5 of the most influential big-mountain skiers of all time

Influence, especially in a sport that largely unregulated and unjudged, is a hard thing to pin down. Who is to say that one skier’s style has made more of an impression, or that one person is stronger or better than another?

That being said, these five skiers have inarguably had huge impacts on big-mountain skiing, from where we ski to what we ski on.

Doug Coombs

Coombs was the godfather of big-mountain backcountry skiing. An East Coast kid who moved west to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and then Alaska, he pioneered steep skiing. He opened the Alaskan backcountry through his company, Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, he ticked off more than 300 first descents, he changed the technique for how we safely climb and ski big mountains and he was a damn good skier.

The perennial guide, he died in a fall in La Grave, France, in 2006, trying to help one of the people he was skiing with.

Glen Plake

Glen Plake doesn't care what you think. Photo: Heather Hansman
Glen Plake doesn’t care what you think. Photo: Heather Hansman
Say what you want about Plake’s persona, or his mohawk, or his brashness, but his all-out style has been shaping skiing since the days of straight skis and one pieces.

He’s showy, but he’s not all show. He’s one of the best big-mountain skiers of all time, and he’s also responsible — in part because of his big hair and his big mouth — for making extreme skiing part of the wider skiing vernacular. He got people to pay attention. And he’s still doing it.

Plake still spends copious time in Chamonix, France, ticking off big mountaineering expeditions and hairy descents. He still has a super-hot wife, Kim, who is a ripping skier as well, but now he’s splitting his time between mountaineering missions and traveling across the country in his RV, spreading the gospel of skiing to small mom-and-pop resorts. He’s still an advocate.

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Glen Plake is what happens when the hotdogging ’80s grow up, but don’t give up on the skiing dream.

Shane McConkey

Shane McConkey, who was known for his balls-out skiing and his jokester attitude, was a pusher in the best way possible. He pushed ski design: He was one of the inventors of rockered skis. In his skiing, he always pushed the edge of what was possible, and, as his alter ego, “Saucer Boy,” he pushed people’s buttons.

RELATED: How a ski icon’s death still reverberates today

When he died in a ski-BASE jump in 2009, skiing lost an innovator and an entertainer. McConkey also, incontrovertibly, made skiing fun, which might be his most important legacy.

Ingrid Backstrom

There are plenty of women who could have made this list, like Wendy Fisher, or Kim Reichhelm, but Ingrid Backstrom stands out for her consistency and her ability to tackle big lines like they’re nothing. Backstrom has been doing it the hardest and the longest, and she does it with an effortless grace and a smile. She’s the epitome of ladylike and tough at the same time.

Through her film parts, starting with Matchstick Productions’ Yearbook, which won her Breakthrough Performer at the 2005 POWDER awards, her first descents and mountaineering conquests and her streak of podiums on the Freeskiing World Tour, she’s defined what it means to be a female big-mountain skier. Hell, she’s defined what it means to be a successful big-mountain skier.

Seth Morrison

Seth Morrison is, in a lot of ways, the face of modern big-mountain skiing. He was one of the first people to throw tricks in the backcountry, and he’s still known for his huge laid-out backflips, which have made it into more than 40 movies.

He has a reputation for being a bit of a recluse and badass, but his no-bullshit attitude has served him well. Now, in his 40s, he’s still going as big as the teenagers. He’s pushed the progression of freeskiing in countless ways. In 2011, when he made a documentary about his ski career and his move toward mountaineering, The Ordinary Skier, he got park skiers thinking about harnesses and crampons — no small feat.

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