Whenever she hurtles down a 60-degree slope of untouched powder
at 50 mph, big mountain snowboarder Karleen Jeffery has only
three little things to worry about: 1) "Not falling," she says,
"because it's really hard to stop once you've started"; 2)
staying ahead of the sluff she's kicked up, which can send her
falling; and 3) jumping the giant crevasse (sometimes 25 feet
wide and 500 feet deep) that's inevitably waiting for her at the
end of her run.
The 27-year-old Canadian, a.k.a. Gnarleen, belongs to that small
posse of extreme boarders you won't see in the X Games: the
freerider, who must carve a tight, treacherous line down some of
the world's most perilous mountain faces, often with an avalanche
in hot pursuit. Since gravitating to freeride snowboarding, in
1994, Jeffery has won nearly every competition she has entered,
which, alas, are few and far between. "I make a fraction of what
I could make if I had stayed in the more popular side of
snowboarding," she says, referring to the sponsor-friendly
freestylers. "But it's not what I love to do. This is."
Jeffery always has a guide accompany her to the summit, but she
prefers to do her own research, digging a six-foot pit before
every run, for example, to assess the snow's stability. "Once I
trusted my guide a little too much," she says. "He beckoned me to
this cornice, and the whole thing cracked. It was only a 50-foot
drop and I landed on my feet, but blocks of snow the size of my
Volkswagen van were rolling around and started an avalanche.
Luckily, we managed to ski out the side, out of harm's way."
Is she fearless? Not exactly. Instead, she says, "it's really
fun to conquer fear."
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SIMON BRUTY