Similar to many Montana natives, Drew Stoecklein started skiing when he was just 2 years old. Since then he’s diverged from the pack and become one of the country’s top Big Mountain Freeskiiers. “I grew up ski racing my entire life,” he says. “But every ski race I was the kid out there jumping off cliffs between runs. You could say joining the sport was a natural progression.”
Drew says he was first introduced to big mountain or extreme skiing as a little boy by backcountry ski movies. This inspiration, paired with creativity and an insane amount of courage led him professionally into the sport. “Freestyle skiing gives you more freedom outside of the gates,” he says. “You can kind of do whatever you want.” Drew’s love of adventure and talent eventually landed him a 4th place finish at the Subaru U.S. Freeskiing World Tour in 2005.
The recent photography and business major from Montana State University is now in his 6th season riding for Columbia Sportswear. The dual athlete and photography relationship with Columbia is ideal, he says: “I’ve been double dipping and working from both sides,” he says. One season he might head over to Japan or South America for some backcountry adventure and the next he’s back in the states photographing outdoor sports wear.
Skiing for Columbia has given him the opportunity to not only product review but help design the equipment he uses every day. “It’s been an incredible relationship with Columbia,” Drew says. “It’s an honor to be a part of the company, to use the products, and ideally make them better for everyone else out there.”
This December, Drew will move to Salt Lake City and gear up for the new World Freeskiing Tour. This season will take him throughout Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. Drew says he’s trying to stay as local as possible because of the economy but assures himself that snow will be prime in the northernmost states.
But the natural elements aren’t the only factor that affect Drew’s ride at the end of the day. Drew says big mountain freeskiing has completely changed the gear he uses. Some days he rides minimalist—as in he hikes in with a backpack, skis and poles—but other trips require more technical wear and an array of specialized backcountry equipment. He stresses that usability is the most important aspect of his gear. “With my equipment you can go out and ride for as many as nine hours if you really want to,” he says.
Similar to most professional riders however, he tends to blow through a couple pairs of gear each season. Regardless, Drew swears by his equipment, and this stuff takes a beating. One year while trying out for the X Games in Colorado he broke his back. Whether it’s cliff jumping, taking photos or simply having fun in the backcountry Drew’s in love with the sport. “Basically I’m having the best time I can possibly have on skis and making a living out of it,” he says.
Here’s the gear you’ll find Drew wreaking backcountry havoc on this season:
COAT: Columbia Rodeo Magic Coat Ski Parka. “I’ve been using this coat full time because it’s super water resistant and breathable,” Drew says. “It’s kept me warm and dry in some of the gnarliest conditions around the world.”
PANTS: Columbia Wild Card Softshell Pant. Drew says the waterproof, flexible material allows him to move easily on mountain tops.
Hat: Columbia Ear Flap Hat keeps Drew warm in the backcountry.
GLOVES: Columbia Challenge Gloves.
SKIS: Black Diamond, Megawatt Skis. They’ve only been on the market for two years but Drew’s third season with both the Black Diamond sponsorship and the skis.
POLES: Black Diamond Carbon Probe Poles. Drew says he likes these because they’re an extendable pole that can be adjusted to a variety of lengths good for trekking up and down mountain slopes.
BOOTS: Black Diamond Factor Boots. “With these I can be on the hill all day, up to 9 hours and they’re still really comfortable and perform well,” Drew says.
BINDINGS: Look, PX 18.
GOGGLES: Smith Prodigy Goggles.
HELMET: Smith Optics Variant Brim Helmet.
BACKCOUNTRY ACCESSORIES: Black Diamond Deploy Shovel, Quick Draw Guide Probe, Covert AvaLung Backpack.
CLIMBING SKINS: Black Diamond Ascension Nylon Split Skin. Some of the skis have become so fat your skins have to become fatter, Drew says. Black Diamond invented the skins with a new nylon center and grip on either sides of the ski.