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The Elusive Mr. DeBari


The Elusive Mr. DeBari

By Ian Ferguson

Professional snowboarder and Glacier native Lucas DeBari took a moment out of his roller coaster year to tell us about his past, his present and the upcoming projects he’s excited about.

Photo by Tero Repo, courtesy of The North Face

Watch some of DeBari’s snowboarding segments below the article.

Mount Baker Experience (MBE): Tell us about yourself.

Lucas DeBari (LD): I’m 25 years old, and I was born in Glacier. I moved 30 miles away when I was 18 and now I live in Bellingham.

MBE: How old where you when you first started snowboarding?

LD: I got my first snowboard for Christmas when I was four years old. That would have been 1992. My first run was down Born Street next to Milano’s in downtown Glacier. It snowed two feet that Christmas, and my parents worked at Milano’s the next day. They set me up on the hill next to the restaurant. I’ve been snowboarding ever since. I started riding up at Mt. Baker. My mom had been skiing since her twenties and that year she switched to snowboarding, so we kind of learned together. A guy named George St. James who made the first descent of the Northwest Couloir on Mt. Shuksan was a local semi-pro shredder who worked at my parents’ restaurant. I remember him taking me up a couple times under the lift, learning how to stand up. I can’t imagine my motor skills at that point were very dialed. I was four, five, six. The only reference I have is, there’s a video of me

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doing the banked slalom when I was five, a little over a year after I got my first snowboard. I was doing the falling leaf down the whole thing, but I was moving around at that point.

MBE: Are there any other memories that stick out from when you first started getting into the sport?

LD: One of the memories I think about a lot involves Craig Kelly, who is kind of the godfather of snowboarding. He grew up in Mt. Vernon, and Mt. Baker was his home. When I was probably about five or so, I remember my mom and I were riding down under chair seven, and he came down and stopped, because at that time there was no one my size riding a snowboard. He told me to grab my nose when I was snowboarding, because I was too far in the backseat. Still to this day, I don’t really understand what he was getting at, but at that age, having the hero of heroes give me a tip … that’s a moment I’ll never forget.

MBE: Do you ever grab your nose now when you find yourself in the backseat?

LD: No! That’s the thing, I still don’t understand how that helps. Maybe I just haven’t reached his knowledge level. At some point in my career, I will figure out what he was talking about.

MBE: When did you start to seriously consider snowboarding as a career?

LD: I went through a crazy roller coaster with snowboarding. I got into it really young. I got sponsored when I was eight. I did national competitions for kids until I was 12, and won lots of different disciplines in the sport. When I was about 13, I started honing in on being an Olympic half pipe rider. For a few years I was doing the pro circuit with Danny Kass and Shaun White, finishing top 20 pretty consistently in the professional half pipe scene. I was pretty serious about it. I was training, I was on the road all winter, I was barely going to school and my parents were really supportive and made it possible for me.

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Photo by Cole Barash, courtesy of The North Face.

I was 14 when I broke my humerus in a competition. It was a pretty pivotal moment. Being that age with Louie Vito, Kevin Pearce and other kids who were established pro half pipe riders, we were all progressing on the same level, and once I fell behind I really never caught back up. I had this mental block where I was really afraid to push myself in the half pipe again. And so by the time I was 16, my “pipe dreams” were kind of fading away. I had other interests going on. I had a girlfriend in Bellingham, I got my license, I started partying and snowboarding was more of just something I did. I still had sponsors from previous years, but I kind of went down some bad paths. Just classic teenager ****ing up, nothing too crazy.

I was 17 when Nate Lind took me under his wing. He was a pro local guy who got me into filming, which is another aspect of professional snowboarding. It was just so natural for me. I mean, pow? I’ve been riding pow my whole life. You want me to just jump off this? I do that for fun anyway. It was a skill set that I had acquired through the freestyle and the half pipe and just riding at Baker every day.

