What do you say about someone who seems to be able to do it all? Chris Bartram, our athlete for April 2016, and second redhead in a row, is a multi-sport specialist originally from Stamford, Connecticut, currently living in Boone, North Carolina. However, his passion for outdoor sports and education has taken him as far as California and through many long stints in Colorado.
From a young age, Chris was a passionate downhill skier, spending much of his time in Vermont. He always felt happiest in the mountains. Fast forward to the decision of which college to attend, well, it wasn’t a very difficult one for Chris. All he knew is that he wanted to ski and do so as much as possible. For that reason and that reason alone, Chris chose to attend Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Little did he know how much that decision would change his life. Upon arriving on campus, Chris was a solid skier and gym climber (mostly bouldering). On a whim, having never really spent any nights in the backcountry, Chris decided the best thing to do for orientation would be to sign up for a week long canoe camping trip. The trip was led by upperclassmen, all of whom were in the major “Adventure Education,” and Chris had an amazing time. Just starting school, Chris still was unsure of his preferred choice in major, but the idea of Adventure Education kept bouncing around his brain. Already being a big skier, and a budding rock climber, by sophomore year, the choice became clear: he would
pursue Adventure Education. From there, Chris was exposed to the basics of many technical skills and sports, from backpacking to whitewater kayaking, and from rock climbing to mountaineering. In school, Chris learned a lot from mentors like Silas Rossi, founder of Alpine Logic and IFMGA Guide. He developed an identity as an athlete, and continued to grow as a climber, transitioning from bouldering all the way to multi-pitch traditional climbing. When I asked Chris about his climbing style, he called himself a “position climber.” The opposite would be a “movement climber.” A position climber is someone who tries to get to a specific position, place, or location. What he means by this is someone who wants to experience beautiful locations. A movement climber is someone who is particularly interested in improving and advancing their intricate skills. Of course, the two overlap a bit, but Chris isn’t all too worried about pushing the difficulty of his climbing too far, because he says he really gets the stoke and is most proud when doing long, medium-difficulty multi-pitch traditional routes that bring him to amazing places. It’s more just about being out for a beautiful day of climbing than agonizing over technical progression. Visit and climb in beautiful places, he has, from Cannon Cliffs in Franconia Notch, NH to Ellingwood Ledges in Crestone, CO. It is clear that college made a huge impact on his life. Eventually, what goes around, comes around.
Since college, Chris has dedicated his life to outdoor sports and education, and has some major credentials to back up his skills. The year following college, was a full one for Chris. Full of ups and downs, that is. Chris’s first professional foray into the outdoor education world was with the White Mountain School where he was a climbing coach. He had an amazing summer season teaching climbing, but that didn’t stop Chris from pursuing other sports. In fact, he was progressing as a whitewater paddler as well. Unfortunately, the risks of pursuing outdoor sports caught up with Chris, and he suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder. This was a dramatic halt to the progress he was making as an outdoors person. The healing process took an entire year, but thankfully Chris had some great doctors (including the orthopedic surgeon for the New York Yankees) and a supportive family. He was able to commit to rehabilitation full time. In his spare time, he was keeping is mind and body fit, reading Edward Abby and doing ab work outs and going on runs when possible. Chris, however, would not let this injury define his being and hamper his future.
The year following his recovery was the most transient year of his life, and he racked up an impressive lists of accomplishments, both professional and personal. When you streamline your gear and clothes into four bags and abandon the traditional path of starting a career and leasing an apartment, it’s not hard to get around and pursue seasonal jobs or charge hard lines in the winter. Whether by train, bus, plane, or hitchhiking, Chris made it work. Early on, when he was packing too much stuff, he recounts a funny story about arriving in Denver before working at the Colorado Outward Bound School. Waddling around Denver slugging along excessive amounts of gear, he called upon a friend to help him carry his gear. His friend came, as any good friend does. However, he came to help with a bike and a skateboard. Not exactly the two greatest forms of transportation for hauling gear. Either way, Chris got started there in Colorado and certainly made the most of his time.
In Colorado, Chris became an instructor for Outward Bound. He led trips between 15 and 22 days, including some snow/rock summits. Between courses, he would visit friends and continue to work on his outdoors skills. In one instance, Chris headed out to California and Yosemite National Park. He met up with his roommate from college, with big plans for some big rock climbs. However, his former roommate wasn’t much of a climber. Turns out, Chris had every climbers dream…an autobelay. Chris got belayed up and down rock faces all over Yosemite. I know from experience that Yosemite is beautiful, and California made quite an impression on Chris. After Outward Bound, he accepted a contract to work for The Dunn School as a backpacking and rock climbing instructor, where he would lead two week backpacking and climbing excursions in the High Sierras. Sounds like a dream to me.
After the Dunn School, Chris settled into a nice rotation of seasonal work, spending his summers back at the Colorado Outward Bound School and his winters on staff at Winter Park Resort in Fraser, Colorado. After some time as a ski school instructor, Chris earned a spot on Ski Patrol. In his time on Ski Patrol, as an active Wilderness First Responder, he responded to over 150 incidents. He tells the story of his first response as being the worst one during in his time on patrol. He arrived to the scene to find the injured skiier to have a fractured orbital, four broken ribs, a pneumothorax, and a fractured scapula. That’s some pretty serious stuff. But thankfully, such severe injuries are rare, and while still harmful and unfortunate, Chris said the majority of his responses were to concussions and messed up knees. While Chris has dedicated most of his time on the slopes lately to helping others, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t sneak away to charge hard lines for himself, and continue to push his skills further, putting in the effort to find big terrain in the backcountry. His favorite line he ever skied is called “Shit For Brains Couloir.” I’ll let the picture speak for itself.
All of this seasonal work sounds like a dream come true for an outdoors person. In a lot of ways it is. But what is the risk? The risk, besides injury of course, is burnout. However, the result of burnout is usually rest and reflection. It is during those periods that an outdoor athlete can truly appreciate where he or she has been, but also where they want to go, while still releasing the pressure off their own backs to continue pushing forward at the blinding pace most outdoor enthusiasts maintain. After his last stint in Colorado, Chris was really really worked. He was over contracted, had spent over 150 days in a tent and was exhausted. When exhausted, it’s hard to maintain a stoke, and Chris felt he became a less passionate and psyched educator. For Chris, it was time to start something fresh. This is how Chris was led out of the west.
The east coast is lucky to have Mr. Chris Bartram back. After a short summer stint with Acadia Mountain Guides, Chris enrolled in graduate school at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina seeking a masters in College Outdoor Program Administration. This new pursuit for Chris follows the same trends in his life: equal parts personal development and dedication to others. On one hand, this foray into graduate life is for Chris himself. Of course it’s for his own professional development, particularly because App State’s program is pretty much one of a kind. But while he has gone all across the country, he has never spent any time in the south or southern Appalachians…until now. He’s exploring new territory, climbing new routes, and seeing new things. Loving the southern Apps myself, I am very excited for him to experience a place so special to me. However, when I asked Chris why he decided to go into grad school for Outdoor Program Administration, he told me he hopes he can do for someone what Plymouth State and the outdoor orientation trip did for him, which was inspire someone down an exciting, rewarding, and empowering path in life. Chris gives his heart and soul back to the mountains and the communities that surround them, and that’s the most impressive path one can set foot on and walk down. What goes around, comes around.