Stepping Out with Danny Kern – Coal Headwear

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Stepping Out with Danny Kern

Alpine Amanda

Words: Amanda Hankison

Photos: Danny Kern 

The last specific memory of Danny I had seared into my mind was yelling at him from a snowmobile while I doubled a miniature version of the Jed Sky we know today up from HCSC’s big jump landing during a photoshoot in 2016. I knew it wasn’t technically Danny’s fault that I was dodging children on a slushy summer sidehill during a photoshoot, but the camera around his neck made him good enough as guilty to me. I barked my opinion of him over the revving engine in classic Digger fashion as the sled sped up the hill. 

Our paths managed to not cross beyond making small talk over the next five years until one of the last rainy evenings this spring ahead of a much anticipated high pressure system in Oregon. By the time the high moved out and the rain returned we were sparkling with that glacier glow having ridden an untouched panel of perfect corn on Seekseekqua (Mt. Jefferson), slept under the Southwest Chutes on Klickitat (Mt. Adams), took a trippy ride on Loowit (St. Helens), and topped it off (pun intended) with a snowboard descent of the Emmons/Winthrop and Inter Glacier on Tahoma (Mt. Rainier). After a week of climbing and riding with Danny I learned two things. He was born to be in high, remote places and he’s one hell of a snowboarder.  

“Stepping out” is a piece of jargon to describe one of eight mindsets for guides and avalanche nerds. When conditions improve they build confidence that the snow is stable and it is appropriate to step out into bigger, steeper, more technical terrain. This spring I saw the Rat Race champ stepping out from behind the camera. Gaining confidence with every uphill bushwhack in a downpour, Danny Kern is setting himself up for a life well led by saying yes.  

On the approach- some dirt walking required.

Amanda: Hey Danny, how’s it going. What are you up to?   

Danny: It’s going pretty well. I’ve been working construction this summer and now I’m getting my house ready for winter. The first snow is on the way and I have to replace some more rotting siding before it hits. 

A: Well I wanted to catch up with you about this spring before we enter the winter timewarp, it was serendipitous for us to end up on so many volcanoes together. What were you up to before we linked up? 

D: I was on a volcano tour with Nick Cahill and Tailer Spinney. We started on Mt. Lassen and went north from there. I didn’t know Nick that well outside of college and when he asked if I wanted to come along his story made me say yes. Nick’s brother JC invited him to climb Denali and Nick said no for any of the many reasons we all say no to opportunities. After JC returned Nick regretted saying no and for thinking that he wasn’t good enough, typical impostor syndrome. After COVID hit and he lost most of his normal work Nick began to see his dream of doing the “Ring of Fire” as a priority rather than an empty bucket list check box. It’s a tour of volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest in the late spring - hike up, snowboard down. The main idea was to explore what happens when you say yes, and that ordinary people can pull off extraordinary things.  

A: That’s so sick. And in a lot of ways gnarlier than Denali, haha. I love that Nick’s motivation got you on board for such a big undertaking. How many peaks did you pull off?  

D: Nick and I were on 11 together with 12 total each, he missed Jefferson and I couldn’t make it to Baker. Tailer had to deal with a lingering concussion after we rode the Cooper Spur on Mt. Hood and had to sit out the rest of the trip. She’s the most experienced of the three of us and really fun to be in the mountains with, it was hard not having her around.  

Amanda descent prep in the Provo.

A: Ugh I know, I wanted to meet her so badly! Crazy how we all came together right after she had to leave, though. 

D: Ya that was fortunate because she was going to guide us on Rainier and we didn’t feel comfortable giving it a try on our own. So having someone like yourself with a handful more peaks under their belt and experience was a huge relief for us.  

A: That was such a team effort. Honestly shocked that we pulled off a summit via the Emmons, amazing that Stratton, Zak, and Alex got it in pow the week before! Unreal. And you rode off the summit. It was so windy I was flapping around like a kite at the end of our rope when we topped out. It’s really fun to watch you ride, especially dropping a cruxy ‘shrund at 14,000’. How did that day feel? 

D: That day was overall incredible. I’ll never forget it. I went through a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions from waking up to reaching the parking lot. I’d never been on a rope before other than climbing rocks so that was a new experience to learn from and I’m so stoked that I was able to do it with a dynamic group like ours. I think when we topped out I was just over walking and I felt comfortable riding in the current conditions. I think that might have been the most comfortable I've ever felt on a splitboard actually. After doing 11 volcano descents prior I was confident and felt strong, even after walking for so long. By the end of the day though I think I had felt almost every emotion the human mind and body could feel. 

Peaking.

A: What keeps you motivated? You’ve always been hustling - shooting photos, filming, making zines and movies, crawling around claustrophobic crawl spaces to stack cash in the summer.  