That year I graduated high school and my parents bought me a ticket to go to South America with Nate, and I went and filmed a video part in Chile. I came home that fall and signed a contract with Burton, and from then until now I’ve been advancing in my snowboard career.

It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t a goal of mine, it just happened. At that time, snowboarding was becoming more mainstream – Shaun White, Nissan sponsors, things like that. The athletes who were excelling at half pipe and these defined disciplines were professional athletes. I didn’t have the discipline to stay with them, so once I started filming it was like, “This is me.” I like being creative, I like using natural terrain and interacting with it in my own unique style. The fact that I was good at it was really a surprise to me. I was like, wait a minute, I just ride Baker for fun, but it turns out what we’re doing at Baker on a daily basis is pretty gnarly for most people.

I was pretty over snowboarding and trying to make a career of it professionally during junior, senior year of high school, and Nate Lind was very forceful in not letting me mess up, because he saw the potential. He was like, “Dude, come with me to South America. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, quit doing drugs and being an idiot, let’s go shred and film.”

He was pro at the time, and he was taking time out of his schedule and money out of his pocket to help me out. I’m super thankful for that because it changed my whole life and gave me this career in snowboarding.

MBE: Let’s fast forward to the beginning of last winter. You went to Antarctica to ride big, steep lines with Xavier de la Rue. The expedition was supported by one of your sponsors, The North Face. Can you tell us about that experience?

LD: Through my career I’ve kind of made a name for myself as one of the younger athletes in big mountain snowboarding. I got in with The North Face, which was a huge leap in pushing me in the direction I want to go with snowboarding. Through them I’ve had the opportunity to work with some insane athletes, one of whom is Xavier de Le Rue. We’ve done expeditions together to Chile, Japan, Canada; I’ve ridden with him near his home in Chamonix, and then last year he invited me to come to Antarctica.

I consider myself an opportunist – a missed opportunity is one of the worst things in life. So immediately I was like, “Yes!” not knowing what I was getting into. This guy is your classic French, Chamonix-raised kid who is a natural alpinist. He could be a professional ice climber if he wanted. He has a skill set that is so beyond snowboarding, and I knew that going in.

The whole experience… I got my ass kicked. I left the day before Thanksgiving and I got home on Christmas Eve. We were living on the boat for 30 days. Just getting to Antarctica was a burly mission. It was 10 days of travel, seven days of sailing to get there. We crossed the Drake Passage, and I didn’t know it at the time but that voyage is known for strong currents and terrible weather. Our captain was very competent, but we had massive swells the whole time. I got really seasick, didn’t leave my bed for three days at one point. We were just eating light crackers and water.

Ten days of not doing anything, and you get to Antarctica with these Alaska-style spine lines, this amazing terrain, and it’s just ice. Solid ice. We were in Antarctica for about three weeks, and I was just doing everything I could to keep up with Xavier.

There were a couple things that I just had to back down from, saying, “You know, man, I just don’t have the skill set, this is too dangerous for me.” Even backing down off some of the bigger, more exposed lines, I was still pushing my limits so far. I’m thinking to myself, I ride powder for a living. I made my career jumping off cliffs into soft powder and doing tricks into it. Now it’s like full mountaineering. I’m riding with two ice axes, I’ve got crampons everywhere, I’m terrified and if I fall I’m going to die. So you’re asking yourself, why am I doing this? And then you get to the bottom of your run, the pitch eases off, and you snowboard down to this little rock with penguins, and then the Zodiac comes and picks you up right off the shore, it’s like, “this is sick.”

MBE: Do you want to incorporate alpinism more into your snowboarding?

LD: Absolutely. I had some experiences prior to Antarctica in ski/snowboard mountaineering. It’s something I enjoy. But I know that I get puckered. It scares me. I’ve said I enjoy scaring the shit out of myself. But I think that getting into rock climbing and spending more time in the mountains this summer kind of opened this world of more mountaineering-style snowboarding. I really like the isolation of it, and you’re able to really set goals. I want to ride that peak, or that line. You have to have such a wider variety of skills to accomplish it, and that appeals to me.

