Swiss-based Bob Mazarei, a former California surf kid turned ski-mountaineer and world traveler has averaged 150 days each season for the past two decades. He’s skied in Antarctica, China, Morocco, Kazakstan, Ecuador, and more. We asked him about the ultimate ski bum life.
What do you consider your most memorable ski expedition?
Antarctica cannot be touched for sheer pristine, intoxicating, exotic awesomeness. My memories of the place are so vivid and powerful that a small, selfish part of me is ambivalent even talking about it. It’s hard to not feel protective of the whole experience. For maybe five minutes when we first got there I was like, “Wow, let's just sit back and reflect on this unspoiled beauty.” Then I thought, “Time for that later. Let’s ski.”
Photo (right): In Kazakhstan's Tian Shan Mountains during the summer of 2000, Mazarei and his partner Luca Gasparini had skinned through this spot an hour before Mazarei took the photo. "We had just put up our small tent on the moraine opposite when this cut loose," Mazarei says. "Passing through big, wild, unforgiving, uncaring mountains is fundamentally dangerous. There is no way around it. Knowledge is key, but luck needs to be on your side as well."
How is skiing in untouched, foreign areas different from regular backcountry skiing?
You have to be responsible for yourself. You have to pay attention. You have to study the techniques and practice using safety gear. And being rescued? That’s not likely. It’s a matter of odds: I’ve freeskied an average of 150 days per season for more than 20 years. I’ve had first tele-descents in the Indian Himalayas, the Khibini as well as the Bezengi ranges in Russia. Throw in mountaineering and the element of the unknown, and you’re bound to see and experience avalanches, injuries, and other dangerous stuff going down.
Have you ever been caught in a near-death situation?
A snow lip collapsed on me while crossing a deep creek on our expedition to Sri Kailash, in the Indian Himalayas. I was suddenly up to my waist with rushing water edging me under the snow. There would have been no escaping if that had happened. It was scary. Thankfully, I was able to get a foothold, and a helping hand pulled me out. Also, in Kazakhstan, there are many heavily crevassed sections on the steep glacier faces. Skinning un-roped, nearing a safe ridge, my pole-plant suddenly opened a hole into blackness. Standing there, and having no idea how big the crevasse was, I gently moved onward. That was pretty nerve-wracking too.
Have you had any scares on familiar terrain?
Here in Verbier, I dropped in and the snow cut loose on both sides of me‑the slow-motion puzzle cracks turning to a flush in real-time. I went under twice, both times dark, almost black, beneath the snow. When it finally slowed and set, I was buried up to my chest. I was pretty banged-up. We drank a lot of beers that night. It makes you aware of your insignificance amongst the powerful forces of the mountains.
Photo: Bob letting loose in Verbier. Click the photo to see a photo gallery from his expeditions.
What keeps your passion for skiing so strong, season after season?
The strange thing is that I’m more into it now than when I was in my teens. Skiing certainly is the type of sport that gets more satisfying as you improve, and I’m constantly striving to improve. It’s such a powerful pastime. Another thing is: skiing directly led me to meeting some of the most amazing and inspiring people. My favorite thing about skiing, besides the actual skiing, is the people you meet. More than 20 years later, it still blows me away that I’m living in this amazing ski region. This is the stuff that matters to me, and keeps me psyched to hit it every day.
Get more of the ultimate ski bum's world travels and fresh tracks here.