Julian Carr Pushes Boundaries

Julian Carr Pushes Boundaries

Julian Carr is best known for skiing off of really big cliffs. Cliffs as big as 210' to be exact. And while Julian's no stranger to stretching the boundaries of his comfort zone on skis, skiing is far from where his pursuit of progress ends. We had the chance to check in with Julian about the postponement of the 2020 Cirque Series, the mountain running race series he conceived, as well as his impromptu trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, at a major cultural intersection in America's history, and we learned a lot. The bottom line? Stagnancy likely doesn't exist in Carr's regular vocabulary, because he's constantly pushing the boundaries of his own comfort across every facet of his life to grow as a skier, trail runner, and a humanitarian. So, while not all of us can drop cliffs the size of sky scrapers, we can strive to be equally tenacious in our quests to be better versions of our selves as skiers and as people.

Spyder: It’s been a wild summer so far. We’d love to hear a little bit about what you’ve been up to so far!

Julian Carr: As soon as we’re allowed to start traveling again I’d love to get out to Europe and British Columbia, but for now I’m planning on doing as much domestically as possible. Being based in Colorado, I already have three hut trips booked; including one on New Year’s Eve down in Crested Butte. Although it’s going to be a tricky winter, I feel like with so much to do domestically, you don’t have to be at the mercy of resorts in order to be productive. So I think it’ll be fun to do something I haven’t done a lot recently, which is be as productive as possible just here in the U.S., and I think it’s going to be fun to rediscover domestic skiing again this year...

S: Do you have any specific plans for the ski season this year?

JC: I’ve got a pretty good dialogue going with OutsideTV and RedBull Media House. I’ve got this idea with [fellow Spyder Athlete] Owen Leeper, who obviously loves cliffs. Four or five years ago I helped him line up “Fat Bastard” in Jackson, WY, which was his biggest cliff at around seventy or eighty feet. But he hasn’t jumped a 100-footer yet. So we want to do a storytelling venture that culminates in detailing the complete miracle of circumstances that has to happen in order to jump a 100-foot cliff, and have him jump off it. Videos always show the spectacle of how crazy it is to jump off, but it would be fun for us to tell the story of all the effort and science that actually goes in to finding them and making it happen. We want to show the artistry and the intellectual side of it all...

S: The Cirque Series has been your brainchild. How is that going?

JC: This summer, obviously, we had to postpone all the Cirque Series races until next year, but I’ve been hiking all of the courses. So, I just happened to get back from Grand Targhee, here I hiked the course there. When I was in Utah earlier this summer, I hiked all three of the Utah courses. And just last week I hiked the Arapahoe Basin course. So, I’m looking into going up to Alaska Sept. 18-23 to hike the Alyeska course. The travel protocols to Alaska complicate things, though. Getting to hike that course (and, thus, complete the Cirque Series individually) would help me to feel a lot better about not being able to have actually done the races this summer…
It’s so fun for me to spend my winters hunting pow and being a productive skier and then, for the [Cirque Series] races--even though they’re quite a bit of work--get me in the high alpine in the end of the day, allow me to meet lots of other like minded people who maybe don’t ski, but share that love for the high alpine. It’s a great balance for me to essentially have seven months of skiing, then five months of races.

Julian Carr Cirque Series

S: Do you foresee the series ever going beyond U.S. resorts?

JC: I’d definitely like to add a race in Engelberg, Switzerland, but I need to get there before snow falls to scout for a potential course. So, while I’d like to get out there this year some time before October, but that’s looking highly unlikely. If not in 2021, in 2022 we’re going to have a race in Switzerland.

S: Do you find that, while skiing, you find yourself scouting potential Cirque Series locations?

JC: I got an email from Grand Targhee (about hosting a race), and I’d hiked up dozens of times with my friends up to Mary’s Nipple or Peaked Mountain to ski that terrain. So my first thought when I opened the email was that a lap up Grand Targhee, over and up to Mary’s Nipple and Peaked Mountain would be an awesome line for a Cirque Series race. Most of the courses I’ve made initiated from me skiing there, knowing how the ridge lines connect, and knowing that that would be a sweet course. And I think that’s why some of the races have done so well is because of that fluency of knowing what is strenuous and hard, but also reasonable for all types, while also kicking your butt so that after, you’ll want to kick it at the bottom with a beer and your fellow competitors. So a lot of that has come from cruising around skiing and having a sense for exactly what that course is going to look like.

S: Is trail running the main way that you cross-train for skiing?

JC: I do around two days of TRX cross-training in addition to the mountain running but, you know, I don’t even really need the class. If two to four days a week you’re hiking up peaks, you don’t really need ski conditioning, but I’ve still done it to work some of those fast-twitch muscles I wouldn’t work otherwise. The reality is that at the beginning of ski season, you get sore no matter what. Nothing’s quite like going skiing. I’ve never been in such good shape going into ski seasons, though, since I got into mountain running, since it takes all of your agility, all of your cardiovascular health, all of your leg strength.

S: Backcountry skiing saw a big rise in popularity last spring after the ski resorts closed down. How much of your skiing tends to be backcountry versus in-bounds, and do you think that will change this season?