MBE: After you got back from Antarctica, you hopped into a tricked-out Subaru with your buds and headed off on a snowboarding road trip. That must have been a little different from the Antarctica trip.

LD: Yeah, it was kind of like the yin and yang of snowboarding. I went from a super expensive, high-profile trip to Antarctica, where you have a huge production crew and it’s real serious and to the point – I really enjoyed it, but then coming home and filming my own project with three of my good buddies in a super-badass, old-school Subaru Loyale… we had like a 290-something horsepower STI engine in there, the whole suspension, axles, brakes and tires were redone, it was painted by a homie of ours… I really wanted to create a different vibe. A lot of snowboarding media tries to treat you like a rock star, or a bad ass or someone elevated above the general public. I don’t see it like that. I love to snowboard, I grew up snowboarding and anyone who enjoys that, I’m stoked to be around. So I really wanted to share with people what draws me to  snowboarding, which is riding with your homies everyday regardless of conditions, chasing the good snow, figuring out how much money you have and how many turns you can get. We set out right after New Year’s. We were gone all season, shredding and documenting. We kept it really light and natural, we only had one filmer. It was a really nice contrast to how I had been filming in the past.

MBE: Who was on that trip with you?

LD: Kael Martin, who grew up in Bellingham/ Ferndale area, he’s been riding Baker his whole life, and then Alex Yoder and Blake Paul from Jackson Hole in a similar situation. Jackson Hole is very nostalgic in the snowboarding world and they grew up there, snowboarding since they were kids. So we had four people who were just dedicated snowboarders, who love to do it. No real story or goal for the film other than to document what we do and why we love it, and how lucky we are to be able to do it.

MBE: In watching the film a bit of a friendly rivalry comes across between Mt. Baker and Jackson Hole…

LD: You know, it’s funny – the Jackson guys really, honestly think it’s better out there. We just have to say, yeah, totally, it’s better out there, you should stay there all season…

It’s all just fun s***-talking. We’re proud in the Northwest of what we have here. The Cascades are an amazing range. I’ve been fortunate to snowboard all around the world, but there’s nowhere as sick as Mt. Baker – that’s all there is to it.

MBE: Then you guys went up to Whitewater, B.C. where you injured your knee. What happened?

LD: It was the culmination of a lot of factors. The Antarctica trip, despite being super gnarly and technical, really took any muscle and athleticism I had built up over the fall and dissipated it. I was on a boat for 30 days, and we rode some gnarly lines but it wasn’t a lot of lines. It wasn’t a lot of physical activity.

I came back and didn’t allow myself that month of shredding before I started filming. I hurt my back at the Ultra Naturals three weeks before we went up to Canada for filming.

When it happened, it had all the signs of an injury coming. It was day ten of filming, it was the end of the day, I was tired, I’d been pushing it too hard for too long without resting. I was filming this 20-30 foot air on the side of a road with a good landing. As I landed I accelerated across the road and aired off the other side of the road, but it was a switchback and so I landed on the road again below the switchback. It wasn’t the biggest air, and I’ve definitely landed harder than that, but I was off-balance, I was tired and I wasn’t expecting asphalt. I just landed on my front leg with it fully extended and immediately knew my knee was done. I tore my ACL. And from that day until just last Sunday, I hadn’t strapped into a board.

MBE: You rehabbed over the summer, and in the fall you went on a climbing trip through the southwest. Was that your first time back on the knee, or had you been hiking and climbing on it all summer?

LD: For two months after surgery I was like a machine, doing every bit of rehab the doctors told me to do plus another 50 percent. I changed my diet and made a commitment to getting healthier. Once I was able to walk around and hike in the mountains, I pretty much let rehab take a backseat to having fun. Normally in the summer I leave for months at a time, but this summer it was mostly day trips. I was joking with my buddy the other day, just three months after surgery we went and did the northwest ridge of Slesse.

