[Delfino repping at the AK camp site. Photo: Zach Clanton]
Over the past few seasons, Thomas Delfino has been putting a bit of distance between himself and the terrain parks, preferring to turn his attentions more and more towards something that’s more ‘natural’, something that’s more like him. In this process, he also entered the Picture snow team, together with other renowned riders like Janne Lipsanen and Aluan Ricciardi. Last Spring, Thomas did a pretty insane expedition in Alaska, so we caught up with him to find out more about this mysterious trip into the wild…
Your love story with Alaska started a few years back, can you tell us about it?
Three years ago I did my first trip there, in the Aleutian Islands. That’s where I met Rome rider Cody Booth and photographer Zach Clanton. Those two guys spend most of their winter in AK, and they invited me on this last trip last spring. We had planned it back in 2015 already, but we couldn’t make it happen, so I was double excited about it. Especially as this time we really had an epic crew: Zach Mills, a splitboard rider (with hard boots), who lives in his car all year round and goes where life drives him. There was also Cyndi and Zach Grant - yes, that’s a lot of Zachs! Also splitboards specialists. And of course our Almo filmer Ben Nardini. It was so cool to be out there in the wild!
Certainly sounds wild. Can you tell us a bit more about it? How did you get on there?
Do you know the organic version of AK? Haha! Basically it was just me and my crew, a tent, and a good pair of skins. Well, of course there’s a lot of planning involved to make such a trip happen, and maybe even more to tear it down from all the things you actually don’t need to go on an adventure.
We got dropped in the middle of nowhere on an Alaskan glacier. No heli of course, but no guide either, so it means full freedom, but it also means you need to guarantee your own safety. Knowing that rescue is about 1:30h away with a plane or heli, you have to approach things a little differently. You certainly have to deal with your environment a lot more, respect this impressive nature surrounding you, live according to its pace. You live to its rhythm, and there’s not so many things you can do when nature doesn’t play ball one day.
You need to time everything around this, and around the amount of daylight you have. Once the sun has dropped behind a mountain, the light but also the temperature drops massively, and you don’t really want to be outside and only want to get into your sleeping bag.
[Camping out in the wild sounds alright if you get to rip pow like this. Photo: Zach Clanton]
Did you have any special expectations about this trip?
All I wanted was to get as close as possible to the nature that allows us to ride and do what we do. To be able to feel the cold at night, the effort during the day, and not just stealing a few turns in these surroundings and go away. The approach we took means you have to work a lot more to get where you want to and ride some amazing terrain and get into the steeps, but I must say the efforts have made was worth it and we got what we were looking for.
The big question: how scary is Alaska when lived like this?
Erm, very scary I would say! It has nothing to do with anything I’ve ever done before as a pro rider. I went to AK a few years back with the Rome crew, in the Aleutian islands, but it was totally different. In the middle of AK, everything is ‘more’. Bigger mountains, steeper, colder, bigger avalanches, longer distances… At the same time the conditions are also more stable, which is a real bonus when you’re out without a local guide. You just need to take it step by step and not try to do things too fast.
After this experience, where would you say is the best for you: a laser shaped megapark, or a virgin piece of steep backcountry?
It’s always so satisfying to drop in a laser shaped park in the early morning, and just take the maximum pleasure with it. It’s one of the best things that snowboarding has to offer. But when you arrive in an untouched backcountry zone, where there are no other boundaries but your imagination, it’s is a real life experience. You just have to pick your lines, choose the jumps, imagine your own park. It’s more effort, but it’s so amazing!
[Epic light. Epic AK terrain for Delfino to tear up. Photo: Zach Clanton]
Season after season you do seem to take a different approach from other freestylers: can you tell us more about that?
It’s true, I’m heading more and more towards freeriding I guess. I got a little tired of spending days up there putting snow blocks on top of each other. I mean, I still like this vibe, but I mainly want to do other things. I think climbing up a mountain for a day and shredding it down in a few minutes is just as ephemeral as shaping a backcountry kicker, but it’s just so much fun too.
I got a little tired of spending days up there putting snow blocks on top of each other. I mean, I still like this vibe, but I mainly want to do other things.
How did you ended up teaming up with Picture Organic Clothing? Did you see any similarities in your approach of the mountain?
For sure yes. Picture was founded by three snowboarders in the beginning, so that put things in perspective straight away. Then when they decided to build a team, I was in a transition sponsor wise, so it was a perfect timing for both of us.
Is their ecological take on things is important for you, and was important in your decision to join them?
Absolutely. From the start they had this environmental approach, and this is very important for me when it comes to representing a brand. It seems to me so important to really start taking care of the world we live in, and especially those fragile ecosystems we evolve in. We need to think about the future generations, and I feel totally responsible as a person to take it upon ourselves to make those decisive changes we all need to make. I do my best – as everybody else I’m not perfect, but at least I try not to make things worse, and have that in mind all the time. So to ride for a brand that share those values is highly important for me.
Regarding their environmental approach, and your love of the outdoors, what kind of projects or ideas do you work with them on?
We always try to organise trips that are respectful of the brand’s values: just like this Alaska trip in fact. There’s also other projects on which we work at the moment, a bit in this style. Hopefully we’ll bring them to real life! The idea is to discover new cultures, and also find solutions so that our visit is also beneficial for the local populations, in some way.
Can you tell us which gear do you use mostly from Picture?
I mainly ride with the ‘Expedition’ line. It’s really high end products, and I can rely on them whatever the conditions are to stay warm and dry as long as it is possible to be.
Cool. Now what are you plans for this winter?
Go back to AK! We plan to do it in the same way, with the same crew, but for much longer this time, and do several camps. I have the feeling that what we did with Almo this year is just an appetiser of what can really be done, so I really can’t wait to be there again!
Your other sponsors?
On top of Picture Organic Clothing, I also have Rome SDS and Vans.
[Post run delight. Photo: Zach Clayton]