North Face Athlete Spotlight: Rick Armstrong
Mark Synott chats with his Mt. Waddington prisoner...
April 3, 2005

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Rick Armstrong. Photo courtesy of North Face

Home: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, United States

Nickname: Sick Rick

Recent achievement: Primetime Emmy nomination

Favorite quote: "The harder I work, the luckier I seem to be."

Whatís in his bag that he canít live without: Redpoint Hoodie and coffee

Where he sees himself in ten years: "Paragliding around the world and owning a Fortune-500 company."

About Rick:
Born in Anchorage, Alaska, Rick Armstrong has been skiing since he learned to walk. His ski adventures have taken him from the 14,000-foot peaks of Colorado to the remote backcountry of China and Mongolia. Now based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Rick has accomplished many difficult and exposed first descents in mountain ranges around the world, including the first ascent and descent of the north face of Diamond Peak in the Chugach range of Alaska. Rick was also the first person to have both skied and snowboarded the famous Grand Teton in Wyoming (not to mention being the second person to fly over it in a paraglider).

Rick's roots lie in ski mountaineering, and his background includes extensive ice and rock climbing, snowboarding and paragliding. He works as a heli-ski and ice-climbing guide in Alaska and as a paragliding instructor in Jackson, Wyoming. He is a wilderness EMT, class-3 avalanche forecaster and an alumnus of Fort Lewis College. Although Rick prefers the seclusion of the remote backcountry, he has found time to be in 37 ski and snowboard films. You may have seen him being interviewed on MTV, ESPN and the Discovery Channel or admired some of the 200-plus photos of Rick that have appeared in magazines such as Powder, Ski, and Skiing.

Mark Synnott with Rick Armstrong
September 2001
Rick Armstrong and I shared a great adventure this spring on Mt. Waddington in British Columbia's Coast Range. It was our first big trip together, so of course it had to be an epic. Towards the end of the trip we found ourselves pinned down at high camp during a three day blizzard. To save weight, neither of us had carried a book and it was only thanks to Rick's amazing (though somewhat demented) sense of humor that I maintained my own sanity. We came away from it great friends, with plans for many future adventures.

Mark: What have you been up to lately?

Rick: Mostly, I've just been flying my paraglider. That's what I do for entertainment and training. I've been flying for 12 years. I stopped counting around 2200, but I guess I have a little over three thousand flights. I got into the sport really early. I've been flying almost as long as anyone in the US. I do some comps and stuff like that. At one point I was rated as one of the top ten paraglider pilots in the US. We're breaking new barriers every day. We are constantly finding new things we can do, new places we can go, records we can break. We're flying around like birds. We're trying to break the world distance record of 200 miles. We're also trying to get the local record here in Wyoming which is 102 miles. I try to paraglide every day.

Mark: What's it like?

Rick: Usually, it starts with a long hike up a mountain. On top we'll wait for the optimal conditions -- thermals. You have to figure out when the peak heating is going to release. We're legally allowed to fly to 18,000 feet. The highest I've been is probably around 21,000 feet. It's totally unbelievable up there. We're always looking for more lift. Once we get up high, we try to travel and see how far we can get from where we took off. It's completely meditative most of the time, but it can also be super turbulent. Have you ever experienced turbulence in a small airplane? That's nothing compared to what it feels like in a glider. It can go from being the most calming feeling in the world, to "Mommy help me" in a matter of seconds. In big turbulence your paraglider can ball up above you and you'll free fall for a while - the g's are insane.

Mark: Any close calls?

Rick: One time I was flying near Salt Lake City, and the guy I was with forgot to tell me that we were flying in the approach zone for the international airport. At one point I looked around and counted eight jets around me. I had visions of being a fly on the windshield.

Mark: How does this mix with your skiing?

Rick: It's great because I focus on skiing and climbing in the winter and in the summer I focus on paragliding. I usually bring my glider when I go on ski trips. . I'd like to bring it on my next trip to South Georgia. I've flown off the Great Wall in China, in India, all over the world really. My goal in the next year is to put together some paragliding expeditions.

Mark: Tell about our last big adventure on Mount Waddington?

Rick: Yeah, that was my last mission. Waddington is a truly amazing peak. The highlight of that trip was definitely the bivi that we shared at 13,000 feet just below the northwest summit. We got stuck there for close to three days in a raging blizzard. Seriously though, I definitely felt like we were out there. With the coastal weather being as temperamental as it is, things could have gone either way. We could have easily been stuck up there for a week and run out of food. The worst part was that we had no books or entertainment at all. We stupidly thought maybe we could rappel down an ice gully on north face and we even checked it out. That was a mistake. We just couldn't go anywhere in the whiteout.

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