SEAL Turned Skiier Pete Scobell
Credit: Brett Schreckengost
It's not like Scobell didn't have other options. SEALs – who carry in their brains thousands of hours and millions of dollars of training and expertise – have all kinds of employment opportunities once they retire. As some of the most elite fighters, their entire purpose is to be versatile and quick thinking, to be able to do virtually any task with little preparation. Scobell says he "had several offers" to work on Wall Street, where the "Navy/SEAL network is very strong," in addition to more obvious jobs with defense contractors or one of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

But if anyone understands the limitations of an office job and the concept of living every day like it's your last, it's a retired SEAL. Just days before he left for Taos, a search had been called off for one of his best friends and former teammates, a 33-year-old named Matthew John Leathers, who'd gone missing at sea during training exercises in Hawaii. "I'm skiing this weekend for Matty," he says. On his wrist, Scobell wears a black metal bracelet with the name of another of his best friends, Jon "J.T." Tumilson, one of the 17 SEALs killed in the 2011 helicopter crash. And among his gear in Taos is a T-shirt from the funeral of Nic Checque, a former teammate who was shot in the head last fall during the rescue of a doctor being held hostage in Afghanistan.

"When you get up in the morning and have to decide which dead-friend T-shirt to wear, you have to start wondering what the fuck you're doing," Scobell tells me the night before his Taos event. He'd gotten in late that evening and would be getting his first look at the course – and first-ever look at the mountain, for that matter – in the morning, when it was open for a one-hour inspection. Locals would have been surveying their lines for months, and most anyone with a real hope of winning had probably been there all week picking a line out of the hundreds of acres of terrain available for skiers.

Scobell, though, was essentially winging it, and it showed. He skied fast and strong, but his line, compared with that of so many others, was too simple and lacked the flashy moment, the cliff drop or the inverted air. The event's organizer had advised him that his goal should be to make the cut to day two, and so to worry most about being clean and finishing the course on two skis. Scobell probably took that advice a little too much to heart, and he finished 37th, missing the cut by five spots.

The following day, he planned to rise early and drive to Telluride, to meet up with some friends for a day of hiking and backcountry skiing. Taos had been an eye-opener. With only this single day of competition experience, he worried that Aspen wasn't a challenging enough mountain to get where he needed to be. He was thinking maybe he'd need to move the family to Telluride. "We just don't have gnarly terrain like this," he says. Almost immediately after the race, he'd called a retired pro who was acting as an unofficial coach and adviser. "I told him we need to find bigger, badder lines."

Scobell had no delusions about beating 25-year-olds who'd been training a decade to join the Freeride World Tour, but he also knew that he didn't have to. Given his history, he doesn't have to win ski events to be attractive to sponsors. (He finished ninth at his second qualifier, in Winter Park, Colorado.) Certainly, it's not hard to imagine outdoor brands having an interest in a guy who fought on America's most elite fighting force and then passed on the spoils of war in order to risk going broke trying to become a big-mountain skier – and for no reason other than he felt he had to.

"I don't want my past to be what I rely on for my future," he says, knowing full well that if he flames out of every event he enters, the mere fact that he was once a SEAL isn't going to land him a North Face contract. "But I do want to take what I've learned about myself in the teams and apply it to something completely different. I'm a believer in following your heart and dreams, and I preach it to my kids," he continues. "What kind of dad would I be if I said one thing and did another? Is there risk? Sure. Is life without risk worth living? No."