Revo Ambassadors @erichroepke and @steinretzlaff share their incredible experience in the most remote place on the face of the earth - Antarctica.
TUNE INTO INSTAGRAM STORIES ON 12/20 FOR ERICH AND STEIN'S REVO TAKEOVER.
Meeting Doug Stoup
Three years ago, Stein and I were skiing in Whistler, Canada. We were making a video series for Pabst Blue Ribbon about being ski bums. There were six of us living in a 1983 Toyota Sunrader, named “The Millenium Fart Box” for over two weeks. One afternoon, we were skiing below the ‘Harmony’ on a brilliant sunny day. I ripped around a corner and saw a man wearing a helmet with a large Squaw Valley sticker on the front.
“No way! Are you from Squaw? I asked, "Stein and Thor are from Squaw!”
This conversation would change our lives forever.
Doug Stoup smiled and told us that he lived ‘right next to the tram’ in Squaw. We all finished the run and jumped on the lift. During the ride, we asked Doug what he did for a living.
“Oh, a little of everything, mostly ski trips,” he replied nonchalantly.
As the lift swept us higher, we talked about our favorite zones in Whistler. We told him what we were up to, and talked about being ski bums.
“Wait, there’s six of you in that camper, and you’ve been staying there how long?” he chuckled. “Here. Take this.” He handed Stein a key. “I am staying at the Fairmont down in the village. They have a huge hot tub with a bunch of showers. Take my key, and go use the spa. You guys smell pretty bad and could use it. Walk in there like you own the place. No one should give you any trouble. If you have any problems, here’s my business card. Shoot me an email, and I’ll see what I can do”.
Two weeks later, we're back home in Oregon finishing our final semester at Lewis & Clark College. Walking to school, I felt something in my pocket. I pulled out the card Doug had given me that day on the lift. Douglas Stoup - President, Ice Axe Expeditions. I sat down to my computer and googled Doug - my jaw dropped.
Doug has had a wild life. Growing up on the east coast, he went on to play NCAA soccer at West Virginia. He became one of the first Americans to play professionally in Europe. Then, he was an actor. He lived in L.A., where we made a career acting, and pushing actors through strenuous workouts. He had a role on Baywatch, and even was the winner of a famous 80s American Gladiator-like TV show, “Battle Dome”. Doug would use his earnings to travel the world, climbing, skiing, and snowboarding. He was noticed for his skill in the mountains and ended up landing a few sponsors. He climbed some of the biggest mountains on earth, making an incredible career.
While in Chile, he found out two skiers were attempting to ski to the South Pole. They were going to have to drop their trip because their guide had to cancel. Doug stepped up and offered to guide the duo. Then found out that one of the members was blind, and the other was deaf... some difficulties, but no problem. Once they finished the trip, Doug was in love with Antarctica. He went on to become a full International Polar Guide. Doug has skied to the North and South Poles more than any other person in history. After a few years guiding, he launched Ice Axe Expeditions. He decided to rent a cruise ship, bring in twenty-five international mountain guides, and go ski the Antarctic Peninsula. Ice Axe took off and expanded, offering ski trips around the globe. Recently, Doug launched the Ice Axe Foundation. Its mission is to bring students into these wild places.
The minute I read Doug’s resume, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I called Stein. “Dude, come to the library. You’ve got to see this."
Over the course of the next three days, Stein and I drafted the most eloquent email we’ve ever written. It was full of cordial titles, detailed life summaries, and our aspirations. Doug responded within minutes - ‘Yo! Brothas, let’s jump on a call soon.’
Fast forward six months later, and Stein and I are living in Doug’s house and working on projects with Doug.
Doug became our mentor.
The White Continent
In 2017, we got our first chance to step on the white continent with the Ice Axe Ski Cruise. Stein and I joined the expedition as interns, filmmakers, general assistants and apprentice guides. Basically, we were willing to do just about anything to be invited on the trip.
Stein and I flew down two days early to film the guides’ meetings. While on a layover in Atlanta, we found out our red-eye to Buenos Aires was canceled. We bustled to a cramped hotel on the outskirts of town. Stein and I spent the night anxiously checking and rechecking the schedule for our future flights. If we were late, it’s not like they hold up a ship full of one hundred skiers for the two dirtbag interns. We got on a flight to Buenos Aires first thing in the morning. Once we landed in BA, we made the traditional pilgrimage across town the local ‘Aeroparque’ airport to catch our next flight south. I pulled up to the baggage check window and handed over my passport.
