Noah Howell, a backcountry skier, has always found that going off the beaten path leads him to his best adventures.
Noah Howell is one of the greatest backcountry skiers to date, and he has been named one of the “50 Icons of Backcountry Skiing” by Backcountry Magazine. He was also the second person to ski all 90 lines of what author Andrew McLean deemed the steepest ski lines in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Noah feels free skiing rarely traveled slopes, and for him, that freedom is also reflected in his everyday life. When he’s not skiing, Noah continues to buck the norms and do what he loves, even when it is difficult to keep pathing his own way.
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Noah Howell: If you're down here in the city like we are, and there's lines telling you to go every direction, and we turn left here and we wait for the light here and don't park here and now you go in the elevator and this hallway and it's just really all confined and cramped for me in a way. And I haven't found any place like the mountains, where you can go wherever you want to go, but you've got to get yourself there. There's consequences. It's just the most engaging, fascinating environment. So there are limits, but you can push them and you can know what yours are physically and what the conditions are. And then put all that together to have an amazing day.
Shelby Stanger: Noah Howell is a semiprofessional backcountry skier who spends his time gliding down some of the world's craziest slopes on rarely traveled mountain tops. If you're unfamiliar with the sport backcountry skiing is like the bad-ass cousin of downhill skiing. It means skiing down slopes often in remote parts of mountain ranges with no chairlifts, no ski patrol, and no manicured runs. It's pretty gutsy because you can encounter avalanches, ice, and cliffs as you to send down the mountain. Noah started backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering 20 years ago, before it was ever popular. When he skis down these backcountry slopes or lines of skiers call them, he feels free. That freedom is something Noah focuses on in every aspect of his life.
Shelby Stanger: I had the chance to interview Noah in person at the beginning of 2020, and lots has changed in the world since then. We may not have as much freedom as we did in January of this year, but you can still get outside and recreate responsibly. I'm Shelby Stanger, and this is Wild Ideas Worth Living. Noah Howell has been named one of the 50 icons of backcountry skiing by Backcountry Magazine. He also was a second person to ski all 90 lines of what author Andrew McLean deemed the steepest ski lines in Utah's Wasatch mountains. Well, Noah's skied some of the hardest slopes around the world he actually didn't take up skiing until after high school. You've done a lot Noah.
Noah Howell: I have done lot. Yeah.
Shelby Stanger: So part of the reason you said you really like freedom is you grew up in somewhat of a restricted rule following household. You said you also grew up Mormon. Tell me about how growing up Mormon later impacted you to just be this incredibly free spirited person like you told me on the phone, did you just have a lot of rules growing up?
Noah Howell: I had a lot of motivation and a lot of energy and passion and even for religion when I was in it, but I kept bouncing up against the walls of it were like, "Why is it so limited? Why can't we do this? Why is that? That doesn't make sense? That seems incorrect."
Shelby Stanger: What specifically?
Noah Howell: Well, just what I believe now is just, I mean, we are absolute individual organisms that no one else can tell us our path or direction. And that's why I was a little hesitant about podcasts is I just really don't like when people get on and they're like telling you, "How do you live your life? And this is how I did what I did, and this is what you should do." And it's like, "I'm in a different situation, I'm in a different time and space." But maybe that's fine advice, but I don't know that it works that way.
Shelby Stanger: Was there a moment though in life where you're like, "I'm going to be an adventurer full-time and make it work."
Noah Howell: I had a really weird moment when I was like 13 I remember driving by some white... I didn't ski. We didn't go on the mountains as a family really. And I just remember looking off at some like white peaks and just told my dad, I'm like, "I want to go up there." It was powerful for me. I don't even know if he remembers that, but just the high places called to me. And then, yeah, it kind of was a spiritual trade-off. When I left Mormonism, I kind of went to the mountains.
Shelby Stanger: How old were you when you left?
Noah Howell: 19. I went on a mission, which they do when you're 19. I mean, I had a very open mind and view of what Mormonism meant to me. It was very much just about a great potential for people to come to find a relationship with God, or whatever you want to call it. But then I went on my mission it was very strict.
Shelby Stanger: Where was your mission?
Noah Howell: Montreal, Canada. So strict Catholic, they don't want to hear anything from 19 year old Mormon kid from Utah, which I totally understand.
Shelby Stanger: So your mission was to go to Montreal and talk to Catholic people?
Noah Howell: Well, it's mainly Catholic suites. It's to just knock on doors.
Shelby Stanger: Okay. It's a Catholic area? Yes. Okay. I get it.
Noah Howell: Predominantly Catholic. So I got there, and it was just follow the rules, here's what you memorize and read to people. And if they don't believe, then you cross them off your list. And so we'd meet amazing people, but because they're drinking coffee or because they were smoking weed, we're like can't talk to them. And I'm like, "If there was a Christ, this is not what he would have done." He was like hanging out with the whores and the bums and like hanging out.
Shelby Stanger: He was hanging out with everybody without judgment is what you mean?
Noah Howell: Exactly. And so I was just like, "I'm out of here." So I bailed and at that point I really left the religion and kind of went off.
Shelby Stanger: And so when you came back from your mission, is that when you decided to find skiing?
