While the feature film, “Steep” brought Doug Coombs into mainstream conversations across the country, skiers from around the world are still asking questions concerning “the greatest skier of all time.”
One of those skiers is author, Rob Cocuzzo. Cocuzzo, who grew up skiing at Coombs’ home ski hill of Nashoba Valley, Massachusetts spent the last several years finding out what made Doug Coombs so legendary.
In a journey he’s aptly titled, “Tracking the Wild Coomba,” The soon-to-be-released book combines adventure non-fiction and biography to paint a picture of the colorful legend and answer those questions the skiing world continues to ask.
Buy a pre-sale copy here: Tracking The Wild Coomba: The Life Of Legendary Skier Doug Coombs
*Many thanks to the author, Rob Cocuzzo for giving us this sneak peek of his new book.
Chapter 1 – A Lifetime Of Lines
Thirty-five-year-old Doug Coombs was born to be in these mountains. Many considered him the greatest extreme skier alive, but he would never identify himself as such. Beyond the sheer immodesty of the claim, Coombs cringed at the term “extreme skiing.” He thought that to popular culture, extreme skiing conjured images of reckless maniacs hurling their carcasses off cliffs and playing Russian roulette with the mountain. But that’s not what he was doing here in the Chugach. No, Coombs was an elite ski mountaineer performing at the highest level of his sport. Skiing these mountains required pinpoint decision making, incredible athleticism, and superhuman aplomb in the face of peril. All of which he had in spades.
A big, toothy grin cracked across Coombs’s face as he studied the mountains sprawling around him. The smile barely fit on his face. As long as he had been able to stand in ski boots, all he had ever wanted to do was make turns through snow. His passion for skiing and for being in these mountains radiated from his lanky, six-foot-two-inch frame like a force field, and whoever came into his presence got sucked right in by his charisma, infectious optimism, and undeniable talent. To see him navigate down a mountain was to witness perfection in motion, to watch a man fulfill his very purpose on this earth.
Coombs stood on the shoulder of Dimond Peak next to one of his all-time favorite ski partners, Jon Hunt. Soft spoken, Hunt was as modest as they came. Even after he won contests and sponsors begged him to sign with them, he turned them down. He flat-out refused to be interviewed or photographed. He didn’t want be in movies or magazines. Hunt skied purely because he loved it, and yet even he had to admit, “I didn’t think there was anybody that loved to ski more than I did, but then I met Coombs.”
The two had come a long way from Jackson Hole, where they were renegades when they skied together, sneaking outside the boundaries of the ski resort to brave avalanche terrain and explore the wilds of Wyoming’s backcountry. Alaska was Jackson Hole on steroids. There were no lifts, no boundaries, no ski patrol threatening to take away their passes. Everything was backcountry in Alaska, and they had these mountains all to themselves.
Hunt and Coombs had logged hundreds of days of driving eachother harder and deeper into the mountains. They possessed a unique ability to slow down time when they skied. Just as Hall of Fame hitters can read the seams of a fastball or a changeup, Coombs and Hunt could size up a situation on the mountain so fast while they were skiing that their bodies reacted before their minds even fully digested their thoughts. It was a superpower that had kept them alive and made skiing Dimond Peak actually possible.
As they stared down into the abyss the only question left between them was who was going first. Like kids in a school yard, Coombs and Hunt bucked up for a match of Rochambeau to decide who would take the honors. Hunt won—or lost, depending on how you looked at it. Below their feet, two chutes ran down the length of Dimond Peak like a double-barrel shotgun. The mountain was so steep that they could see for only about thirty feet until the slope seemingly fell off the side of the earth. Beyond that was the valley floor. They called that the NBA effect: so steep that it was like looking down at a basketball and trying to see the bottom of it. Any number of things could be down there waiting to kill them. Massive cliffs. Bottomless crevasses. Avalanches so powerful that they could crush and contort a body beyond recognition.
Hunt pushed off and began making big turns down the right chute. It had been snowing for three straight weeks, and every one of Hunt’s turns broke off chunks of sluff that cascaded down the face. He soon fell out of Coombs’s view. Perched on Dimond, Coombs might as well have been standing on the moon. How had he gotten here? These were the mountains that he had dreamed about as kid while sitting in the library and staring a blank spots on the map. Now he was here filling in the map, giving these mountains names. Coombs returned his focus to the apron at the bottom of the mountain, waiting to see his friend scorch out onto the snow below like he’d watched him do so many times before. A minute went by. Two minutes. Three minutes. No sign of Hunt. Suddenly the slope came alive. A wall of white ripped down across the valley below. “Oh no,” Coombs gasped. Hunt had woken the dragon.