An Epic Trek
For Rob Kingwill and Seth Wescott, the journey to Nepal was an experience in itself during the making of the 2016 film "Chasing Shadows".
Seth Wescott and Rob Kingwill tell of their misadventures when traveling from the States to Dubai to Delhi to Kathmandu and finally to the far reaches of the Himalayas.
From SnoWorld 66 // Photographs by Mike Arzt
Above: Mount Machhapuchchhre, which means “fish tail,” is a mountain in the Annapurna range in north central Nepal. No climber has stood on its summit because the mountain is considered sacred. The stunning peak is about 16 miles from Pokhara, where the athletes and crew bunked down every night.
What do you do when your epic snowboarding trip to Nepal is delayed by travel mishaps and bad weather? If you’re all-around snowboard master Rob Kingwill and two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott, you make the most of it. In the days leading up to riding Annapurna, the pair rode what they could: snow in the desert, elephants in the jungle, and ultralights in the Himalayas. They spoke with SnoWorld about their misadventures from the States to Dubai, Delhi and, finally, Kathmandu.
SnoWorld: How did you feel when you found out you were heading to Nepal?
Seth Wescott: I was out to dinner one night here at Sugarloaf, and I get a text from [director Chris] Patterson, and it was “How about Nepal?” with a little helicopter emoji. And I was just like, “Hell, yeah.” I read this book when I was a lot younger in my snowboarding career called Snowboarding to Nirvana, and it was all about going to Nepal. It’s just always been this place of fascination for me, so I was just so excited that we were actually going to get to do it as part of a Warren Miller trip, and especially because it was the first time Warren Miller had ever been there.
Rob Kingwill: It was a big scramble, but you know the prospect to go into Nepal and have such an amazing adventure and opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. And so I did everything I could [to go] … and then the adventure began, which started with me being stuck in a New Jersey airport for three days waiting for Seth, and as you‘ll see in the movie, we had some interesting adventures just getting there in the first place.
How did you guys get stuck in the States?
Kingwill: With international travel, we had several issues. There was a plane crash in Kathmandu, and there was a giant snowstorm on the East Coast that compounded things. So Seth missed his flight because of the snowstorm on the East Coast, and then we weren’t sure if Kathmandu was ever going to open. So it came down to like seriously five minutes before they closed the doors on the airplane I was supposed to get on, and I made the choice that I’d rather adventure around with Seth and have somebody to go with than go by myself. … Seth finally does come in, and we get on the plane the next day. And we’re actually on the tarmac. There’s a sweet shot of us high-fiving [on the plane].
Wescott: We got bumped to first-class seats. We’re toasting with glasses of wine, partying, and we sat on the tarmac for like an hour and then they took us back to the gate.
Kingwill: So again back to the hotel. It was amazing. It was just like, “You got to be kidding me. Seriously?” It was such a tease. … We were on the phone for three hours at 4 four o’clock in the morning trying to come up with a new way to get to Nepal.
The crew and athletes took in all sides of Nepal, from tropical jungles and busy cities to mountaintops and alpine lakes; meeting the people of Nepal was a highlight.
Wescott: [Photographer] Mike Arzt and some of the crew were in Dubai, and we were like, “Well, screw it, we’re supposed to go through Mumbai, like at least if we’re gonna be stuck somewhere, we can come join you guys in Dubai.” So I spend until 4:30 in the morning on the line with United, and they get us switched, and basically as we’re finally taking off for Dubai we get the message that by the time we were going to land there, they were already going to be gone.
Kingwill: But we took advantage of every situation as far as things to do. So we got stuck in New Jersey for three days, and we went to the top of the Empire State Building, because you know, what are you going to do when you’re in New Jersey? It’s all in the context of adventure. It’s like, “Let’s get out and do something and make the best of this situation.” So we flew to Dubai—and then we had a day layover, so we went snowboarding in Dubai.
How was snowboarding in Dubai?
Wescott: It was pretty funny. We come down to the front desk with snowboards, and they’re just looking at us like, “What the hell are these guys doing?” We jump in a taxi, drive across the city, and get dropped off at the snow dome. We were so many days into this and kind of losing our minds already. At this point we started talking to each other in our Warren Miller voices, like “When you’re in Dubai, you can go skiing, and ski Dubai.” And this was an ongoing thing. We had one hour to spend there before we had to race back to the hotel and get our stuff.
Kingwill: Riding that type of manmade snow was a different experience. It was really cool, because underneath it is kind of this squishy pad, and so it’s this really soft, awesome surface to ride on, and we had such a blast. It actually was nice to get out and ride our snowboards and feel like we had a little bit of freedom, and reset our whole stoke factor. So racing back to the airport, we were reenergized and ready for the rest of the trip. Then the rest of the trip happened, which continued to be a challenge. We’re sitting on the plane, and we see our bags get loaded, and we’re like, “We’re going to make it to Nepal; here we go.” So we land there, and of course our bags don’t show up.
Wescott (left) and Kingwill warm up during a break in filming.
Wescott: Yeah, we saw them get loaded. And so the thing was, from Dubai we went to Delhi, and so we knew they were on the plane. We didn’t transfer planes; we just had a stop. But once you got into Nepal, that was where you started to really see the systems of a Third World country not working the way that we’re used to, where a baggage desk would have a simple thing like a computer, or a phone, and they’re like, “You just fill out this piece of paper,” and then you watch them put this paper in a desk, and you knew no one was going to make a follow-up call on it.