“You missed your flight. It was yesterday." The clerk told me.
“I know, we were delayed out of Atlanta,” I nervously snapped back.
“Not my problem.” He replied.
Shit. We were going to miss the trip. I dropped the bags with Stein, and ran down the hall to customer service. No one there had answers for us. I was able to find wifi and called the airline. The customer service rep told me we were on the flight that afternoon to Ushuaia out of the airport. I marched back up to the clerk and slapped my passport on the counter.
“Oh, there you are. Now I see your reservation."
We ended up landing in Ushuaia, Argentina just twelve hours before the ship left. We opened the doors to the kickoff dinner in a local restaurant, late, to find over a hundred people listening to Doug describe the trip. We hurried to our seats. The energy in the room was like nothing I’ve felt before. The stoke was so high you couldn’t help but let it take you over. After all, we were heading to Antarctica the next day.
After a restless night, our departure day was finally here. We packed our bags and walked into the lobby of the Albatros. Everyone was piling ski bags in the lobby of the hotel. Pretty soon there was a two-meter high pile of colorful ski gear and bags.
As we made our way to the docks, the group stopped off for a photo. One-hundred and thirty people with smiles as large as I have ever seen hugged one another. Within 15 min we would be boarding the Ocean Adventurer to set off from Antarctica. The excitement was infectious.
For the next few days, we experienced some of the roughest seas of our lives so far. The ship regularly heaved fifty feet in the air and plunged back to the sea. We took turns spewing our lunch off of the starboard side. Two days into the journey, we heard a crackle over the loudspeaker.
“The top deck will be closing due to hurricane force high winds. We are expecting up to 95 knots.”
Of course, we ran upstairs. We clawed our way to the rail, to find twenty other thrill seekers holding on for dear life. Everyone was hooting and hollering like they were bull riding. The 100 mph winds ripped the air from your mouth. A huge wave crashed over the bow, showering us all with Antarctic seawater. Instantly, I had the worst brain freeze of my entire life and started retching up anything I had left in my stomach. I lifted my head and saw white outlines of mountains in the distance-- Antarctica.
The ship was remodeled the year prior with ‘Rolls Royce’ engines. This improvement landed us in Antarctica almost a full day earlier than expected. The crew decided to start skiing further south and work our way back north in the following days.
We pulled into Bluff Island as a first stop. The weather was a bit cloudy with a chance of snow. Groups bustled through the hallways. The excitement was heavy in the air. I can’t remember being more excited for anything to be honest. As we drew closer to the portside door, we caught our first glimpse of Doug. He was loading skis into boats for guests.
We had heard Doug talk about Antarctica for years by this point. He always says the best part of his job is creating ‘Antarctic Ambassadors’. These ambassadors would be people that fall in love with Antarctica and will do whatever it takes to preserve it.
Doug loaded the boats with a knowing smile. He was just as excited as the guests because he knew what was in store for us. We watched as two groups loaded into rubber dinghies and disappeared into the fog. We stopped at the wash station and gave our ski boots a quick dip to make sure we didn’t track any foreign organic matter onto the Antarctic Continent. We passed our skis to Doug.
“Have fun out there, boys.” he smiled.
Our ski boots clamored on the aluminum floor of the zodiac as we jumped in. We pushed off into the fog. As the boat began to whine away from the ship, the fog cleared. Deep blue icebergs jutted out in front of us. The zodiac weaved a safe path through the ice.
Large peaks began to reveal themselves. Every person the zodiac gasped. The mountains were flanked on all sides by ancient glaciers. Each peak and its serrated line was reflected back to us a second time in the black water. After one of the most memorable zodiac rides of our lives, we gently bumped the frozen continent. Our team worked together to unload the gear and we soon began our ascent.
This was the definition of a fairyland. Snowflakes have fallen so slowly, practically hovering. We spaced out our rope team of four and began to hike up the glacier.
Our first run was magical. Light fluff on top of the glacial snowpack. We made four runs were one of the last groups on the ice.
On day two we had an Antarctic powder day. Powder in Antarctica is not normal. It is considered a desert and only gets six inches of snow on the coast each year.
So face shots in Antarctica are special. We lapped a slope above a Chilean research station at least ten times. As we traversed back to the ship, we noticed black mass shifting through the water. It was a huge group of penguins darting up and down, in and out of the water. The mass moved to the shore and all the sudden, hundreds of penguins started hucking themselves feet into the air. One after the other, they catapulted on top of each other.
