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Hard Day's Night

The quasi-professional peak baggers of Aspen reach for 100.
 

The Centennials project team—from left, Ted Mahon, Christy Mahon and Chris Davenport—on top of Teakettle Mountain, at 13,819 feet, last spring.

Some married couples are perfectly content spending their weekends catching up on SportsCenter, raking the leaves or walking the dog. But not Ted and Christy Mahon—hell, most dogs couldn’t keep up with these two. Once Friday hits for the Mahons, they are most likely to be found skiing, running or climbing in a remote, barely explored corner of the Colorado map. Then, 14 or 40 hours later, they’ll casually saunter back to their in-town condo, pop in for a quick shower and then head back to the office.

Through their years spent sticking to this program (i.e., work; play hard; rinse; repeat), the duo has accomplished a lot. Ted was the third person in history to ski every 14er—the 54 peaks in Colorado that rise to 14,000 or more feet—and Christy was the seventh person to do it, and, more notably, the first woman. The couple holds distinguishing results in several dozen ultramarathon-type events, and have become regulars at local ski races. And, of course, their training outings—the things they swear they do “just for fun”—oftentimes turn out to be more hair-raising than all else combined.

In fact, the only title—spanning numerous feats and races and adventures—this duo doesn’t have to their names is a DNF, or Did Not Finish. Despite the potential jinx factor of even mentioning that little fact, it is important to note given the significance and difficulty of the couple’s newest major objective: to take the “Ski the 14ers” project one step further by skiing all 100 of Colorado’s tallest peaks: the Centennial Peaks.

It’s an ambitious project, even by Mahon standards, and to do it, the couple has partnered with longtime friend and frequent ski partner, Chris Davenport. Davenport was the second person to complete the “Ski the 14ers” project, and he remains one of the best-known professional skiers of the modern era. He has been a pioneer of the big-mountain free-skiing movement since it started coalescing with the advent of fattening skis and opening boundaries in the mid ’90s.

Christy Mahon leads an ascent of the Vermillion Dollar Couloir on Vermillion Peak, near Ice Lakes Basin outside the town of Silverton.

Together, they make quite the dynamic trio. Davenport marshalls resources and support from sponsors like Kastle Skis, Scarpa and Whole Foods, while Ted is in the navigator’s chair plotting out all the little-known Jeep roads and creek crossings that will keep them on track. Christy functions as an ever-smiling beacon of positivity, so overflowing with good cheer that gigantic things begin to feel entirely doable and even, perhaps, fun.

The trio got started on the Centennial project last spring, when they went on a bona fide peak-bagging bender that, coupled with the 14ers collected from years past, means they have some 15 peaks left on the list to ski.

Conditions permitting this winter and spring—paired with a bit of luck—the crew is hoping they may be able to finish the list of 100 before summer. We recently caught up with the trio for some insights and storytelling about this one-of-a-kind adventure through the Colorado high country:

Up and at ‘Em
“We’re gonna try and pick off a few peaks before springtime this year. Last year, we wanted to do the same thing, but it never happened—we got zero done in wintertime. The conditions were just so bad, so dangerous. But this season, it’s looking possible.” –Christy Mahon

“We’d definitely like to get that early start because with some of these peaks, there’s uncertainty, a lot of uncertainty.” –Ted Mahon

“And we’ve learned that these lists get harder the shorter the list gets.” –Christy Mahon

“Because often, what you’ve done unknowingly is picked all the low-hanging fruit.” –Ted Mahon

Friends and Partners
“Doing this stuff is our passion, for sure, but this project is also an evolution of our friendship. … We just have such a great time together, laughing, sharing our various skills and expertise, challenging ourselves; and we were all just like, ‘We gotta keep doing this kind of stuff. So what’s next?’ The Centennials project was an obvious choice.” –Chris Davenport

Ladies First
“I’m not your average stereotypical Alpine mountaineer. And I think, to have a female presence around, it’s appreciated in our group—not only in the mountains, but in the RV and in the planning and in the thought process for the whole project. I also think it helps people to see our group, and what we’re trying to do differently. When we meet people at the RV park, the reactions we get are different than it would be if the team was all just a bunch of manly dudes.” –Christy Mahon

Struggle
“There’s certainly been a few moments when I’ve felt like the last thing I wanted to do was get up again at 4 in the morning and put my boots on, or put together a blog post at the end of another long day. It sort of all becomes robotic after a couple days. And everybody pitches in, but it’s still a lot of hard work, and you’re always working through issues: RV issues, Internet issues, blog, somebody forgot their crampons...” –Ted Mahon

Cruxes and Unknowns
“The easy peaks of what’s left [on the list] are really remote, like totally in the middle of nowhere, and we don’t know how to approach them, how or where the snow’s gonna be, and there’s just no information about that stuff. Then there’s three, possibly four, peaks that pose particular challenges in terms of ski lines—one of them is very serious terrain, very remote, and we don’t know if there’s a skiable line from the top.” –Ted Mahon

“The crux will be Jagged Mountain, which is about as far as you can get from the trailhead. It’s a fifth-class climb—in the summer, very airy, multiple rappels. And there are others with similar challenges: peaks where we haven’t been able to find any information about people who may have skied them.” –Ted Mahon

“What that means is, we’re going to have to solve these questions, or answer them. Whatever the case, we’ve got a good number of serious challenges remaining.” –Ted Mahon

What is Peak Bagging Mode?
“That means you sign away each weekend, put aside other trips that you might want to do, and focus on being here in the winter and spring and spending long days out, and often back-to-back.” –Christy Mahon

“Shitty snow.” –Ted Mahon

“Early alarm clocks too. But it also means a lot of time up high, a lot of time with a different view of the world, taking in really inspirational basins and wilderness, and a lot of mental and physical challenges.” –Christy Mahon

Driven
“Obsessed might be too strong a word, but we’re all really into being fit and really seeing what we can do—whether it’s in ultrarunning or skiing or whatever it is. I think all three of us also really embrace the idea of trying to make a positive and lasting contribution to the sport. So projects like the 14ers and the Centennials now, they really are legacy-type trips: You have the opportunity to really set the bar. And with what’s happening in the industry right now, with this explosion toward backcountry and adventure skiing, it feels like, in a small way, we’re playing a part in that.” –Chris Davenport