Reinventing Nobis - Ski Mag

Reinventing Nobis

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Nobis

Jeremy Nobis lives like a rock star. He arrives at ski film premieres (in which he stars) by chauffeured limousine.

He has a special-edition Dynastar ski named after him. He had a respectable-though unremarkable-career as an Olympian and World Cup racer, then quit ski racing at 26. Now, at 33, among freeriders in Europe and America, he's known as "The Icon."

He earned this title by descending some of the gnarliest and most precipitous mountains on Earth-where death was sometimes certain if he fell-and he did it at speeds no one could have imagined. This isn't hype: It's all on film.

But none of this high-profile stuff matters much to him. His dream as a kid, the dream that remains, is simply to ski-all the time. "My biggest decision is what mountain I'm going to ski today," he says. "When I'm sitting around not skiing I feel empty."

His life is uncomplicated. No love interest. No close family ties (even to his sister Shannon, who was also a world-class racer), except to his mother. He calls Park City, Utah, home, but seems most comfortable in his green Chevy Avalanche or on a plane. He's been on the road nonstop since he was 14. "I've hardly been in one place more than a month," he says. "I'm always searching."

Nobis' talent seems limitless. Theories abound within the small community of devoted ski racing fans about why certain athletes succeed or fail. In his case, it's the old excuse: The U.S. Ski Team pushed him too hard too early. (He was named to the team at 16.) Nobis thinks that's nonsense, insisting he felt real pressure only when he was ranked in the top 20 in the world.

Born in Madison, Wis., in 1970, he skied first-and just once-at nearby Devil's Head. It was so cold everyone but Jeremy went inside. He straightlined the ropetow slope in a snowplow until his parents dragged him in. He hated the pain, he remembers, as his toes thawed out. Soon after, his family packed a motor home, a car and a U-Haul and moved to Park City. He started in the Park City race program at age 8, as did his sister Shannon. His parents were supportive but never pushy. "I was in love with skiing and didn't need motivation," he recalls. "I went every day."

Skiing every day wasn't a problem until high school. Nobis was in advanced placement courses at Park City HS and had no trouble keeping up, but the school flunked him for spending too much time on the hill. So he moved East for his junior and senior years, attending Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont. "GMVS was more flexible academically," says Nobis, "but I decided school was second. Skiing was first." He made the national team as a high school junior. He was Junior World Champion at 17 and skied in his first World Cup race the next year. "Some young athletes can handle (international competition), others can't," Nobis says. "I was physically mature at 17. (World super G champ and GMVS schoolmate) Daron Rahlves wasn't fully developed even at 20. I needed top-level competition as early as possible."

There are some who theorize Nobis never reached his potential on the ski team because he rarely worked as hard as he played. "I partied hard and, yes, got a ticket for disorderly conduct on my 21st birthday," he says. But his wild-man reputation may be exaggerated. "I could write a book about behavior people have ascribed to me," he says. "Like running around the streets naked before World Cups and mooning at my mother's wedding. I got blamed for a lot of stuff my friends did."

He also had more than his share of injuries: hips, groin, knees and shoulders; four scopes, three major surgeries. Doctors prescribed prednisone to ease his hip pain. "One night I drank beer and felt like I could tear the place apart. I didn't get in any fights, but I felt very aggro, like a caged animal. I was very frustrated by my injury, and the prednisone gave me extra energy."

Hence his nickname, Psycho Nobi. "As a skier, it was either full-throttle or off. I tried to go too straight and crashed a lot. Other racers gave me a hard time, and that's where the name came from. 'Psycho' might apply to some parts of my life, but (partying) is not how it started," Nobis says.

What's not open to debate is the contrast between the Jeremy Nobis of the U.S. Ski Team and the reincarnated Nobis, ultra-extreme skier. Relatively slender and slight at 5 feet, 10 inches and 165 pounds, the Nobis of old seemed earnest and eager to please. Now bigger at 185, a gruff-voiced, tattooed, Red Bull-drinking Jeremy sports a three-day growth of red beard that offsets piercing green eyes. Baggy clothes amplify his size. He never backs away from questions, but his responses are measured and carry an aggressive edge. Nobis' bulking up by 20 pounds has raised the question of his use of anabolic steroids. Nobis agrees steroid use is "around" in alpine racing and has even had doctors offer to administer steroids to him "safely." But, he says categorically, "I never even considered steroids. I have high testosterone and just know I can ski rings around other people."

The tough-guy look and Psycho Nobi persona appeals to the young, male New Schooler, and might-or might not-be calculated. But Nobis seems mystified that he's a role model for young skiers. "I don't have a cool-guy attitude," he says. "I'm more of a dork. I say stupid stuff. I wear everything on my sleeve. I'm open and honest and have trusted people I shouldn't have. If I'm a role model it's because I'm not faking it. I lead a dream life and don't try to be anything but who I am."

