This feature was first published in The Snowboarder’s Journal Issue 11.3. Click here to purchase a print copy.
Ever heard of Hanshan?
He’s ancient. Born around 700 AD, maybe. Probably in China. He was a poet, philosopher and wanderer. His name translates as Cold Mountain. Cold Mountain was also where he lived. That’s where he was most at home—in the mountains, out in nature. That’s what he wrote about and where he wrote. He scrawled some 600 poems onto boulders, bamboo and occasionally the side of a house in town. Not much else is known about Hanshan. As Burton Watson states in his 1962 translation of Hanshan, “If the reader wishes to know the biography of Hanshan, he must deduce it from the poems themselves.”
When men see Hanshan
They all say he’s crazy
And not much to look at –
Dressed in rags and hides.
They don’t get what I say
And I don’t talk their language.
All I can say to those I meet:
‘Try and make it to Cold Mountain.’
That’s famed beat poet Gary Snyder’s translation, published in the sixth issue of the Evergreen Review. In the introduction to the work, Snyder describes Hanshan: “He and his sidekick Shih-te became great favorites with Zen painters of later days — the scroll, the broom, the wild hair and laughter. They became Immortals and you sometimes run into them today in the skid rows, orchards, hobo jungles, and logging camps of America.”
Ever seen Hanshan?
The archetype of that mysto mountain man.
Mountain as man. Man as mountain.
“Oh yeah, that’s definitely Wyatt,” Keegan Valaika says. “Whenever I think about going out into the mountains I think about Wyatt. The two are kind of… interchangeable. Yeah, the mountain and Wyatt are the same thing. He really doesn’t give a shit for nothing else except living in the mountains and shredding when there’s snow. Even when there’s not snow, he’s still spending the same amount of time, if not more, out there, because he doesn’t need a tent and all the crazy shit to protect him from the cold. He’ll go stay out there with his horse for months on end.”
Ever heard of Wyatt Stasinos?
He’s 25. Born in Colorado. Raised in Aspen Valley. His dad owns a window cleaning and tinting company. His mom works at the Aspen airport. He’s a snowboarder, a wanderer. He’s always in the mountains. That’s where he’s most at home: out in nature. That’s where he spends most of his time. More time than anyone else I know.
Keegan says the same. He’s known Wyatt for more than a decade. Keegan and Wyatt were both on the Burton grom squad way back when. But Keegan didn’t really get to know Wyatt until more recently, while filming for Givin’s “One” and “Too.” Two seasons ago they bunked up in a spot near Mt. Baker, WA for the winter. Keegan remembers Wyatt getting up super early every morning, heading up to the mountain to hike at first light. He remembers wishing he had gotten up and out with him more. He remembers learning a lot from Wyatt that winter.
“Yeah and it wasn’t ever from anything he said,” Keegan says.
Wyatt’s quiet. He leads by example and lets his actions communicate what’s important. Keegan says he’s been heavily influenced by Wyatt’s approach to snowboarding and life: “His whole philosophy on snowboarding seems very similar to his life philosophy; less is more. Like, the less you think about it, the better you’re going to do. I feel like Wyatt’s mind is always completely clear of any thoughts, except like… ‘This is nothing.’”
He doesn’t have a cell phone. Doesn’t have a mortgage. Or rent, even. He’s still a hashtag. Not yet an @. Good luck following him. You can’t even unfollow the dude.
Sounds Zen. Keegan continues down that path. That Noble Eightfold Path.
“He completely exists as nothingness, which allows him to be one with whatever he’s about to ride. It’s the craziest thing to watch. It always just looks like his body was meant to be there. It’s hard to explain, like, at that exact moment in time in our solar system his body was meant to ride down those pillows in that way.”
That’s Zen. That’s Wyatt. Always exactly where he’s supposed to be.
“This is definitely where I want to be. Right here. On this trip. Right now. I’m so stoked,” he says. That’s Wyatt. Always stoked. Right now we’re sitting in the lobby of the C’mon Inn in Missoula, MT. He’s his overtly psyched self, as usual. All smiles. All beard. All hair. But, he’s visibly nervous. He hates being in front of the camera, being interviewed. He’s a really quiet dude. An introvert. More comfortable outdoors. Most comfortable on his board. But, he’s doing his best. Still stoked on being here, now. Always.
“Wherever we’re at is just so cool,” he adds.