D: Motivation is a chain reaction. I stay focused on the next trip and it helps the weeks and months of work go by. It feels good to set a goal for yourself. Odd jobs and seasonal work are the best ways to support my habits. I’m about to turn 30 and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. It’s not the right life for everyone but sometimes you have to take a risk to make your goals happen, whether that’s changing your career or buying that magic plane ticket or living an unconventional lifestyle. We let work get in the way of life all the time. Like the whole point of our volcano tour was to say yes and be open to experiences. Just say yes and figure it out along the way. Work is necessary but there is a lot more to life. 

A: We both spent a lot of time filming and shooting photos of street riding which is a lot different than figure eight-ing Jay Hergert’s line on St. Helens. I know how difficult it can be to balance two different worlds of snowboarding. We love both worlds but they don’t always understand each other. Is there anything that helped you step out of the typical snowboard photo filmer guy role? 

D: Well I guess I didn’t want to allow myself to hold myself back. I love the homies and wouldn’t trade a minute with them for anything. But I also feel really good in the mountains and I can’t ignore that. The more time I spend out there the more I want to see and learn. It’s super important to find balance, just like with anything. Taking time to reflect on past experiences helps you prioritize what’s important now. 

Snowboarding on the moon.

A: Wanna talk about the disposable camera you took to all your high points? 

D: Ya. We had a really unfortunate tragedy this spring and lost a good friend and member of the community. Drew Steinhoff passed away in a freak accident at a home town cliff jumping spot. He jumped in like he had a hundred times before but this time he didn’t come up. It hit me really hard, one of the toughest experiences with death I’ve had. It resonates when a peer passes away, especially unexpectedly. You think about your own life…anything…life is unpredictable. I looked at my own mortality and realized I didn’t want to have regrets, I wanted to say yes to adventures and live life to the fullest. You know, because Drew couldn’t anymore. So I took a photo on a disposable camera of a photo of him when we reached every summit or high point. He was up there with me and along for the whole journey.  He loved being outside. 

A: I remember you watching birds circle on Jefferson and you told me that you were certain Drew was reincarnated as a bird, that he could fly. It was really special. Any other impactful memories from your time in the PNW? 

D: More than enough to fit into this piece but I think the most impactful was descending the  

Cooper Spur on Hood, and riding back to our camp on Adams after descending the SW chutes. Fully on cloud nine for both. It’s hard to recreate and describe that feeling you have when you get back to your camp or your car after snowboarding down a big mountain. Trying to think about how to explain it gives me the goosebumps and just makes me want to go do it again. It’s a high that I don’t think any drug or substance can replicate.  

Not a bad spot to call home for the night.

A: You guys were filming a project during the volcano tour. What’s the status on that?  

D: Yes indeed. Nick pitched this whole trip idea to me with the goal to create photo content and a documentary or series of the whole journey. Since we’re both photo/video guys it worked out pretty nicely and we were able to pitch a proposal to a handful of companies to fund the trip. That was a huge part of making it happen for myself being that I would normally be starting to work construction at that point in the year. The video piece has developed into a three part series that's broken up by states. We outsourced the post process so it is being edited by Kimera Collective down in Reno and we should be releasing it in December sometime. It was really tough for me to be involved with the post process honestly. Mainly because I’ve always been the one behind the lens so seeing myself in front of the camera and especially being interviewed was pretty embarrassing. I’m excited to see the final product though. It will be a unique piece and I just have to keep telling myself that it is what it is. So many other people have done similar projects and trips so I’m trying to keep an open mind about the end results. 

Gearing up.

A: I’m excited to see the film and spend more time with you this winter. Anything else you’d like to share? Thank you’s / shout outs? 

D: Absolutely! I’m super stoked to spend more time in the mountains this winter with you as well. I specifically want to thank Nick for making this trip happen. Tailor as well for encouraging me to say yes to it. Mom and Dad for putting me on this incredible planet so that I can learn and explore it. Marco at vans, Jake at Jones, Tucker and the guys at Tahoe Sports Hub, Nick Russell for letting me prep by chasing him around the Easterns before the trip. Daine and Molly, Bryant and Jaime, Lucas Watts, Dan from Spark, GoMacro, Raw Elements, Peak Design, Sea to Summit, Gregory, Roark, Suja Juice, Rovr, Alibi, Jake at MudWater, and any other company, brand or human that supported us or met along the way. Huge thanks.  

These photos and experiences are a result of time spent on the stolen lands of the Puyallup, Cowlitz, Yakima, Klickitat, Molalla, Coast Salish, Nooksack, and so many other Tribes, Nations, Bands, and Confederacies. 

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