There is a cold anticipation every morning waking up at 5 AM. Scaling to the upper deck in the frigid morning hours always unveils an unexpected present for the day. On this particular day, we were staring at a peninsula of white-capped peaks complimented by a stunning bluebird day. It was about to be one of those days...
We were the first ones off the ship at 8 AM. Once we landed, we skied directly over to Nansen Peak and made a long summit bid. We topped out at around 11, then we kicked it into overdrive.
We skied the entire day with very little breaks. People are not allowed to bring food to shore, because it could disturb the Antarctic environment. This means you have to return to the ship to eat lunch. Our group didn’t ever stop for lunch. We didn’t want to miss a second. We would be one of the first groups out and were always the last to leave.
By 5:15 pm, we heard the radios, “Miles group - you are the last on the ice. Please return to landing zone B for pick-up.”
So, we took our skins off and began the descent. We arrived back at the zodiac, late, around 5:45. At least we weren't alone. We were happy to meet another charging group lead by lead-guide, Jules Hanna. It was an absolutely unreal day skiing non-stop from 8 am to 6:15 pm.
We thought the previous day couldn’t get any better, we were wrong. November 4 was the best weather we saw the entire trip.
We arrive at landing zone and begin the boot pack up a narrow ramp placing us at about two-hundred feet up the shore. We punched deeper into the snow, arm after arm, foot after foot. After swimming our way to the top, we were finally able to strap skis to our feet.
After a couple runs, we made a traverse above a few crevasses and made our way to the other side of the island. It was about 11 am and it was getting very warm. We took off our jackets and began skinning in our t-shirts. Unreal to think about backcountry skiing in t-shirts in Antarctica!
After about an hour long skin, we made it to the summit and had an incredible view of a snow-covered spine. It split our view of the ocean and ice with a glimpse of our ship in the background to the right.
We soaked up warm Antarctica sun and enjoyed the unbelievable views of the island.
The day finished with the infamous ‘Polar Plunge’. This is when antarctic first timers must make a rite of passage, jumping into the ocean...
We won’t ever forget that.
With the turn of weather, a low-pressure system manifested some cloudy and icy weather. We weaved through various crevasses in low light. The Revo photochromic lenses were absolutely clutch in all conditions.
Later in the afternoon, we made it back to the ship where we then made our way to Half Moon Bay where we did a Facebook Live event with Doug and Miles. We were surrounded by thousands of Gentoo and Emperor penguins. Every now and then, an Albatross would land and attempt to kill a few penguins… a few attempts were successful. Crazy to watch the raw moments of nature at work.
After the Facebook + Instagram Live event, we went back to the ship and prepared for the infamous ‘Antarctic Party.’ This year was Halloween themed and everyone on the ship including ship crew enjoyed sharing stories and dancing.
Today was our last day skiing in Antarctica. Weather was decent with a bit of overcast and very warm at 5-10 degrees Celsius.
We skinned up to a spine where did hot laps for some incredible ski shots in front of huge, blue glaciers. Throughout the day, we heard glaciers calving all around us. It was truly a humbling experience to watch the amount of ice breaking from these 50,000+ year-old glaciers.
As the day’s end approached, we were once again, the last to board the zodiacs. Our team couldn’t have imagined anything less than skiing the white continent until the very last moment.
Once back on the ship, we made our way for a quick stop to visit a Polish Antarctic Research Station on King George Island. We were met with a few energetic and young people fulfilling their one-year working agreement on the peninsula. The Quark Expedition team knows how to field an awesome crew. I wish we could have stayed longer to hear their stories. Nevertheless, we got our passports stamped and headed back to the ship.
The next couple days will be spent aboard the ship as we make our way across the Drakes Passage once more until we arrive in Ushuaia.
Antarctica is wild. It is the most remote place on the face of the earth. This trip changed the course of our lives forever. Since then, our lives have revolved around ice. We have worked with SeaLegacy, IceLegacy Project, we will forever be in love with the white continent.
And, Doug’s job worked. Every person on that ship has a new perspective on life. I am sure it’s impossible to see beauty like that and not be changed. Doug created another hundred ambassadors that year, just like he does year after year.
Antarctica holds a special place in our hearts, and we hope to keep this last frontier clean and pristine for many future generations.