I agree. I can hear Hanshan.
If I hide out at Cold Mountain
Living off mountain plants and berries –
All my lifetime, why worry?
One follows his karma through.
Days and months slip by like water,
Time is like sparks knocked off flint.
Go ahead and let the world change –
I’m happy to sit among these cliffs.
I’ve known Wyatt for a couple years. Spent a dozen or so days out in the snow with him. But, as I said, he’s incredibly quiet, so I’d never learned much about him. I’d heard plenty of stories. I want to hear more. I start in about home, his family and growing up in Aspen Valley.
“It was awesome,” he says. “I grew up skateboarding and just playing in that valley. Camping a bunch. Riding horses. Just cruising.”
I learn that his Dad taught him to ride a horse. Mom showed him around the garden. His younger brother Cory tagged along everywhere. Wyatt skied first. He doesn’t remember when he started, but he distinctly remembers when he first saw a snowboard:
“It just clicked. I couldn’t have been but maybe three. But, oh it stuck in my mind. It just looked like so much fun, they were coming down the mountain hooting and hollering. It looked like the most amazing, awesome times.”
He found out it was. And he hasn’t done anything since.
“My sick days were powder days,” Wyatt says. “I just had to snowboard as much as possible. Snowboarding is just so fun. It’s the best thing ever. I’m so happy when I’m snowboarding.”
“Whenever I think about going out into the mountains I think about Wyatt. The two are kind of…interchangeable.”—Keegan Valaika
There’s no hiding that. On snow, Wyatt’s always smiling. Always ready for one more run, one more hike, or another splitboard mission. Out the door at four in the morning. In bed by eight at night. Every day. And always up the next day to do it all again. Surviving on a healthy diet of fruit and nuts, fish and meat, and plenty of water. No booze. No drugs. His occasional indulgence: smoked oysters. He’s got them stashed in his backcountry pack. He loves drinking the oil.
“You need those oils,” he says.
Wyatt knows what he needs. And it seems like that’s all he wants:
“I like where I’m at, just getting by. It works out for me. I don’t need a lot. I just need to be where I’m at. And this is where I need to be.”
I swear he’s more monk by the minute, but really, still just a snowboarder. Just like you and me, only more committed. We all could learn from his example, I think. We all should.
“I have no doubt that anybody can travel around and go and snowboard and have the time of their lives,” he says. “It’s so simple really. I don’t get much money at all. I have a few thousand dollars each year to make it happen. That’s it. It’s not easy. It’s not like I’m making any money really, it’s just the best thing for me. It’s where I want to be.”
Wyatt would be doing this even if he didn’t make a dime.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” he says.
Wyatt is free. Or at least, way more free than me. I admire his freedom. Envy it. Aspire to find it. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what we’re all looking for. Right?
I wonder how he does it. I know he doesn’t have a cell phone. Doesn’t have a mortgage. Or rent even. He’s still a hashtag. Not yet an @. Good luck following him. You can’t even unfollow the dude. Last winter, when we met up, he had almost all his worldly possessions packed into a truck. He and his brother and Nick Russell set out on a six-month snowboard adventure. They started in Colorado and went north, all the way to Alaska. On the road all winter, chasing the snow and making a movie. A film, actually, shot on 16mm. This will be the second film made by the brothers Stasinos. “Blood” was their first flick. Seek it out. You will enjoy. Last winter they were at it again, just traveling, snowboarding and “living it up,” as Wyatt says.
I wonder how they do it? What’s your plan? Where are you headed? What are you going to do? I ask.
Wyatt shrugs. He’s not sure. Right now? This interview. Later today? Cooke City. After that?
“We only plan a couple days out, because it could even change on the way somewhere,” he says. “Who knows? Who knows what’s going to happen.”
Wyatt knows that anything can happen. He’s seen dark clouds on the horizon, approaching storms. He knows uncertainty. He remembers everything that happened.
“It was that warm before the storm hits,” Wyatt says. “And we were just riding for fun. I was strapping my binding down and my binding broke on the last click. I was like ‘Huh,’ you know? But, it happens sometimes…”
He pauses, then starts the story again, “I should’ve just listened to my intuition. I made a few turns and I remember just seeing this river moving with me. My first instinct was get to the right, cut right. I got right and tried to grab this tree, but it pretty much grabbed me. I was getting slammed into it. And it just kept piling on me. It was so rough… and violent.”
