Aug 24, 2017

JT Holmes is a legend in his own time. He is a master at pretty much anything one can do on skis (just Google “JT Holmes Eiger”), an accomplished off-road racer and a pioneer in sports like speed riding–a high-flying blend of paragliding and skiing. The athlete and stuntman has made a living by pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Visible to the passersby on Highway 80 and Highway 40, along the north-facing slopes of Donner Peak, lies an epic line punctuated by a cliff too massive to attempt without a parachute. With his speed wing in hand and GoPro’s spherical camera Fusion, JT embarked on a solo hike at sunrise to Donner Summit to attempt a run that had fascinated him for years. We asked JT to share his thoughts about this once in a lifetime experience and what it was like to relive the moment in VR, enabled by GoPro Fusion.

GoPro: Where did the idea of skiing this line come from?

JT: Like many great, popular lines in the mountains for skiing, snowboarding, or climbing, this line has great visibility and great access.  A chairlift takes you within a short traverse and hike from Donner Peak and the north-facing slopes of Donner Peak are visible from Highway 80 and Highway 40. This line had fascinated me for years (and still does). It had never been skied because the cliffs are too big to jump without a parachute, but too small for a ski base jumping deployment. I had launched gliders off Donner Peak and flown down and skied various lines off this area, but never had I taken down a nice proud speed riding line. Enter the speed wing. With this toy, I am able to ski lines while maintaining the parachute above my head until I need it. By launching it and keeping it open above my head, I know that when I ski off the cliff, it is already open and ready to carry me to the next fun skiing section.

Once you decided you are were going to ski this line, what had to happen to make this possible?

I knew my best chances of catching the mountain at its prime for both snow and wind conditions was to take it down right at sunrise, so I hiked up there. It took me about an hour. It was really quite beautiful to watch the sun rise and illuminate all the untouched snow around me and there was this glowing cloud bank above Donner Lake that was quite special as well. I would have hiked faster if it were not so dang gorgeous out. I kept stopping to look around and take it all in.

Above: JT relives his flght off Donner Summit for the first time with a VR headset

Tell us what was going through your mind right before, during and after? Were you nervous and pumping yourself up?

Of course, I was a bit nervous. Mostly because the snow was very deep and I was all by myself. In the off chance of an avalanche, I would have been without a rescue crew. That said, the snow during that storm cycle was extremely stable so I felt fine with it. When I go do "rad" stuff these days, I pretty much just feel like I am feasting on epic conditions. I feel like I am enjoying the offerings of the universe in a way that I have worked hard to be able to. You are not scared so much as in awe of the treat you enjoying. 

You’re the only person to truly live in this moment, what was it like to experience it again through a VR Headset with the content from Fusion?

It brought me right back to that morning. My heart rate increased, my palms got sweaty and I completely relived it. I was surprised at how much the camera captured and just how perfect the texture of the snow appeared. Most VR cameras sacrifice the details. I was able to watch the run multiple times and have a different viewing experience. I think I watched it 9 times! And I tell you what, there was a lot that I did not see when I went and skied that line! I was quite fascinated to see certain things: Was there lots of spray coming off my skis? Was my parachute nicely pressurized the whole way? Did I land as soft as it felt like I did? How is my riding style?  

Will it influence if/how you approach that line again in the future?

Yes, because I was able to survey such a vast field of view, I used the viewing as a scouting tool to spot some other great line variations.  The only problem is that we'll need another 60+ feet of snow to fall there for it ever to look like that again!

What’s next for you?

I am super fired up to race my Urban Armor Gear- and BF Goodrich-sponsored Polaris RZR in the 50th anniversary Baja 1000. I am coming off a win in the Baja 500 this year. The Baja 1000 is the biggest win that an off-road racer can achieve and in the Holmes family, it is a bit of a rite of passage. My dad has a couple Baja 1000 wins and my uncle has several.  It is an achievement that I need to pull off before my time on this planet is up. I am committed. I’ll be posting on @jtholmesjr throughout the journey. 

 When was the last day you skied California this year? Given the massive snowpack, were you able to get into August?

I skied Squaw Valley five days in a row over the Fourth of July holiday... it was so much fun.  The terrain park was going off.  There was a line of four 30 footers and then a couple really big jumps (50+ feet).  I wasn't doing much in the way of tricks, but I was sure logging some airtime!