While very few weekend warriors riding the gondola have heard of Doug Coombs, he is by far the most name-checked skier of all time among the pros—the Willie Mays of extreme skiing. Coombs was the godfather of ski mountaineering, the first to master the climbing and backcountry skills necessary to achieve the sport’s seminal first descents. In the 1980s, Coombs was one of just a handful of people solely inspired by the “fall line”—the most elegant and exciting way down the mountain, no matter how steep the face, how narrow the chute, or how high the cliff. And when Coombs went off-piste, he went way off-piste. Coombs was the first to knock off never-before-skied lines on traditional climbing objectives like the Grand Teton, the unforgiving peaks of Valdez, Alaska, and even the mountains of Antarctica. Coombs’ rare combination of desire and skill resulted in hundreds of first descents all over the world. In fact, he was known to be so technically solid in his ascents and descents, and so sharp in his risk assessment, that he actually guided clients on ski lines that even the pros were afraid of. It was a huge shock to everyone when, in 2006, Coombs died while trying to rescue a friend who had gone over a cliff in the French Alps.
• In 1991 and 1993, Coombs won World Extreme Skiing Championship.
• After many first descents in the state, including on the remote Chugach Range, Coombs started an Alaskan helicopter ski guiding business, the first in the state, in 1994.
• In June of 1996, Doug Coombs and ski partners Mark Newcomb and John Griber made the first descent of the 13,775-foot Grand Teton, the highest peak in Jackson Hole.
The Last Word
Doug Coombs is the reason we get far more excited watching Cody Townsend or Jeremy Jones drop into—and survive—a mind-bending virgin face than we do watching Bode Miller win a gold medal. He took skiing off-piste for good and the perfect line remains the Holy Grail for all serious skiers because of him.
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