from a cannon full of powdered sugar.
“You alright?” yells Ed, concerned.
Durtschi shakes off snow and emerges. “Yeah, I’m ok. Should’ve had it!” He looks back up at the cliff, replaying the spin in his mind.
Ed laughs. “Next time.”
“Attaboy Max!” someone calls from above.
At the drop of a cliff, the tension is gone.
We return exhausted to the hut around 4PM. I’m dreaming of yanking off my boots, stoking the fire and melting snow to rehydrate.
I open the door and Bruce bounds out, his gargantuan head a battering ram that nearly knocks me into the snowdrift. Bruce is a 150-lb English Mastiff; a constant vine of spittle swings from his flappy jowls.
Though he looks intimidating (he’s the dog from Sandlot), he’s the biggest pushover you’ve ever pet. His footprints are a brownish yellow in the snow, which is odd, but I’m thirsty and I barely notice.
Zach, Kelly, Alex and JT drove to Winter Park to pick up beer and I told them we’d let out the dogs. I look around the hut for “Fat Bill,” Zach’s barrel-chested, blubber-bellied yellow lab. Bill’s earned his Non-Native nickname due to an undersized head, one out of place on his rotund frame. I spot Fat Bill, cowering shamefacedly in the corner of the hut, and try to coax him outside.
Fat Bill looks at me and I swear there are tears in his eyes.
That’s when the smell hits.
I locate the source: a broad pile of excrement only a few steps away. Immediately, cleanup is a daunting task, especially given Fat Bill’s high-moisture output.
Ed, Pat and Max follow closely behind. I show them the damage and we send Fat Bill outside to join Bruce. His tail hangs between his legs, shame beyond measure.
“I’ll handle it,” says Ed. “I teach pre-school. This happens all the time.”
The rest of us help while Ed takes one for the team, scrubbing the floorboards with paper towels. We scan cupboards for cleaning products and flash headlamps in pursuit of lingering evidence. We call Ed when we find questionable streaks.
“Right here, Ed.”
“This is so gnarly.”
“Whose sleeping pad is this?”
Clean up completed, I fetch more snow. As I’m transferring the white crystals into the pot, I notice a smudge on top of the lid.
“Guys…” I say. “I think I found some more. On the lid.”
Silence. Thoughts of giardia trump our escalating dehydration.
“Well,” I say. “Looks like we should boil the shit out of this water.”
Interviewing (sort of…) the Non-Native Crew:
It’s dark now, snow falling lightly outside. Fat Bill, the butt of countless jokes this afternoon, wags his tail again; the smell of indiscretion has finally dissipated.
The rest of the Non-Native boys are back from the beer run. Seven smelly skiers sprawl out on the raggedy futon and lounge in plastic chairs. On the woodstove, the now-lidless pot wobbles, overflowing with melting snow that steams up the shadowy cabin. A Hot Toddy circulates in a blistering camp mug, insulated only by a funky hand knit headband.
This is the most informal interview I’ve ever conducted. Officially.
How did Non-Native start?
“I think it was me and Jimbo,” says JT slowly. “We were sitting on our cute little lawn, outside our cute little orange bungalow –”
“Start over,” says Zach, cutting him off.
“Hey, I’m just describing my life,” says JT, feigning indignance. More laughter, punctuated by the crack and fizz of a Tecate.
The ”interview” follows this formula – fifteen minutes of jokes, peppered with colorful, unprintable stories and an occasional gem.
What sets you apart from other film crews?
There’s a brief silence, then a burst of laughter.
“I don’t consider us a film crew. We’re just homies.”
“We just try to have fun.”
“We wanted to make edits we could look back on, for ourselves more than anyone else.”
Where are you guys from?
“Massachusetts,” says one. “Ohio,” another. “Nashville.” “Alaska” “Vermont.”
No born-to-the-Rockies Coloradans here.
What do you do for a living?
The responses are equally across the map. Pizza chef. Farmer’s market organizer. Pre-school teacher. Student. Ski coach.
Different states, different jobs. The glue that keeps the Crested Butte crew intact? That’d be the sticky side of their well-worn skins. These guys log more backcountry days together than most self-proclaimed ski bums frequent the resort. Their jobs and quasi-careers let them ski nearly everyday and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Where does the name “Non-Native” come from?
Zach speaks up. “We shred with Coloradans, but none of us are locals,” he says. “The whole ‘Native’ bumper sticker thing, it’s a total joke.” If you live in Colorado, you’re likely familiar with those green “Native” bumper stickers, plastered on pickup bumpers as if to say, “I belong here. You don’t.”
The New York Times recently published a report entitled “Mapping Migration in the United States,” analyzing the percentage of states’ residents who were actually born there. Not surprisingly, Colorado ranks in on the lower end of the spectrum with only 42% of the population falling into the “Native” category.
The name Non-Native acknowledges – even celebrates – out-of-state origins. Proud pilgrims, they’ve come from all compass points to this spine of magnetic mountains.
They’ve come to ski.
“Non-Native” is both a joke and source of pride.
I spent a weekend with the Non-Native crew, exploring Berthoud Pass in stellar conditions. Though none of us are from Colorado, we had a classic Colorado weekend: we hitched rides up an icy pass in truck beds, navigated avalanche terrain, scored deep powder, crashed in a cramped hut and dealt with doggy diarrhea.
I watched as they alternated between cracking jokes about Bruce the Mastiff’s enormous head and inspiring each other to send enormous backflips off 30-foot cliffs. The Non-Native crew bears no public aspirations, no patience for conventionality. They’re bonded by a pure passion for the mountains that brought them here.
Alex, a pizza-slinging tattoo artist from Ohio who skis 100+ BC days a year, best explains the bond between these Non-Natives. “We have a ton of fun together. We bullshit all the time. But when we film, it’s extra fun, extra pressure. It’s time to ski your best, to hype each other up. That’s what our crew is about.”
One thing’s for certain, no matter where you hail from: when it hits the fan (or the floorboards), this is the crew you want at your back.