Why Antarctica keeps pulling Chris Davenport back, again and again

Why does Chris Davenport keep going back to Antarctica?

The skiing there just doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet, he says.

It’s no secret that Chris Davenport has traveled across the globe, and then some, to ski the world’s greatest places. The Alps to Alaska. The Himalayas to Hokkaido. He made history as the first person to ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in one year, and then he made history again when he teamed up with Ted and Christy Mahon to ski the 100 highest mountains in Colorado, the Centennials.

But there’s one place on this planet that continues to pull Davenport back, again and again: Antarctica. This last fall, Davenport made the long journey south for his sixth trip to ski the frozen continent on the bottom of the planet. He’s crossed the Drake Passage, known to be one of the most treacherous oversea routes in the world, 12 times. So what is it about Antarctica that keeps pulling Dav back?

“I have skied all over the world,” he said, a few weeks after he’d returned from the trip, when he was back home in Aspen. “I’ve skied in all the great places. And I’ve never had the same feeling of like, holy shit, this is just blowing my mind on such a different level. I can’t believe I’m on the same planet.”

Think of deepest blue water and ice formations worthy of art galleries in famous museums. Think of penguins, seals, whales, and birds flying overhead. Think of thousands of vertical feet of steep terrain diving into the ocean, of a stable maritime snowpack, of skinning at sea level and feeling the superpower of so much air in your lungs. 

“It’s the world’s most incredible combination of nature, wildlife and skiing,” he says. “It just doesn’t exist anywhere else. Perhaps Svalbard. Perhaps Greenland. But not in the same way as Antarctica. If you’re a skier who loves traveling the world and having incredible experiences, I just honestly believe it doesn’t get any better than the Antarctic Peninsula.”

Davenport’s first trip to ski Antarctica almost never happened.

It’s the fall of 2008 and Davenport is in Ushuaia, Argentina, a town at the tip of South America’s Cape Horn that’s nicknamed “the end of the world,” with a hundred other skiers hoping to board Ice Axe Expeditions’ inaugural ski cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Between Ushuaia and the Antarctic Peninsula are hundreds of miles of famously turbulent seas — the Drake Passage. Ushuaia is where many voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula begin and end, and a sturdy ship is the ticket. But when the Yugoslavian-built ice cruiser, the Lyubov Orlova, showed up to harbor, smoke was the clear indicator that she was in no condition to navigate the Drake Passage. No boat, no trip. Plans were canceled. Most everyone went home. 

Not Davenport. He stayed with a handful of others, and eventually hitched a ride on a ship full of tourists about to cross the Drake. Unlike the other passengers on board, Davenport brought his skis.

“What I saw absolutely blew my mind,” he says. He barely skied the tip of the iceberg, pun intended, but he knew that Antarctica was a place he needed to spend more time in. A lot more time. Fast forward to the fall of 2022 and Davenport joins Ice Axe Expeditions for yet another voyage south, this time on a well-oiled boat with fellow travelers who all share the same purpose: To ski, to explore. 

The Drake Passage is where the Pacific and the Atlantic converge. On the way south, the seas were calm. “It was the Drake Lake,” Dav says. “We cruised.”

Pretty soon, everyone on board woke up in the morning and saw the South Shetland Islands approaching. This island chain, located several hundred miles from the Antarctic Peninsula, marks the first stop of the trip. Deception Island is where they land. It’s a caldera of an active volcano, an island full of glaciers that rises out of the ocean in a 340-degree semi-circle. “Like a doughnut that’s been punched out in the center,” Davenport says. 

This time, Davenport packed two pairs of skis — the Peak 98SC and the Peak 104SC.

These sidecountry skis trim a bit of weight, but don’t compromise on the skiing. They were equally perfect for Antarctica, where a maritime snowpack can feature 10 different conditions on a single run and you need something that can carve and still rip. For Davenport, these skis are like a good recipe. The ingredients add up to exactly the right feeling to accompany a trip to a truly new frontier in skiing. 

A day of skiing, back to the boat, eight more hours of cruising, and finally, the expedition arrives at the Antarctic Peninsula where skiing and exploring ensues for the next five days.

At 6 a.m. each day, the guides meet on the top deck of the ship

to discuss the day’s plan, the destination, landing spots, routes, and weather conditions. Typically, guides take out their groups for a half-day tour in the morning, return to the boat for lunch while the boat moves to another location, then everyone goes back out for an afternoon session.

Some tours are short and mellow, like a 400-foot stride up a ramp followed by fast and fun turns back down to the penguin colony. At one point, Davenport navigated through ice arches and formations that felt like a “museum of ice” where “every iceberg is its own thing that you need to stare at for 10 minutes to really try to understand it.” 

Other tours are straight up out of the sea, to gigantic bowls sitting 2,000 vertical feet above the water. On one of those missions, Davenport leads his clients to the top of a steep face. His crew had never skied terrain like that before and yet, because everything is at sea level, huge missions are more accessible in Antarctica than most places. “It’s right out of the water.”

Coming home from a trip like this is, inevitably, going to feel a bit strange.

Antarctica is a place that makes you question whether you’re still on the same planet as your hometown. Skiing aside, the penguins are the real showstopper. 

“You pull up on your skis and skins and sit and watch them there. They’re laughing. They’re mating. They’re fighting. They’re chasing each other. They’re coming up to you, looking at you,” Davenport says. 

The return crossing on the Drake was anything but smooth — the Drake Shake. Dav has his way of managing 30-foot swells though, and before he knew it, he was home in Aspen. Colorado is a relatively soft landing after a trip like this — especially this winter, with so much snow to greet in the New Year. And let’s be honest, Davenport’s not finished with his explorations of the seventh continent. His experience has yielded some good advice to make the journey home easier, though.

“I tell everybody, listen, take pictures with your eyeballs right now. Remember this moment. Because in 48 hours, you’re going to be in Atlanta or New York or LA or Chicago and you’re going to be like, whoa, what did I just do?”

For more information about skiing in Antarctica with Chris Davenport, as well as Svalbard or Norway, check out Ice Axe Expeditions.