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Thread: Anyone for Morocco?
02-19-2004, 05:35 PM #1
Anyone for Morocco?
Article can be found at:
By Scott Willoughby
Warren Miller's Snow World
Special to CNN.com
Named for its founder, a legendary filmmaker and a pioneer in ski films, Warren Miller Entertainment is a 50-year-old production company based in Boulder, Colorado. In the feature film "Journey," Warren Miller crews follow athletes across four continents. During the African leg of the trip, four athletes find physical and cultural adventure among the peaks and rapids of Morocco.
As music blared over the piercing squawks of unruly monkeys and the chaotic shouts of a group of Moroccan tribespeople, Christian Santelices froze in his tracks and considered his next move. A cobra was staring him in the face, apparently with deadly malice (though it's hard to tell with a cobra). He could only ask himself, "What in the hell have I gotten myself into?"
The answer was the north African Kingdom of Morocco, where just an hour earlier Santelices, a Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based mountain guide, had arrived to join fellow Nike ACG (All Conditions Gear) athletes Ben Dolenc, of Boulder, Colorado; Sarah Clemenson, of Salt Lake City, Utah; and Brad Ludden, of Vail, Colorado, on a multisport adventure for the Warren Miller cameras. Soon after his van left Marrakech International Airport and merged with the cabs, mopeds and mules streaming past, Santelices found himself at Marrakech's infamous nerve center, Place Jamaâ El Fna. And now he wasn't going anywhere until he kissed a cobra.
"While I'm taking a picture of all the chaos going on around us, one of these snake charmer guys came up and put his arm around me, and in his hand he has the head of a cobra," Santelices, 35, remembers. "For 'good luck' he pressed the cobra's head against my forehead, both cheeks, and my chin, then he made me kiss it. I e-mailed my wife about it later that day and got a reply that said, 'Oh good, I'm glad to see that your judgment has faltered so early in the trip.' "
The athletes' Moroccan adventure began in Marrakech, an ancient desert city with an incongruous backdrop -- the snowy Atlas Mountains to the southeast. From snake charmers to the labyrinthine old-city center, from merchants hawking colorfully woven carpets to the ornate mosques, Marrakech embodies many aspects of Morocco's fascinating heritage. Yet there is more to this vivid land of contrast.
It reveals itself to the Warren Miller crew not only as a mountain vista viewed through groves of palms and pomegranates from the valley floor in Marrakech, but also as great cirques and vast skiable terrain in the High Atlas itself. The rich diversity is also apparent in locales such as a river that springs from a limestone cliff, where one can engage in quiet contemplation amid the sound of gushing whitewater worthy of a kayaking epic, or an ocean beach where surfers share the sand with camels and casbahs.
"The whole country is filled with adventures, but there is [also] adventure just in the visual landscape alone," says photography director Chris Patterson, the instigator behind this trip, Warren Miller's latest African foray. "There is always something familiar, but if it looks too familiar, you just have to look a little farther for the oddity."
Arriving in this exotic and definitely foreign land with a collection of skis, snowboards, crampons and kayaks and attired in brightly colored technical garb, the ACG Team made its mark on the Moroccan landscape. But perhaps no one stood out more than Clemenson, a striking blond telemark skier whose athletic frame is better suited to a tank top than a veil.
"I'm a little more liberal at home, so I had to be kind of careful about what I wore," says Clemenson, 25. "When we walked the streets, everyone would definitely stop and stare. I was kind of hard to miss. But I never felt threatened. I felt very comfortable the whole time."
As the United States was poised to wage war on Iraq, there was no shortage of concern among the athletes when they arrived in this predominantly Islamic nation last February. But among the skills they brought to the playing field were diplomacy and open minds, tools that would prove valuable. And as luck would have it, Morocco's version of Islam proved to be equally moderate, open-minded, and tolerant.
"I was a little apprehensive about being perceived as an imperialist American, but I tried to go into the trip with a positive attitude," says Santelices. "These people are striving for the same things as everyone else: food on the table, friends and family, basically a secure and happy life. Understanding that, my attitude got even more positive once I got there."
"As far as war went, it was definitely in the back of everyone's mind," agrees Ludden, 22. "But immediately we all realized there was nothing to worry about. If anything, the people there went out of their way to show us how welcome we were." Time and again the group was overwhelmed by the hospitality pouring forth from their hosts, whether in the city or the countryside. Kindness and generosity proved to be as much a part of Moroccan custom as supersweetened mint tea and calls to prayer. To help ensure the group's safety, Patterson had enlisted the guiding skills of Allen Burgess of Salt Lake's Camp 5 Expeditions, who is as much an expert in Islamic tradition as he is in Alpine ski touring.
