PEP FUJAS HAS earned a reputation as one of the world’s most versatile skiers. For 10 years, he’s traveled the world filming ski movie segments in high-risk environments and avalanche terrain.
“The easiest way I can justify the risks I take is by looking at the life I lead,” he says. “It is not ordinary in the least.”
I was recently able to have Pep expound on this, skiing, and co-founding a film company.
[JB:] Lots of us have dreamed of becoming professional action sport athletes. Of course, we picture everyday being filled with film-worthy moments. Can you walk us through a typical winter day as a pro-skier?
[PF:] If it has snowed at all, the alarm goes off before 6 AM. Hopefully we have a plan of attack regarding what terrain we want to ski and what aspects will get light first.
We always plan on skiing the aspects where the sun will be next, thus allowing time for our filmers to get into position.
We [access the] terrain via snowmobiles, lifts, climbing skins, boot packing, or, if we are really lucky, by helicopter.
Ski movies are full of close calls with avalanches, but few talk about what it takes to ski a line. How much work is involved in bagging an Alaskan peak and who is making the big decisions?
We do walk a very fine line in Alaska and many walk that line when going [into the] backcountry. The draw of getting that face-shot will override our best judgment, even though every avalanche forecaster and class will tell you to wait at least 24 hours to let the snow settle before skiing it.
That notion is thrown right out the chopper window as we gawk at the freshly blanketed peaks that we came to ride.
It takes a bit of guts, bravado, humbleness, stupidity, and mostly a great understanding of where you are and what you are attempting to do. It’s absolutely paramount to have a good guide and to listen to them.
You play in gnarly terrain all winter. Can you describe the scariest line you’ve skied?
The scariest line I’ve ever skied and got away with was originally going to be a fairly tame line. I was pretty new to Alaska and picked out a line I thought wasn’t too risky and didn’t put a whole lot of effort into making sure I knew where I was going. In a split second I had veered off course, even though I was confident I was still skiing exactly where I wanted.
I realized I was going the wrong way just before I busted through a small wall of snow that I didn’t remember. Upon exiting the cloud I produced, I had another split second to position myself to air a cliff.
It was about 30 feet, and I landed on my feet. My legs went weak after I looked back up and realized I had aired into the only snow pocket on the whole cliff band.
Do you often/ever feel pressured to perform despite poor conditions? How do you justify the risks you take?
I consider myself very lucky because I don’t feel very much pressure to perform in bad conditions. The risks far outweigh the rewards of a mediocre shot. If indeed you land something or shred a gnarly line in bad conditions, it simply won’t look that good.
And if something goes wrong, that could be the end of your season or worse. I’d say most of the risks I take are very calculated and I enjoy pushing my abilities and trying new things.
The ski community has lost its share of heroes. Jamie Pierre died in an avalanche so recently, while others like CR Johnson, Shane McConkey, and Doug Coombs have fallen in recent years. How much do these events impact your life and ski choices?
Accidents happen. The deaths of these individuals are tragic but they all went down doing exactly what they wanted to do. If I go down the same way, so be it. People die and not everyone truly lives.
I think these people led magnificent lives. I must say I would rather perish doing something I love than something I don’t, like getting hit by a car. I don’t think these events have impacted me too much. I still take the same risks I always have and still try to push myself yet stay somewhat within my comfort zone.
You’re part of Nimbus Independent with friends and skiers Eric Pollard, Andy Mahre, and Chris Benchetler. Why did you team up with these three skiers?
These three guys were all good friends of mine and at the time of our joining all wanted the same thing and that was to do a project together. Andy was the one who brought us together for the film IDEA. We had such a great time doing it, it was only natural to continue.
Why was it important to you to start an independent film brand and document your own point of view?
It was important to show the ski industry that we could do something different from the cookie cutter formula of many ski movies at the time. It also came down to control. We have control over everything we do and thus can be portrayed exactly how we want. As for the success of Nimbus, I can’t say we have won a lot of awards but to me it is a great success. It’s been going for 4 years and has a very strong following and is respected by many.
If you were suddenly limited to a single ski resort and a single pair of skis, where are you headed and what are you riding?
I would ride the Kung Fujas at Mammoth Mountain. Mammoth has a wide variety of terrain and an amazing park while the Kung Fujas has the ability to shred everything.
Anything you’d like to add?
Skiing is serious. Serious fun! Get out there, be safe and do something you wouldn’t normally do. Enjoy the ride.