Nobis quit the ski team in 1995 and skied on the pro tour for a while. He dabbled in coaching, then went to work part-time for a ski shop in Park City. In 1997, Nobis showed up at a retailers' trade show in Solitude, Utah, representing his shop. The ski companies saw him as just another ex-racer looking to poach rides on new products and refused him gear. But Charlie Adams, then vice president of marketing for Dynastar, told his ski reps to let Jeremy try anything he wanted.

Later, over a beer, Adams told Nobis he'd supply him with skis-and a shot on the silver screen. Teton Gravity Research was filming the movie Harvest on Pyramid Peak in Alaska, a frightening 52-degree slope with 2,000 vertical feet of skiing. The TGR crew wasn't sure they wanted to film Nobis, but Adams persuaded TGR principal Todd Jones to bring him along. Veterans Dave Swanwick and Rick Armstrong were instructed to "take care of Nobi."

The year before, Doug Coombs, the "father of the freeride movement," had skied Pyramid cautiously, making 80 turns. Nobis skied it in 25 seconds, making about eight turns. The helicopter pilot thought Nobis had to be on drugs. His run changed everything: A new freeriding barrier was breached. "It wasn't really planned," recalls Nobis. "I dropped in, did a couple of turns, then started pointing it. The run was steeper than I thought, and I was scared, but I said, 'This is what I'm trained to do. I'm one of the few who can do it.' I just switched my brain off and reacted. Everybody was pretty buzzed."

Other epic runs followed. In 1998, Nobis skied Mr. Ripple in Greenland, calling it "the riskiest run I ever took in terms of exposure. There was one crevasse called Catcher's Mitt, guaranteed to swallow you up. It never crossed my mind that I could fall in and die. I only figured that out later."

Then there was Cathedral, also in Greenland. Not as exposed, but more technical. "I had to ski across glacier ice to get to the spine I wanted to ski. It was so steep and the snow so far from perfect that I had to fight my way down. It wasn't spiritual like other descents, but one of the most memorable."

Filmmakers instantly recognized Nobis as a unique talent. "You don't need to stop rolling (film) on Nobis," says TGR cameraman and narrator Dirk Collins. Film gigs for TGR, Warren Miller, Matchstick Productions and The North Face Films, together with top finishes at the World Extreme Championships (1996) and the X Games (1999) landed Nobis on magazine covers, a peak achievement for athletes in the freeskiing world.

"Freeskiing is more a lifestyle than a sport," Nobis says. "There's no definitive way of deciding who's No. 1. Results are measured by how you're perceived by your contemporaries." Judged competitions are "not worth risking your life for," he says. "Forty seconds and it's over. It's just an appetizer. Too quick, too short, too difficult for the event to remain fair.

"I only really push when the camera's on. I pick my line, and I get it done," he says. "I'm not a crazy man. But I try to peak for a film shoot. I don't always tell (the director) exactly where I'm going. I throw in surprises, like taking a cliff they don't expect. It's about going flat out and doing what others don't have the balls to do. At speed, time seems to slow down. At the end of the day, you feel good if you've scared yourself."

Nobis charts his own course down terrifying routes that have his legs buckling at the bottom. He doesn't always make it. In further, a 2000 TGR movie shot in Haines, Alaska, he fell and lost both skis. "Slough closed me out, and I made a lazy move to the right for safety. I accelerated to 40 mph in an instant, then fell for 1,200 feet. I learned that when you fall in Alaska, you don't stop until the bottom. I was bruised and sore the next day. You have to take what you're doing very seriously." These days, "Jeremy doesn't worry much about slough," says TGR's Todd Jones. "He just outruns it."

In addition to natural talent, Nobis' job also requires patience. On shoots there are days-even weeks-of downtime, waiting for perfect light and snow. He and other skiers pass the time with video games, movies and books. When frustrated and on each other's nerves during those long, gray days, they "drink it blue." "We challenge the weather gods. When we 'drink it blue,' the skies tend to clear the next day. Then we might ski from 8 a.m. to 9 at night. You count on the down days. When you've got so much adrenaline pumping through your veins, it can wear you out. You need recovery time."