Wyatt ended up on the uphill side of the tree. The force of the avalanche broke his snowboard in half and shattered his femur. He was completely buried in an instant.
“All of the sudden it was so peaceful,” says Wyatt. “Really cold… And it was crazy because I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even take one breath. And I just… slowly fade away.”
He has his hands extended toward the sky while he’s telling me this. Staring upward.
“It was really peaceful, you know, like, ‘Oh, take me away.’ I left so peacefully.”
“Did you think you’d died?” I ask.
“I felt like I… I was seriously in peace, so peaceful, wherever I went. If I went somewhere, it was just so peacefully. It happened like that. But it was just like a feeling of goodness I guess. It came over me and I felt so good. I had no pain, nothing.”
Aaron Hooper was there to help rescue Wyatt. His face was blue when they got to him. Wyatt came to when he was halfway dug out. He was alive—really beat up, but alive. Somehow. Saved.
A miracle? Maybe. Hooper says it was certainly a transformative experience: “There’s actually some other friends who have mentioned that after Wyatt went through that avalanche and near death experience, they thought some mountain man soul kinda entered his body, and/or it just awakened him so much. After that I just feel like he’s been on this next level.”
“Without him even saying anything his attitude rubs off on you. Wyatt is always so positive and that can’t help but rub off on everybody. There’s a lot to learn from that. I think he’s taught us all a lot.”—Aaron Hooper
Hoop calls Wyatt an old soul. He knows him well. They’ve been through a lot together. In fact, Hoop filmed Wyatt’s first snowboard clip. He remembers Wyatt as a bobble-headed grom ripping around Buttermilk, CO in an oversized helmet and all black everything.
They first met while Hoop was shooting a park jump with Ryan Lougee and some other homies. Wyatt cruised up to the session all by himself, hit the jump without saying a word, stomped a backside rodeo and rode off after only a quick look back. Hoop got the shot. They’ve been working together ever since. Hoop and crew took young Wyatt under their wings and more or less groomed the grom. But, now, the roles have reversed.
“It’s kinda crazy how quick he grew up,” admits Hoop. “It started with me leading him into the backcountry and now it’s to the point where he started leading me around. It’s pretty cool. If anything goes down, he’s the guy you want to help you survive, because he can.”
Wyatt knows how to survive. He survived that avalanche. He has his friends to thank. He knows it—they saved him. I ask him if that avalanche changed how he approaches the backcountry.
“Of course,” he says. He goes on to explain how it’s increased his awareness. He stresses the importance of really being aware of your surroundings; the snow conditions, the weather, your crew, everything. He encourages everyone to do all that they can to avoid that kind of scenario.
“You don’t even want to get in that situation,” he says. “If you’re going into the backcountry, it’s not safe, really. It’s not, ever.”
We laugh nervously, but know that’s the truth.
“You can be safe…er,” he continues. “But, there’s always a risk. It’s rewarding because you’re shredding some awesome powder. You’re up in the mountains, you get the best views and you’re out in the fresh air, alone. Or with a few people, watching the sun come up and maybe the stars were out that morning. Then you’ve got this day, and you’re on top of a mountain, it’s amazing.”
Can you hear Hanshan?
“It’s a blessing, knowing Wyatt,” he says, laughing. “He’s taught me way more than if I went to India or something to hang out with some crazy Zen monk.”
“Yeah, he’s definitely dropped that kind of knowledge on my life.”
Wyatt’s taught Hoop a lot too.
“Without him even saying anything his attitude rubs off on you,” Hoop says. “Wyatt is always so positive and that can’t help but rub off on everybody. There’s a lot to learn from that. I think he’s taught us all a lot.”
I’ve learned a lot from Wyatt. During those quiet days in the snow, from time spent traveling together, chairlift rides and last runs. And now, from this interview. And of course, not only from his answers. I learned a lot from his pauses, his stares, silence and what he didn’t say. I learned that like Hanshan, with Wyatt, “If the reader wishes to know the biography, he must deduce it from the poems themselves.”
And quiet Wyatt does have a way of waxing poetic, if even unintentionally—probably not thinking about it, just doing it like he does.
“It’s all about just understanding more about life,” he says. “It’s all just life at work. This life that we’re living right now is so special. Just cherish every moment. And keep snowboarding. Yeah, stay alive to keep snowboarding. Live the life. Live it up. You just gotta live it up.”