First descent: local skiers tackle snowy peaks of downtown Pittsburgh

Posted By: The Ski Channel on February 24, 2010 8:05 pm

Tom Wallisch eat your heart out

If one were to conduct a quick poll amongst the ski community to what areas might be considered powder meccas, a couple places might immediately surface. There are those who might jump with the token Utah or Steamboat as their respective answers, or maybe even the fabled ski resorts of Hokkaido, Japan from the world-traveled skier. However, not in a million years would you expect someone to answer with Pittsburgh, PA, a.k.a. “The Steel City.”

Yet with each passing storm this winter, the city, known more for its NFL team and “blue-collar” roots, is taking a shot at placing itself among this esteemed company. Need proof? Just check out this Tweet from pro skier Jen Hudak as she describes her recent trip to nearby Seven Springs Mountain Resort for the Kristi Leskinen Homecoming Contest:

“I feel like Im in Japan, but Im in PA! Bus ride to get here, 1 massive hotel where everyone stays, food tickets, fog, cool trees. Good times”

While a pro skier’s opinion is all well and good, I think we should let some more conclusive evidence do the talking. For those who have been following The Weather Channel religiously, then you are already well aware of the snowy pounding that the East Coast has received, particularly in areas such as Washington D.C.

However, pro skier Tom Wallisch’s hometown of Pittsburgh has been no exception, as the city has received record snowfall not seen since the ridiculous winter of 1992-1993. Most of the residents have been perplexed as how to handle all the accumulation, but for an elite group of skiers, they know exactly what to do with the fluffy white stuff – urban session.

While once a novelty among the ski and snowboard community, urban sessions have become an industry standard. To be considered a great freestyle skier, one has to not only dominate the park, pipe, and backcountry, but spin on and off handrails and jibs like nobody’s business.

Colin Sander, a 22-year-old skier and filmmaker from Pittsburgh, PA has been familiar with this type of skiing for several years now. Sander considers himself to be among some of the initial sub-set of skiers brave enough, or stupid enough depending on your attitude, to take their hand at skiing outside of the ski resorts, and on the concrete-laden stairwells of city streets. Having dabbled in urban skiing whenever his hometown would get a dusting, the recent blizzards that have dropped over 20″ of snow on Pittsburgh was a landscape of opportunity for the fearless skier. After gaining much experience over the years since some of his previous urban skiing adventures (see below, with a few clips and one dramatic fall from yours truly) the Pittsburgh native was ready for something new.


The prehistoric Pittsburgh-based urban skiing that helped set the stage for the current glory

After warming up with some generic handrail missions, and growing eager for something totally new, Colin and his ski companion Nick Yourd decided they wanted to leave their snowy mark on the city of Pittsburgh. While Pittsburgh’s most famous skier Tom Wallisch was off in far away Finland shooting for his latest segment, these fellow “Pittsburghers” decided to tackle the steeps of Mt. Washington.

No, not the Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, but instead the steep, rocky face of a mountain that dramatically divides Metro Pittsburgh and the suburbs to the South.

Mt. Washington was the ideal ski destination for the once-in-a-lifetime descent, as it even features a pseudo chair lift in the form of the “incline.” Think something along the lines of a wooden-tracked gondola, and you’ve got the idea.

After some brief scouting, and a lot of assistance from their friends, the duo would embark on the urban ski adventure of their dreams. Without further adieu, check out the video featured above for the daring antics of these Pittsburgh skiers.


Colin Sander is a 22-year-old filmmaker who grew up in Pittsburgh and studied directing and cinematography at Chapman University in Orange County, CA. He is currently living in Los Angeles where he spends much of his time skiing Mammoth Mountain.