Glen Plake, along with his trademark mo-hawk, is arguably the most recognisable skiier on the planet. But, as we found out, he is more than just a hairdo – far more; scratching beneath the mo-hawk, we found a man of substance, honesty and a man driven by a burning passion for his sport..
In part 2 of this 2 part series (recorded in September 2016), we caught up with Glen at his home in sunny Nevada where he was busy preparing for a 500 mile cycle endurance race, just one of many of his passions along with competitive water skiing and car racing. He was also beginning preparations for an upcoming trip to Nepal, where for the last two seasons, he’s been training local porters in the art of skiing and ski rescue. We began by asking Glen about his Himalayan project, before moving on to other subjects including his take on helmets, and the extent to which snowboarding has saved skiing from becoming predictable and even boring.… for part 1 of this series, click here.
SRWA: You’ve recently been to the Himalayas, where you’ve been teaching locals to ski. Tell us about that?
Glen Plake: Not just locals, high altitude porters. Finally the local Nepalese, who have been guiding in the mountains for years, are being given leadership roles, and have recently become part of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA). Interestingly enough, when the Nepalese were invited to join the IFMGA, they were endorsed on the basis of their alpine climbing techniques only – not their skiing ability, which is one of the criteria for the IFMGA. They didn’t make them sit the skiing exams though as it wasn’t deemed fair, because ironically enough skiing just doesn’t exist in their culture. So we thought it would be cool to train them up to provide them a basic set of skiing skills. It’s unlikely they’ll pass the exams in the near future, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have skills – skills which are very relevant and very useful in guiding and rescue situations. For example, it’s a lot easier to break trails through snow on a pair of skis than trudging through the snow in boots. So it’s been a real honour to go there and show them.
The goal this year is to expand the number of guides to 10, and get them to ski there first full length ski run, “mirror peak”. I really enjoy the educational aspect; teaching them techniques that make their lives easier, give them something to strive for and ultimately bring them, into a worldly community of skiers. It’s taking a life of its own. In fact, I’ve recently had the project designated as a not for profit organisation and I can now receive donation to support the project in Nepal, and other new projects in other countries, Peru and Ecuador, both of which are also part of the IFMGA. It’s really cool actually; I love it and it’s so rewarding.
SRWA: We recently interviewed Australian skiing legend, Steve Lee? Do you know him?
Glen Plake: Yeah, I know Steve very well; Steve and I used to go hard together. In fact, we were thinking about him recently. Steve had this drink called the ‘flaming arsehole’ *laughs*. You’d take Sambuca, light it on fire, and stick the shot glass to your butt *laughs*. We actually did enough flaming arseholes on his butt one day that we made the Olympic rings *laughs hysterically*. I was reminded of that story during the Rio games. You might want to call him up and ask him about that. Good times.
SRWA: I asked Steve to describe his scariest moment as a skier from beginning to end. Have there been moments where you felt you cheated death?
Glen Plake: Oh gosh, I’ve had accidents and I could tell the ghost stories of Himalayan avalanches and things going bad, very very bad; but honestly skiing is inherently dangerous – we ski very fast. People don’t realise how fast we ski; sometimes you do something simple like ski around a corner and you realise there was a rock or something close by and it’s like, if I was two or three feet in the other direction, it would’ve been lights out *laughs*. It’s not that you are trying to hurt yourself, it’s just one of those things. They’ve watered down the sport over the years to make everyone think it’s a perfectly safe activity. Were going fast and we’re in an extreme environment – It’s dangerous *laughs*.
SRWA: What about helmets? Are you an advocate?
Glen Plake: I get into trouble for saying this, but for me, I’m not convinced they work all that well – sure they might prevent cuts on your forehead but they won’t protect you from a serious impact. Your brain still moves in its skull – much like shaking an egg. I also think that with the new skis and meticulous slope grooming, people are skiing way faster than they should or are capable of. If they were travelling in a car or on a motorbike at those speeds, I think they’d freak out if they actually thought about it.