A trained racer since he was a kid, Nobis looked down on some of his co-stars at first. But the belief held by racers that they are technically superior, capable of excelling in lesser events like big-mountain skiing, was soon shattered. "Swanwick, Micah Black and Coombs don't have World Cup skills, but they have savvy and style. The mountains have taught these guys. You go to the same mountain year after year, but each year the mountain tells a different story. So you've got to get up there and read the book," he says. "I've learned to respect other people's skills. Their styles are effective-which is to say they're still alive. They've experienced a fear you don't learn in a race, where you're protected by helmets and padding and nets. It's like the difference between walking a tight rope four feet off the ground and 100 feet. The great freeriders have composure. Doug Coombs at 43 has mountain skills I'll never have. He'll ski 10 feet away from a 1,000-foot drop-off and dance with it. There are so many niches to be filled in skiing. To tell somebody they need to ski in a certain way is ridiculous," Nobis says.

Coombs returns the respect. "I was in Valdez when 'spines' were just getting skied for the first time. Nobis was green in the big-mountain terrain, but he was all talent and athleticism. That's how he survived some of those early runs. Big lines were done in one-quarter the time once he showed up. He changed the game."

Nobis also played a part in changing the rules when it comes to gear. He's not credited with inventing the fat powder ski, but with refining it-and geometrically expanding its use. "Tools need to evolve," says Nobis. "I skied on the 'Big' (115-90-108) for a while. It was enough for me at 165 pounds, but at 185 I overpowered it. I wanted something that would 'surf' bes at the World Extreme Championships (1996) and the X Games (1999) landed Nobis on magazine covers, a peak achievement for athletes in the freeskiing world.

"Freeskiing is more a lifestyle than a sport," Nobis says. "There's no definitive way of deciding who's No. 1. Results are measured by how you're perceived by your contemporaries." Judged competitions are "not worth risking your life for," he says. "Forty seconds and it's over. It's just an appetizer. Too quick, too short, too difficult for the event to remain fair.

"I only really push when the camera's on. I pick my line, and I get it done," he says. "I'm not a crazy man. But I try to peak for a film shoot. I don't always tell (the director) exactly where I'm going. I throw in surprises, like taking a cliff they don't expect. It's about going flat out and doing what others don't have the balls to do. At speed, time seems to slow down. At the end of the day, you feel good if you've scared yourself."

Nobis charts his own course down terrifying routes that have his legs buckling at the bottom. He doesn't always make it. In further, a 2000 TGR movie shot in Haines, Alaska, he fell and lost both skis. "Slough closed me out, and I made a lazy move to the right for safety. I accelerated to 40 mph in an instant, then fell for 1,200 feet. I learned that when you fall in Alaska, you don't stop until the bottom. I was bruised and sore the next day. You have to take what you're doing very seriously." These days, "Jeremy doesn't worry much about slough," says TGR's Todd Jones. "He just outruns it."

In addition to natural talent, Nobis' job also requires patience. On shoots there are days-even weeks-of downtime, waiting for perfect light and snow. He and other skiers pass the time with video games, movies and books. When frustrated and on each other's nerves during those long, gray days, they "drink it blue." "We challenge the weather gods. When we 'drink it blue,' the skies tend to clear the next day. Then we might ski from 8 a.m. to 9 at night. You count on the down days. When you've got so much adrenaline pumping through your veins, it can wear you out. You need recovery time."

A trained racer since he was a kid, Nobis looked down on some of his co-stars at first. But the belief held by racers that they are technically superior, capable of excelling in lesser events like big-mountain skiing, was soon shattered. "Swanwick, Micah Black and Coombs don't have World Cup skills, but they have savvy and style. The mountains have taught these guys. You go to the same mountain year after year, but each year the mountain tells a different story. So you've got to get up there and read the book," he says. "I've learned to respect other people's skills. Their styles are effective-which is to say they're still alive. They've experienced a fear you don't learn in a race, where you're protected by helmets and padding and nets. It's like the difference between walking a tight rope four feet off the ground and 100 feet. The great freeriders have composure. Doug Coombs at 43 has mountain skills I'll never have. He'll ski 10 feet away from a 1,000-foot drop-off and dance with it. There are so many niches to be filled in skiing. To tell somebody they need to ski in a certain way is ridiculous," Nobis says.

Coombs returns the respect. "I was in Valdez when 'spines' were just getting skied for the first time. Nobis was green in the big-mountain terrain, but he was all talent and athleticism. That's how he survived some of those early runs. Big lines were done in one-quarter the time once he showed up. He changed the game."

Nobis also played a part in changing the rules when it comes to gear. He's not credited with inventing the fat powder ski, but with refining it-and geometrically expanding its use. "Tools need to evolve," says Nobis. "I skied on the 'Big' (115-90-108) for a while. It was enough for me at 165 pounds, but at 185 I overpowered it. I wanted something that would 'surf' better. I experimented with wider race skis. I wanted durability, but I didn't want a lot of sidecut that would make the ski turn too quickly. At 50-60 mph you want to control the arc, not have the ski grab the snow and whip you around."

