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Q&A With a Cool Coloradan: Josh Jespersen

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After six years in the military, Josh Jespersen packed up and moved to Colorado, where he could go after his passion for skiing. Soon he discovered splitboarding, decided to ski all the fourteeners and the rest is history. We caught up with him to discuss what makes Colorado the perfect ski state and what he’s currently working on. 

Tell us how you got into skiing.

I started skiing when I was about 3 at Tussey Mountain outside of State College, Pennsylvania. My dad was stoked on skiing, and we would go as much as we could. When I was finally old enough to drive myself though, that's when the obsession started. I had switched to snowboarding by that point and would work all summer saving up for gas money and a season pass to Jack Frost/Big Boulder. My friends and I would drive up every free day after school, and ride till they shut the lights off.

You’re the fourteeners ski record holder, how did that happen?

I did six years in the military, and when I got out, I wanted to get back to snowboarding and the mountains. So, I moved to Colorado and immersed myself into our great ski culture. I got a job making snow at Eldora, outside of Boulder, and used every free lift ticket to every mountain in the state that I could get my hands on. Shortly after that, I found splitboarding — this opened up a whole new way of looking at mountains for me, and there was no turning back. 

I had been taking wounded veterans into the mountains climbing and hiking, and I noticed that many of them were completely capable of going on their adventures; they just needed a fellow veteran to show them that they could achieve lofty dreams post-military. So, I looked at goals I could go after, and skiing all the fourteeners came up. I knew it was what I wanted to take on, so I wholly committed to training and getting everything in order to spend a whole season chasing peaks. Starting on January 3, 2017, I skied off the summit of Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest mountain. After 138 days, more than 600 miles of skiing and more than 250,000-vertical-feet of climbing, I became the first and only person to ski/ride from the summit of every fourteener in a single ski season.

What has been your favorite fourteener to ski?

Each peak and range have their own character and are all special in some way. In my eyes, there's not a single peak that is dull or boring to climb and ride. I could answer this so many ways, but right now, the first peak that comes to mind is Wilson Peak. This is the mountain in the San Juans that the Coors Light can sports on its iconic face. Unbelievably aesthetic and a Colorado landmark. I was lucky enough to ski this dizzy steep face in a foot of fresh snow, and it was one of the most memorable descents of my whole project. The exposure you deal with both climbing and skiing this peak is tangible, and places you entirely in the moment for the entire day. Finishing a day like that with success and shedding that weight of consequences is best served with a cold Coors Light while you stare at the line you just skied on your beer can.

Do you have any tips for people doing their first fourteener ski?

Be prepared to ski ten different types of snow in one day. Ready yourself for a long day in the mountains, and don't forget to look around every chance you get to savor those Rocky Mountain views. 

Why is Colorado the perfect place to ski?

There are more than 600 peaks taller than 13,000 feet, and 75 percent of the terrain higher than 10,000 feet in the USA is in Colorado. We are so lucky to have a sea of mountains to travel through, and they provide more than a lifetime of skiing. Not to mention the unbelievable access we have to public lands. Being able to roam on all these high peaks is a freedom I don't want anyone to take for granted. Instead, I hope they cherish it and milk that as much as they possibly can.

What is the most adventuresome ski journey you’ve taken in Colorado?

Two friends and I just completed the first ski/splitboard traverse of the entire Sangre de Cristo Range. This range is a part of the greater Sangre de Cristo Mountains that extend into New Mexico and are comprised of some of our states most rugged peaks and stunning geologic features. Proudly sporting nine peaks more than 14,000-feet, with the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve between them and culturally unique valleys on either side, this range is my favorite in the entire state. We traveled for 13 days, more than 100 miles, and climbed more than 43,000-vertical-feet to finish on the south side of Blanca Peak. It was truly a backyard expedition, and the fact that we can take on bold and audacious goals like that in our own backyard here in Colorado is something to be thankful for.

You’ve just gotten off the slope, what is the first thing you do?

Take off my boots! Get a beer and a burger, and then relive the day with my partners sharing our photos and telling hero/zero stories of whatever adventure we just finished.

What is the Journey Lines Zine?

The Journey Lines Zine is a taste of the bigger Journey Lines project that I've been taking on. I wanted to share some of the project to get people fired up on where it's going and its intentions. I want people to be proud of their home state and the endless potential for adventure that exists here. We put it together in the zine format to represent Colorado's backcountry ski culture and show enthusiasts that Journey Lines is truly a bootstrapped passion project that we are working on because we love our community that isn't afraid to sleep in their cars or eat expired Clif bars all season or rock patched-up, sewn-together secondhand gear into the harshest environments. We get after it in this state and shred what we got, and we do it with a smile as big as the Continental Divide on our faces.

What was your inspiration for Journey Lines, and what is your ultimate goal with it?

I had this amazing trip during my fourteeners project where I was rambling through the San Juans trying to ski peaks in a junker van that kept breaking down on me. I got stuck in a tiny hamlet in the heart of that range with a winter population of about 200 and spent a couple of amazing days skiing and hanging with the locals. This trip made me recognize the diversity between each quintessential mountain town and gave me a deeper appreciation for exploring further into my own backyard. It made me imagine a way to get other outdoor recreationists to explore in this way, and over the next summer, I came up with Journey Lines. 

The project will culminate with a story-based backcountry skiing/splitboarding guidebook that has a trajectory of progression. I have two primary goals with this project: building more advocates for our public lands through appreciation and spreading the outdoor industries economy to more underserved communities. I want to provide these communities that don't have ski areas or major winter attractions an alternative income to oil and gas extraction based around public lands. They have to put food on their tables somehow.

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Branch Boyle