JC: Normally it’s about 50/50, but this season I think it’s likely to be closer to 80% backcountry, 20% resort skiing just because of the way that they’re going to do reservations and try and maintain social distancing… I think some smaller resorts might be a different story, but, on the other hand, all you need to do is know one person in one of those areas to point you to the right sidecountry or backcountry terrain, which I’m fired up for. Again, most of that backcountry skiing, even is likely going to be mostly domestic this year though, which I’m excited to refocus on.

S: You shared on Instagram about a trip you took this summer to Tulsa following George Floyd’s death, and right around a scheduled Trump rally. Tell us a little bit about that experience and what drove your interest in going down there at that time.

JC: There was such an interesting intersection of the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and Trump’s choice to hold his first rally in Tulsa; originally planned on the 100th anniversary of the “Black Wall Street” Massacre that happened in the Greenwood District [of Tulsa]. I thought it was just a strange choice to pick that location on that date, combined with BLM, combined with the pandemic. And I had my own preconceived notions of what I thought BLM protestors would be like or what I thought Trump supporters would be like, and I decided rather than rely on these notions, I wanted to go experience them in-person with an open mind. So, my whole goal as to go without taking any particular side, and just purely go and see tangibly what these groups were like for myself in such a charged civic climate that affects everyone regardless of whether you like to get involved in the situation or not. For me, I like to get involved in the conversation and contribute when I can, but I felt like in order to do that I needed to go see and interact for myself. Doing that gave me a really nice perspective I think for myself in terms of making decisions politically going forward.

I realized Tulsa was only an 8 hour drive from Denver, and so it occurred to me that if I left the day before the rally was supposed to take place, I’d have a whole day to just go and observe people, maybe even get into the rally--and I couldn’t believe that I did. The following day, I went to Greenwood, and they were having a whole street party with fully positive vibes. And so there I got to experience their whole culture, their community, and meet that moment in a really cool manner. Seeing the reactions between BLM and Trump supporters was pretty unfortunately shocking and intense, though. Overall, I was really grateful for the whole experience to see that stuff up close. I think a lot of people have their minds already made up going into situations like that… My goal in going was to go and be highly critical in my analysis of everything around me so that I could distill that into something, which ultimately became an article I posted on Medium that’s had over 10,000 reads. It felt good to be able to become an anchor for other people who would’ve liked to go but couldn’t necessarily.

Julian at Rally

S: To build off that, how do you reconcile the pressure, as an athlete, to be more engaged in social justice movements when skiing serves as an escape from reality for many of us?

JC: I’ve been aligned with Protect Our Winters, for example, for several years now and I find that I’m interested in their message less so because it’s a political thing and more so because it’s a humanity thing. And that’s why I feel super confident about contributing and getting involved from time to time--issues like climate change, or issues of racial equality ultimately come down to basic humanitarian crises that are facing us. So when I see these issues, I search for ways to get better educated through organizations, like POW with climate change issues, to be able to better understand issues from all angles… I get that most people that follow my instagram do so because they’re looking for cool mountain adventures, and I get that. But I’m a human, we’re all humans, and there are pillars of humanity right now that need attention and I’d like to be someone who sheds light on these issues by speaking up from time to time as a human without being someone who’s constantly trying to be barking at my followers, which will hopefully motivate people to try to get involved somehow. It’s okay to be a mountain person and still get involved from time to time.

S: Tell us a little bit more about your clothing brand, Discrete, and your inspiration behind it!

JC: I initially launched Discrete as just a beanie company that made super simple beanies with super simple color palettes, and that grew to include a few apparel pieces a few years ago. But recently, we’ve kind of reeled things back in to mainly include just beanies and neck gaiters. We were at our height being distributed through REI, Backcountry, Amazon, Zumiez, and a variety of other retailers across the world, but the margins didn’t make sense to continue that way, so I pivoted about four years ago to a direct-to-consumer model. Additionally, during this time, we’ve started doing a lot of branded goods for breweries and coffee shops. So it’s really fun right now because Discrete has found its own sort of niche in the outdoor world as a little beanie/neck gaiter brand and I’m super proud of it. It’s fun to have a creative outlet in an industry that I love--the outdoor industry. The branded goods work is pretty neat as well just because working with smaller breweries and coffee shops, you meet a lot of great people who tend to have some tie to the outdoor world. I used to have pretty big ambitions for what I wanted to see Discrete become, which is ironic, because I’d been overlooking what we’d already been accomplishing; which was finding a seat at that table for being a cool beanie brand in the snow industry. At the end of the day, the business model for the Cirque Series is mainly what I’ve been focusing on developing and expanding. For the most part, I’m not trying to reach for the stars, so to speak, with Discrete, but are content being a rad little beanie brand in the outdoor industry.

S: Julian Carr is a pioneer in more ways than one and continues to push himself outside of his comfort zone. And while the Spyder brand doesn't take a political stance, we do encourage everyone to step outside of your comfort zone in a safe way in order to be well informed and continue to grow both in skiing and in life.