SRWA: At Snowriders WA, we care a lot about climate change and its effect on the skiing industry. You’ve been around the mountains a long time. What’s has been your experience and do you support the theory of climate change?
Glen Plake: First of all, I live on a reservoir. I’ve lived next to it nearly my whole life, and right now there’s no water in it! But over my life, I’ve seen it go up and I’ve seen it go down. And then I’ve seen it go from completely dry to flowing over the dam wall in the space of 2 months. I also grew up in California where we get enormous amounts of snow in a short amount of time. We can recover 100s of percentages of snow pack in a matter of weeks. My point here is that it [the weather] is incredibly variable, and always has been.
With regard to snow falls and snowpack, we’ve always had good years and we’ve always had bad years. It’s also worth noting that it often snows more in spring than it does in winter. People need to realise that skiing is not necessarily an exclusively winter sport, it’s a ‘snow sport’. I sometimes ask people if they ever got a pair of skis for Christmas. They answer “yes:’ then I ask if they were allowed to ski on those skis. They answer “no”; why I ask them; “because there was never enough snow around Christmas, and my Parents didn’t want me to ruin my new skis” *laughs*. So, if you have to go in spring time, then ski in springtime. Spring is often better anyway. In winter the days a short, and snow is often in short supply, because the spring showers haven’t come. I think it’s easy to form a skewed opinion, because often peoples opinion is based on the winter retail season, not necessarily the entire season. However, this is not to say that we don’t have glaciers receding and not to say that we don’t get the snow pack we used to get it on a regular basis. The science is there to support all that; I’m just saying (a) it variable and perhaps more so these days and (b) be careful how you interpret the data and form your opinions.
SRWA: Ski technology has evolved rapidly in the last two decades. It started with capped skis in the 90’s and just seemed to keep going from there. These days we have rocker, reverse camber, twin tips, all kind of inspired by snowboarding. Do you think snowboarding saved skiing from becoming too predictable, even boring?
Glen Plake: No, it’s part of something that’s been going on for a long time, even as far back as the 1940’s. Skiing has been evolving for decades. I don’t agree with anybody that says snowboarding saved skiing and ultimately I can provide data that shows it hardly made an impact at all. But did it help influence it, or help it pull a stick out of its but? Did it get it back to more of a freestyle interpretation? Yes, it did.
I think skiing did become a bit predictable in the 80s. I was out there with a bunch of others screaming for creativity; we tried to move away from the traditionalist perceptions; you know the ‘Perfect Pete‘ – let’s go to the country club afterwards, type thing. But even prior to that, the freestylers and hot-doggers of the 70s’ were already doing their thing – so we can’t claim it. It’s just been evolving naturally due to the creativity of younger skiers – and that’s what we are seeing today. Now we have ‘free-skiing’, ‘back-country’ skiing and ‘free-riding’, all those terms, so it’s easy to believe that things are evolving more rapidly than in the past, but they are just new terms for stuff we’ve been doing for decades…if you go back to the mid 1920s/1930’s, and look at the Hannes Schneider ski school, you’ll see that they are the grandfathers of skiing for fun; they invented skiing for pleasure, instead of skiing as a means of transportation. They walked up hills, rode down slopes, jumped off things, and even wrote poems and songs about skiing. To me, that sounds pretty close to just having fun, which is exactly what we are doing now; evolving the sport so it’s more fun..Finally skiing has pulled its head out of its but…that’s all *laughs*.
About the interviewer
Glenn is an avid skiier from Perth, Western Australia, and one of three Snowriders WA directors. As a Melbourne ex-pat, Glenn grew up skiing the Victorian resorts of Falls Creek, Buller and Hotham, where in 1998 he worked as a dish-pig and pizza maker; jobs which he still describes as the best of his life, despite his current occupation as a marine biologist. In addition to skiing in New Zealand and Australia (and UAE!), Glenn has recently spent a lot of time in Japan, where he now enjoys exploring the resorts of Hokkaido (big and small). Glenn founded Snowriders WA in April 2015 as a meeting point for skiiers and boarders and as a source of snow related information. He and his fellow directors, Andrew and Jim, continue this passion today.