The name Glen Plake brings to mind a mohawk, hot-dogging, and extreme skiing. What about a harness, ice tools, and climbing ropes? More of a mountaineer than a bumper these days, Plake hopes to share his love for technical terrain with young alpinists through a program with his sponsor Julbo. Mountain caught up with Plake in his winter base in Chamonix, France about his latest project and the changing mountaineering scene in North America.
My base is Europe, but I'm a born and raised Californian, which is also a bit of a hotbed for mountaineering. I'm proud of my Sierra mountain range.
Mountaineering hasn't been adopted in the U.S. the way it is in Europe, especially here in Chamonix, where we have generations of mountaineers, generations of people who have devoted their lives to mountain professions.
My grandmother used to say it best. She'd say "Have a fun hike!" and I'm heading to the Himalaya. Unfortunately, that's a lot of people's interpretation, not only of ski mountaineering, but mountaineering in general.
I think it's changing, because of not only lighter ski touring equipment, but the access to outdoor equipment in general. When I started, none of that existed, so you were really kind of a freak to go do it.
We have this huge explosion in ski mountaineering going on. At the same time, if you speak about youth involvement in skiing, you usually come up with junior ski racing—which I whole-heartedly endorse and support—we have the park, we have the freeride team, the X Games, and all this different stuff. But what about the kid who might be growing up with a little bit more classic alpine influence in his life?
I'm not going to crown the next great American alpinist. That's not the goal. But I'll open up an opportunity for people to come forth and say, 'I'm 19 years old and I want to be a mountain guide. That is the desire of my life.' We just want to open up the door and say if you're out there, let us know who you are, and we're going to try and support your interests. Provide a path for that next generation of alpinist, mountaineer, whatever you want to call them.
I'm looking for the one that doesn't send in a typical wish list. I'm looking for somebody coming in with a well-thought-out itinerary and goals. Things that make you go, huh, interesting, let's call that guy back. I'm not going to pin goals on anybody, because certainly I never had any, but I'm looking forward to seeing some of their twists and what they think they can do with their lives. —Olivia Dwyer
To enter the Glen University Session, visit Julbo's Facebook page. Julbo will post eight "classes" over the next 13 months, and students must enroll in four to be considered for a ski trip to Chamonix, France guided by Plake.