FOW: Harrison Brickman

Harrison Brickman outside WNDR Alpine HQ. Salt Lake City, UT. Photo: Xan Marshland

Harrison Brickman has quite the resume. From ski racing and big mountain skiing to mountain guiding, Harrison has seen - and excelled at - a wide range of skiing in his career.

As one of our earliest FOWs to join WNDR Alpine, Harrison could be seen filming with Level 1 in the Wasatch aboard a prototype version of the Intention 110, before the ski had even been named. So we sat down with Harrison to talk about his lifelong love of skiing, how he discovered the backcountry, and where the “Hop Turn Harry” nickname came from.

Why are you a skier?

I’m a skier first and foremost because skiing as a sport is such a diverse and multifaceted enterprise. I have explored many different aspects of skiing, whether it be in human powered alpine ski touring, lift accessed resort skiing, or mechanized assisted backcountry travel - and hope to keep exploring in the future. For me, the joy of skiing is in all the different ways to enjoy the same sport.

You began your career as a ski racer, transitioned to freeskiing, and then, mountain guiding. What happened?

I spent my entire youth obsessed with alpine ski racing; by the time I reached my early twenties I was completely burnt out on chasing gates. Many of my friends from the ski race world had started to compete in what was then called freeskiing events, I tried one at Kirkwood Mountain, California and became instantly hooked. I really enjoyed traveling around to various events, and in the mid 2000’s I found myself competing in Europe and spending a lot of time in the Chamonix Valley. Chamonix was the place where I discovered alpine ski touring, mountaineering, glacier travel, and what being a certified guide meant. After that I began the long and sometimes agonizing process of preparing for guide training and exams.

So, what’s the most agonizing part of guide training?

I guess the most agonizing part of preparing for my ski guide exams, were the multi-day self supported ski traverses I did. You’re carrying all your food and winter camping gear on your back and you often have ski down into the bottoms of very low altitude drainages. The skiing is horrendous down there, and skiing with your pack on skiing through avy debris and isothermal spring snow is a real challenge.

One time in early May, I traversed the Tetons (central Teton Traverse) and on my second day I spent 4 hours descending a debris filled chute. I couldn’t really hop turn because my pack was so heavy. I kept falling repeatedly into the super hard debris and scraping my arms and legs. It was a really brutal moment.

On the same subject, what did you find most interesting about guide training?

I think one of the most interesting things in my ski guide training has been all the different rope rescue systems and techniques we use in glaciated ski guiding. High angle rope rescue is something that I continue to study and am heavily involved in. 

Kaslo, BC. FOW: Harrison Brickman // Photo: Jason Remple

What’s your favorite part about the backcountry experience?

I love translating topographic maps and satellite imagery into field route finding and navigation. Ski guides as a whole are pretty obsessed with maps and I guess I’m no exception. There’s something really satisfying about taking bearings in the field, pulling out your map, and being able to pinpoint your exact location. Of course, you could use your smartphone as well.

You made an early appearance in WNDR Alpine’s history by starring in Level 1’s WNDR Alpine brand launch video. How did that come about? 

Matt Sterbenz called me and said that he might need me to do some guiding and snow safety work for a film project he was starting. I had just arrived back in Utah after 2 months guiding in BC, but Matt’s a good friend and so I said, “No problem.” 

As the project unfolded and I became acquainted with WNDR Alpine, I got excited to play a larger role in the film project and start a relationship with the brand. One of the highlights of the WNDR Alpine launch film was working with Josh Berman, founder of Level 1. I’d guided pretty extensively for media companies in the past, but had never worked with Level 1. Josh’s creativity and cinematic knowledge jump out immediately, and he was a pleasure to work with.

Welcome to the New Aspect. FOW: Harrison Brickman and Matt Sterbenz // Video: Level 1 (@level1)

How did you get your @hopturnharry moniker? Do you have to do a certain number of hop turns per day in order to get the nickname?

Hopturnharry is kind of a joke if I’m honest. When I started seriously ski touring, doing multi-day glacial traverses, and skiing high alpine peaks, all my buddies from the freeski world kept saying that now all I’ll ever do is hop turns. Honestly, I try to avoid hop turns unless they’re absolutely necessary, but hopturnharry has a better ring than GSturnharry.

Let’s talk gear. Describe your ideal backcountry setup. Any unusual quirks?

As far as ski setups go, I’m definitely not into saving weight at the cost of downhill performance. I tend to find the stiffest touring boot possible and then make extensive modifications to further increase torsional stiffness; also I’ve never skied on traditional pin-tech bindings, I use the Dynafit Beast 16 currently on all my ski setups. Prior to using the Beast I was an extensive user of frame touring bindings and I put in many 4000 and 5000 meter touring days on ultra heavy frame bindings.

Camber or Reverse Camber?

Definitely reverse camber, way more versatile as a backcountry ski. Camber for me, is strictly for on piste skis. 

Kootenay Range, BC. FOW: Harrison Brickman // Photo: Josh Dube

Favorite backcountry fuel?

Lots of coffee.

How do you prep for a big day in the backcountry?

Drink a lot of coffee and maybe remember to bring some water.

Are you particular about your brew?

When it comes to coffee, I’m more of a quantity over quality guy.  Sterbenz and I used to do a lot of dawn patrol ski touring, and I would always have Matt pick me up at 5:15 AM, because the Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights opened at 5:30 AM, so I would be there right when the doors opened.

What are some of your favorite places to ski and why?

I tend to like skiing in high alpine glaciated terrain. The Savoyard Alps in France, the northern Coast Range in BC, and Chilean Patagonia are some places that come to mind. Really anywhere that has big ice fields surrounded by high alpine peaks will work for me.

That sounds like terrain people tend to avoid, where does your affinity come from?

It stems from my enjoyment of route finding and problem solving in complex terrain; that’s definitely what I like about being up the high mountains. 

Los Lagos, Chile. FOW: Harrison Brickman // Photo: Anna Heuberger

Why WNDR Alpine?

WNDR Alpine is a pretty dynamic company with a really exciting vision for using unique materials to craft a product that hasn’t seen a lot of innovation in its material composition. I think of Sterbenz as a friend, but also I recognize that he has a really unique vision within the ski industry. So I guess for me, joining WNDR was a no brainer.