"He's seen and done it all," Patterson says. "If Allen said it was safe, I took it to the bank. He educated us about the culture and let me put my effort into making the movie the best I could." Indeed, the attitude prevailed on both sides of the camera as the athletes moved with confidence into the mountains to lift the veil from Morocco's High Atlas range.
Last edited by KQ; 02-19-2004 at 05:38 PM.
02-19-2004, 05:36 PM #2
Part 2: High Atlas range
From the traditional Berber village of Imlil, the team launched an eight-hour trek to the Nelter hut, part of a French Alpine Club hut system at the base of Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa at nearly 14,000 feet. The plentiful snow and impressive terrain offered yet another surprising treat.
"We had seen some pictures and knew what the mountains were called, but really had no idea what to expect," says new school tele-skiing phenom Dolenc, 26. "Once we got in there, the mountains were pretty impressive. They looked like pictures I've seen of the Himalayas and definitely required more of a mountaineering style of skiing, climbing big peaks and getting some turns on the way down."
The team had been selected so that each member would play a specific role in the expedition. Dolenc and Clemenson, stars of the burgeoning telemark skiing scene, move through the mountains with the skill and grace of tango dancers. As a five-year veteran of the renowned Exum Mountain Guides in the Tetons, Santelices would make sure everyone got through the terrain safely before strapping on his snowboard and demonstrating another set of skills for the camera. And Ludden -- well, when it comes to mountaineering, the professional kayaker might best be described as "job security" for Santelices.
"I gained a whole new respect for these guys and their sport. They're crazy," says Ludden (who actually learned to ski in his native Montana at age 2). "I followed Christian up this really steep slope that was pretty exposed, and I was totally gripped. Maybe it wouldn't kill you if you fell, but I convinced myself it would. I kept thinking, 'What am I doing? I'm a kayaker.' But Christian taught me a lot about myself and about his sport. He helped me overcome a lot of my fears and got me through it safely."
Considering the lack of a 1-800-MOROCCO snow report, the crew's two days on snow exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, the ski line that Clemenson calls "the best in Morocco" won't actually be seen in "Journey," as foul weather and poor visibility conspired against Patterson's cameras. But for Clemenson, who hiked and skied during the entire trip with a blown-out knee, dropping into the pristine couloir after more than three hours of ascending straight up with crampons and ice axes made the trip worthwhile.
"It was the longest couloir I've ever seen, and it was supposed to be the line in the segment," she recalls. "Ben and I were going to ski it together. We waited forever for the weather to break, and it never did. So we just skied it anyway. Once we plunged in, it was incredible. The best line in Morocco didn't get filmed." In a more conventional Warren Miller segment, the athletes might have returned to the steep chute for a third day of filming. But this was Morocco. And the lure of adventure beckoned from the Middle Atlas mountains below. Besides, the crowded accommodations at the hut-variously nicknamed the "sweat lodge" or the "unsanitarium" by team members-had proven to be a universal low-light of the trip.
"There must have been 40 French people sleeping in bunks in the same room with the door shut. It was like a snoring orchestra," Clemenson says. "And there was no ventilation, so the walls were sweating and nothing dried out. It was pretty brutal."
No one was more eager to get back to the foothills than Ludden, who was ready to showcase his skills on the river. Though he was the ACG team's youngest member, Ludden is long established on Dagger kayaks' "Team-D," having paddled whitewater around the world. Finally, it was his turn at the helm in Morocco.
"I really appreciated getting back to my comfort zone," says Ludden. "But my biggest task wasn't so much kayaking as it was trying to help the group on the river, like they had done for me in the mountains."
From Imlil, Ludden led the team on a six-hour drive to the headwaters of Morocco's longest river, the Oum er-Riba, or "mother of spring."
The river's source is 40 springs that flow from within a 2,000-foot limestone cliff, then join together to form a tight, technical Class IV run. Along the banks are tea stands, where villagers congregate on elaborate rugs and wash down spicy chicken tajine (a stew) with mint tea as they watch the river flow past, as if they were at a sidewalk cafe. Perhaps it was just the contrast to the "sweat lodge," but the dreamlike setting seemed too ideal to be real.
"It looked like a movie set had been created for us," Patterson says. "The whitewater was cool and everything, but it was like, 'Holy cow, look at these beautiful rugs and these villagers dressed to a T in the most colorful attire you've ever seen.' It couldn't have been more perfect."
Each of the team members had been in a kayak before, although Santelices had some rust to scrape off and Clemenson's knee was a definite handicap. Dolenc proved to be the crew's ace in the hole, hiking his kayak up the well-worn goat-herding trail to join Ludden at the headwaters before revealing impressive skills on the river.