Nobis worked with product managers in the U.S. and France to create the "Inspired by Jeremy Nobis," a straight big-mountain powder ski. He designed the graphics, which include a replica of the bear-paw tattoo on his arm. "Super-Nobis" prototypes, made to Jeremy's evolving specifications, are being tested. "We're going to take it much further," he says. "Right now it's like trying to find the ideal setup on a race car."

Nobis' public exposure spiked in 2000, when NBC aired a documentary called Himalaya, Descending India, where he and team members Rick Armstrong and Hilary (Nelson) O'Neil skied at altitudes rarely attempted before. At that same time, experienced climbers Alex Lowe and Dave Bridges were killed in an avalanche on Shishapangma, in a nearby region of Nepal.

The tragedy was sobering for Nobis. He's all the more determined to pursue his dream, but he's become fatalistic. "No matter how much you know about mountains, you never know too much," he muses. "No matter how well you prepare, when it's time for you to go, it's going to happen."

When not on the slopes, Nobis loves reggae and quick-read men's magazines. He's not wild about heights, and he hates moguls and doing anything half-heartedly. Instead he gets "obsessed" with skiing, mountain biking, golf and flyfishing. His management company, IMG, lists "charitable work" as one of his interests. "They throw that in to make me look softer," he smiles.

He continues to ski daily, often with friends. "Sometimes people try to ski over their heads to impress me," says Nobis, "but I try to keep ego out of average freeskiing. I don't play prove-myself games. I don't need to show off, and neither do they."

Friends yank him back in line when he expresses misgivings about his potentially fatal career. "Every time I talk about going back to school, friends who are doctors, lawyers and dentists yell, 'Don't do it!'" he says. "They'd love to be in my place, but they don't really understand the risks."

Nobis understands the risks-both to his body and to him ever having anything approaching a normal home life. "I've had so many runs that were so good, so spiritual. I couldn't name the best. But every year there seems to be one that stands out. I've sacrificed family and a love life to find that." For now, at least, Nobis can't resist the call of the mountains and the freedom he finds there. And he has learned to live with that. "My dream can't last forever," he says. "I don't know what the future holds, and I like not knowing." f' better. I experimented with wider race skis. I wanted durability, but I didn't want a lot of sidecut that would make the ski turn too quickly. At 50-60 mph you want to control the arc, not have the ski grab the snow and whip you around."

Nobis worked with product managers in the U.S. and France to create the "Inspired by Jeremy Nobis," a straight big-mountain powder ski. He designed the graphics, which include a replica of the bear-paw tattoo on his arm. "Super-Nobis" prototypes, made to Jeremy's evolving specifications, are being tested. "We're going to take it much further," he says. "Right now it's like trying to find the ideal setup on a race car."

Nobis' public exposure spiked in 2000, when NBC aired a documentary called Himalaya, Descending India, where he and team members Rick Armstrong and Hilary (Nelson) O'Neil skied at altitudes rarely attempted before. At that same time, experienced climbers Alex Lowe and Dave Bridges were killed in an avalanche on Shishapangma, in a nearby region of Nepal.

The tragedy was sobering for Nobis. He's all the more determined to pursue his dream, but he's become fatalistic. "No matter how much you know about mountains, you never know too much," he muses. "No matter hhow well you prepare, when it's time for you to go, it's going to happen."

When not on the slopes, Nobis loves reggae and quick-read men's magazines. He's not wild about heights, and he hates moguls and doing anything half-heartedly. Instead he gets "obsessed" with skiing, mountain biking, golf and flyfishing. His management company, IMG, lists "charitable work" as one of his interests. "They throw that in to make me look softer," he smiles.

He continues to ski daily, often with friends. "Sometimes people try to ski over their heads to impress me," says Nobis, "but I try to keep ego out of average freeskiing. I don't play prove-myself games. I don't need to show off, and neither do they."

Friends yank him back in line when he expresses misgivings about his potentially fatal career. "Every time I talk about going back to school, friends who are doctors, lawyers and dentists yell, 'Don't do it!'" he says. "They'd love to be in my place, but they don't really understand the risks."

Nobis understands the risks-both to his body and to him ever having anything approaching a normal home life. "I've had so many runs that were so good, so spiritual. I couldn't name the best. But every year there seems to be one that stands out. I've sacrificed family and a love life to find that." For now, at least, Nobis can't resist the call of the mountains and the freedom he finds there. And he has learned to live with that. "My dream can't last forever," he says. "I don't know what the future holds, and I like not knowing."

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