Climbing is not bad on the knee. It’s slow, controlled movement. But hiking, and hiking downhill while carrying a pack is bad. We set out at 4 a.m., summitted at sunset and ended up sleeping in space blankets on this notch half in the snow. At the time I was just like, yeah, we’re just pushing it, but that was three months out of surgery. What an idiot… It was an amazing experience but I was a little hot out of the gate.

So I climbed as much as I could, that was my activity for the summer. I was able to push myself in climbing almost as much as I would have normally. Then in the fall I did a loop of climbing in the southwest – Red Rock, Indian Creek and Yosemite. From when I blew my knee out in February to when I left in October was the longest and most time I’d spent in Bellingham in probably five years. It was really strange to do that, and my roommates were like, wow you’re here a lot. It was a really big thing for me to take off in my truck with the canopy and hit the road in the fall.

MBE: Do you ever wish you could stay in one place or do you prefer to be on the move?

LD: I absolutely prefer to be on the move. They say variety is the spice of life, and I love traveling. Bellingham is this amazing, beautiful place; it’s a great community, all my friends are here and they’re here every time I come home. But I love adventure. I love getting on the road and knowing where I’m going but not how I’m going to get there or what’s going to happen on the way. At some point in my life I may be a little more content sitting still, but right now every opportunity I can leave town to check something out, it’s a must.

MBE: When you do come home, what’s your favorite dish at Milano’s?

LD: They’ve got the seafood linguini that’s probably my favorite, it’s usually on the specials. Just home cooking. My family is super close, and every time my sister and I come home from a trip we have a real nice dinner.

But yeah, the seafood linguini… if my dad’s making that, it’s good. We’re in a good spot to eat seafood and pasta.

MBE: Do you have any major projects on the horizon this year?

LD: Yeah. I just had a big meeting about it in San Francisco, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen but nothing is set in stone. It’s going to take me a couple months of  snowboarding to get me back to the level I want to be at, but a trip to Greenland is a major goal of mine. I’ve got a big trip proposal that hopefully comes together. I’ve got a couple ski mountaineers who have done some incredible stuff all over the world, in the Himalayas and on Everest, so I’m hoping to go get puckered in Greenland.

I’m really excited about this area in northwest Greenland called the Caledonian Alps, these beautiful mountains that are relatively unexplored. That’s the carrot at the end of the stick for me getting healthy. If we do it right I think we would try to add a philanthropic element to the trip. Maybe bring some awareness of Inuit communities that have been hit hard by alcoholism and the melting ice sheet. It would be pretty cool to use my resources as a professional snow boarder to help share what’s happening and kind of counteract my carbon footprint. I think spreading the knowledge is important, because we’re pretty unaware of how other cultures live in this world and I’ve been fortunate enough to experience other cultures in the places I go. It’s kind of my duty to report back to western society or even just my friends what’s happening and what we can do to help. Meeting some of those people is one of the best parts of my travels.

MBE: What are some of your favorite zones in the Mt. Baker area?

LD: Hmmm, well you’ve got Secret Spot A, B and C … honestly, Mt. Baker Ski Area is my favorite zone. The lines that we ride there are comparable to anything I’ve touched in the world. So fun.

I’ve really gotten into split boarding a lot in the last couple years, so even Mt. Herman and the immediate slack country of Mt. Baker is just phenomenal. If you get a sunny day on the Shuksan Arm or Table or Herman, it’s gold. People are paying $1,000 a run in Alaska to get pretty similar terrain, and we have it in a half-hour skin. So the Baker area, and then kind of exploring the Cascades is my new thing. I’ve gotten to some remote areas through rock climbing in the summer, and I’d really like to explore the Picket Range and the North Cascades Highway outside Darrington on a snowboard. It’s such an amazing range because the access is so difficult, especially in winter. If we really put our heads together and figure out how to get into some of those areas, I can only imagine the terrain is just phenomenal. x