"One of my first loves is paddling," he says. "I started kayaking when I was 17, but I separated my shoulder two years ago and hadn't paddled since. I was a little nervous at first, but as soon as I hit the water it was like riding a bike." As they hiked back through a village between river runs, children scurried at their feet, helping carry helmets and paddles as Dolenc and Ludden made their way back to the put-in, which was on a local woman's rug. They offered to pay her for the service, and in return she asked them to stop and share some tea.
"There is so much more to a river than the water, and that really came out in this trip," Ludden recounts. "Here we are in this amazing setting, kids running around screaming, burning our mouths because we're trying to drink our tea in a hurry, and Ben just looks at me and goes, 'Dude, we're in Morocco.' I've never seen a river like that before in my life."
Last edited by KQ; 02-19-2004 at 05:39 PM.
02-19-2004, 05:36 PM #3
Part 3: Atlantic coast
Perhaps the ultimate allure of Morocco is that it never lets you forget where you are. The country is a crossroads, a place where East meets West and Africa shakes hands with Europe across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar. The country's geographic diversity contributes to its distinctive culture, but nowhere is this eclecticism more obvious than on the vast Atlantic coast.
The team's trip to Morocco concluded at the coastal town of Essaouira, the scenic spot overlooking the Atlantic that inspired the Jimi Hendrix classic "Castles Made of Sand." Just as mountain snows melt into rivers that eventually make their way to the sea, this surfers' paradise would be a fitting finale to a 12-day smorgasbord of adventure.
"There was just something triumphant about being there," Patterson says. "Not only going from the high-Alpine elevation down to sea level, but the whole atmosphere and landscape surrounding it. We had been going nonstop the whole time, and there was something rewarding about this being the conclusion of our trip."
Once more the rewards were as much visual as physical, with beachcombing camels greeting the team as they took their kayaks into the ocean froth for a wave-surfing session that lasted from sunrise to sunset. Five- to 7-foot waves tailor-made for contemporary kayaks kept the crew entertained as they reflected on their journey.
"It was really cool to see everyone in their element and to be in their element with them," Dolenc says. "Cruising around the glaciers in crampons, we got to see how good Christian is at what he does. When we were skiing, Sarah and I got to demonstrate what we do. And the paddling was all about Brad.
"It was cool to see everyone in their comfortable place and also at a place where they were pushed a little more than they might normally be. But I think the beach was the place we all enjoyed the most."
For Dolenc, Ludden, Clemenson, Santelices and the others, the push came not only as athletes, but as individuals who had to overcome cultural differences during a particularly stressful time. Part of the credit belongs to them, but, as each is quick to point out, the Moroccan people played an even greater role.
Morocco has a timeless quality that is difficult to find in the modern world, a daily sense that the past lives on, weaving in and out of the present in a thread of endless surprise and wonder. In such a place, overcoming fears can be as simple as looking around and allowing life to happen. For the Warren Miller crew, the inevitable result was a charmed and charming adventure.
Last edited by KQ; 02-19-2004 at 05:39 PM.
02-19-2004, 05:37 PM #4
Y'all stay away!"All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring."
02-19-2004, 05:49 PM #5
If I go back to Morocco it'll be to get lost in Fez on boomers, not ski.
02-19-2004, 05:49 PM #6Registered User
- Join Date
- Oct 2003
Yea, for Christian!
If any of you ever get the pleasure of meeting him you will quickly realize he's as genuine, humble, and nice as anyone you've ever met.
and Scott Willoughby, who wrote the article, is pretty darn nice too!
02-19-2004, 05:52 PM #7
pfft... Wiloughby's a gaper. Just like Winter and Blevins.
02-19-2004, 05:58 PM #8
What a Summit Morocco could be!!! It could be a "Ski to Sea Summit." Bring all your boards!
02-19-2004, 06:09 PM #9
Well, according to CNN, snowboarding is "hot", growing in popularity, and is sooooooo much better than skiing, so I'm a little skepitcal about what they think of Morocco.
02-20-2004, 06:30 AM #10
Maybe Owens can consult on a new heli operation - Atlas Powder Guides.
02-20-2004, 06:48 AM #11
I saw that article as well... and was quite intrigued. Just seeing snow in Africa would be quite cool.
02-20-2004, 10:19 AM #12
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't POWDER have a Morocco Article a few years back?
02-20-2004, 12:20 PM #13Of the Bu-Tang Clan
- Join Date
- Oct 2003
- Bellevue WA
If you watch this year's Warren Miller, you see the film segment that goes along with this. It was presented much more of a "Wow, as an American, I had no idea other cultures would be so different" than a "this is a great place to ski" segment.