Kingwill: There were like 500 sticky notes from everybody else that got stuck in the airport from the last week and a half sitting in a drawer somewhere in Nepal, and we’re like, “Yeah, we’re never getting our bags.” And we’re forgetting, Seth—remember we got to Delhi, and we went to the transfers desk, and they were like, “You bought tickets, but you don’t have seats.” That’s what they told us at the desk at three in the morning. So we went up and the lady is like asleep at the desk. She’s tired and she’s not in a good mood. And she says: “You bought these tickets, but whoever did the purchasing didn’t actually confirm seats.” So we’re stuck in this airport in limbo where there’s no information about anything. Eventually I went over and bribed the lady with a cup of coffee in order to be nice, so she would get us out of there, and it totally worked. It was like this lady needs somebody to give her some love. Eventually they got us seats and got us out of there, but then they lost our bags.
Wescott: Then we’re just super-psyched. We get onto the plane, we fly into Kathmandu, and the approach is amazing. We’re seeing the Himalayas for the first time. When you get off the plane on the tarmac, it’s like everything kind of seems orderly, and then we go in and once you get inside, and get through the customs, it was this scene that neither of us had experienced in travel, like where you come into baggage and there’s 10-foot-deep piles of bags just strewn across the room, and a thousand people just looking at the baggage carousels hoping something is going to come off, because they’ve been through this weeklong process of hell, as well. Then we kind of started the same airport dance again, but in Kathmandu.
Kingwill: After days and days of going to the airport, it definitely started to wear on us. So I think the story that we put together was, if we didn’t have our snowboards to ride, we would ride everything else possible in Nepal.
While waiting for the weather to clear, Rob Kingwill (standing on front elephant) and Seth Wescott (back) explored Chitwan National Park.
Kingwill: We rode carts, and actually in New Jersey we rode the train.
Wescott: We rode rickshaws, and we went flying around the mountains in ultralights.
Kingwill: We rode a motorcycle—tried to kill ourselves on a motorcycle, actually. Seth and I aren’t very good at riding motorcycles, so it was a fun Dumb and Dumber moment. You think of Nepal and you think of high mountain peaks, the Himalayas and snow, and in reality a lot of it is jungles and rhinoceroses and elephants and these amazing agricultural villages with the most beautiful people you’ve ever seen in your life. So to go and really be immersed in that was really special and something that I had not ever dreamed was part of a trip to the Himalayas. And we rode boats, too. Being on an elephant in the middle of a river—that I never thought in my wildest dreams could be walking through the river.
(Left) The crew had a tight schedule, having been delayed multiple times even after arriving in Nepal. Here Wescott and Kingwill prepare to finally take their turns on the slopes.
(Right) One of Kingwill and Wescott’s favorite parts of the trip was sharing snowboarding with the locals at the Annapurna base camp.
How far into the trip did you have to wait to actually get to snowboard?
Kingwill: Nineteen days. We actually had to extend the trip, right?
Wescott: Yeah, the permit had a few extra days built into it from when we had originally gone, and so we still hadn’t snowboarded when we were supposed to have already left to come home. We had a three-day window. … [Himalayan Heliski Guides Founder] Craig Calonica and his guide hadn’t been in there in over two weeks, and no one knew anything about snow stability and what had gone on in the two weeks since they’d been there. That first morning we treaded pretty lightly and did some low-angle stuff and shot a bunch of on-slope, and then the weather forecast was supposed to be good for the next few days, and we woke up to it just puking snow the next morning, so that day was out. It came down to the final morning to get any good terrain ridden.
Kingwill: Dealing with the snowpack and continuing to be safe was a first priority. That first day, we got a couple of runs in. We were standing on top of one of them before dropping in, and an avalanche goes off up the valley. It was hands-down the biggest avalanche I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve probably never even seen one filmed that was that big, and it was just like, “Oh my gosh, where are we?” So we’re trying to do everything we can to assess the snowpack and get on-slope and do something.
Kingwill gets after it on the mountain. He says the riding was worth the wait.
So was the snowboarding worth the long journey?
Wescott: Oh absolutely. I almost felt like I had a turning point in the trip. I designed a new powder board for this trip and hadn’t gotten to ride it anywhere than in Ski Dubai, which clearly isn’t powder, and so there were a lot of unknowns. But a few turns into the first run, it was like, “Oh, wow,” because we’d had two weeks of rest. It was the first time I’d ridden without pain in two years. It just felt so amazing right from the first turns, and it made it so worth it.
Kingwill: It was cool for sure to watch Seth step up and really be the badass that he is. So we had a good time.
Still in recovery from a knee injury, Wescott had a “turning point” on this trip. “It felt so amazing right from the first turns,” he says.
Where To Go | Nepal
After flying into Kathmandu, stay at the Kathmandu Guest House, a converted Rana dynasty mansion. Then hit the mountains in a big way with the Himalayan Heli Ski Guides, which will put you up in a five-star hotel in nearby Pokhara. When you’re done shredding the Himalayas, follow in Wescott and Kingwill’s footsteps with a trip to the jungle. Stay at the Machan Wildlife Resort.
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