Weekend Warm-Up: Five Guys and a Surfer Walk Into a Denali Air Taxi Service…

Let’s set the scene: Crude shelters fashioned from cardboard boxes, wood pallets, canvas wall tents, and shipping containers. Expedition members scour the inventories of 70-plus kilogram loads that each one will rely on for sustenance for the next month, as a drummer hammers out a regimental beat at a commanding volume.

talkeetna air taxi

Civilization’s final vestiges. Photo: Screenshot


That’s the situation at Talkeetna Air Taxi, the final civilized outpost for Olympic snowboarder Danny Davis and friends as they prepare to embark for Denali in a 2020 film aptly titled “The Big One”.

Who brought the surfboard? Must be the guy who spent the last two weeks walking around sun-splashed Hawaii mountains in snowboard boots.

Soon, that and the rest of the world would be well behind Davis, surfer Ian Walsh, and the rest of the boys, as they sought to summit and ride down the United States’ highest peak.

Novices on Denali

That’s correct. Walsh, a professional surfer with little snowboarding experience, joined a cohort of professional riders to try Denali.

None of them had attempted the mountain before.

“I’ve been wanting to learn a lot more about mountaineering and backcountry snowboarding,” Walsh says in the documentary. “To be a part of this trip is a really good opportunity, I felt, to just get a new perspective.”

That’s one way to put it. I mean, you could also just go buy a lift ticket at your local mountain and ride the trees. But hey, totally up to you — a 6,190m alpine descent should get the job done too.

the big one ian walsh

Walsh on the ascent. Photo: Screenshot


Throughout the short film, Walsh freely admits to feeling intimidated and out of place. At one point, he compares being at a 4,300m camp on Denali to “being parked in a boat, staring at, like, Jaws and Mavericks and Nazaré all right in front of you.”

First hits go just fine — the team jugs lines up to its warm-up runs and languidly carves down the low-angle slopes. More than anything, this part of the film registers as what I’d call “fun”. The guys make margaritas in the mess tent. Unfiltered sun paints the snow white. Enthusiastic alternative pop accompanies jovial dice games.


Maybe it’s something about bringing a surfer on a mountaineering expedition. Even the summit is calm and bathed in bluebird skies.

If anything I ever do in the mountains works out nearly as well as this crew’s Denali outing, I will be shocked.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.