Noah Howell: I'd found it a few years before because waiting for my mission after high school, I got a job at Deer Valley ski area.
Shelby Stanger: Oh, that's great.
Noah Howell: Yeah, it was awesome.
Shelby Stanger: That's an amazing resort. Probably one of the best snow resorts in the world.
Noah Howell: It's good.
Shelby Stanger: Okay. For me when I visited.
Noah Howell: Yeah. It gets half as much snow as resorts on the front side, so. But a great place to learn to ski. And that's where I fell in love with powder. That's where I fell in love with skiing and was just like, "This is really fun." And so after the mission I went back and worked there again.
Shelby Stanger: How fun?
Noah Howell: Yeah.
Shelby Stanger: And you were at like a ski-
Noah Howell: Lifty.
Shelby Stanger: Lifty. Oh my God. That's like the hardest job ever. It's freezing.
Noah Howell: The best was they would give us an hour break before public was on the mountain. So you could go ski for an hour. So you're getting untracked powder or corduroy for an hour. I didn't give a shit what I did the rest of the day. It was like, "I'm going to be okay. I'm going to good, because... Yeah."
Shelby Stanger: I always tell people that like being a lifty, because there's actually a lot of international programs for [crosstalk 00:07:47] scanners. So when you go to a lot of mountains, there's a lot of people from Chile and Argentina and probably a lot of South Americans, I think it's such a great way to experience the winter parts of the United States.
Noah Howell: Yeah. It was such a fun job. So many good friends, so many good times. And in that industry, it was like if you return, you got promoted. So it was like every year I was getting like a raise and then I'd work less. And yeah, I just realized I didn't want to work that much. I wanted to ski powder. And so I would just cram it all in on the weekends. I'd worked double shifts Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then suck it up Monday through Friday off to skiing.
Shelby Stanger: It's funny. I did a year in Breckenridge, Colorado, and I wrote for the newspaper and I did a story on Tales of a Lift Ticket Scanner. And I spent a day with the lifty and I was like frozen, but I was really in awe of their job. They met the funniest people all day long and talked a lot of smack and it looked really fun. So you grew up kind of outdoors, but you got really into outdoors later, like obviously at Deer Valley, then how did you end up just making a living kind of following your passion?
Noah Howell: Making a living is a stretch maybe, but I get to travel a lot, and do a lot of cool stuff, but it was evolution. So I discovered powder, fell in love with that. And that's kind of where my brother and some friends, we started a club called Powderwhores and we'd meet every Tuesday night and get like a pizza at Devon's in park city. And we'd like plan our big ski tour the next day. So we got into ski touring and exploring the mountains by hiking around, because the resorts get tracked out pretty quick.
Shelby Stanger: Ski touring is hiking to different spots to ski?
Noah Howell: Yeah backcountry skiing. Yeah. You hike up, no lift, and usually with climbing skis is the best way, but...
Shelby Stanger: How old were you?
Noah Howell: Early 20s.
Shelby Stanger: Okay.
Noah Howell: Yup.
Shelby Stanger: And your brother is he older or younger?
Noah Howell: He's younger. He's two years younger. He kind of followed me. He went to work at Deer Valley as a ski instructor and then yeah, ski a ton. Yes. We'd plan our group ski tour and go out and just track up powder. And 20 years ago there were not that many people doing it, so kind of have the place to ourselves. And yeah developed those skills slowly, avalanche awareness, navigation, there's just a lot that goes into it.
Shelby Stanger: So how did you fund your lifestyle?
Noah Howell: At that point I was working a little bit at the ski areas, and then my dad did interior design. And so we'd go down to San Diego in the summer and work with him. He used to have a huge firm in Salt Lake and then he kind of downsize. Anyway, we started working for Jewel, the singer and she was just blowing up at the time. So we did like five houses for her. Just like fully redesign. And my dad was all about doing it quick and in the moment. We would order furniture and wait for six months. Anyway, it was kind of revolutionary what he was doing and she loved it and he was actually really talented. So that was fun-
Shelby Stanger: That's a good side story.
Noah Howell: That was great.
Shelby Stanger: That I didn't expect to happen.
Noah Howell: So we were making awesome money. We were making like 40 bucks an hour cash under the table working six days a week. So we just work hard all summer, and then we could come back in the winter and we started buying video cameras and filming and recording what we were doing in the backcountry. Because we just couldn't believe that all this was going on and people weren't doing it. And it was just so easily accessible and so cool. We just wanted to share it.
Shelby Stanger: So you're an early filmmaker in skiing besides Warren Miller?
Noah Howell: Yeah. But we followed his model. We started taking it on tour. Our first tour I think was like two cities. And then by the end we were doing 40 different stops in the fall, every fall going on the road and just sleeping in a trailer.
Shelby Stanger: So you became totally proficient in making video as well. So you can edit, you can shoot, you can pretty much do it all.
Noah Howell: Yeah, we didn't do it well, we just wanted to get it done, because we were doing it all. So you don't get good at something when like you're shooting all winter and then, "Oh yeah. I got to remember how to edit." And "Oh, now we've got to promote the thing." You know we were doing it all. We kind of liked doing it guerrilla style and not have it all polished. When the red cams came out and all that stuff, we were just like, "We don't want to carry that around. You can't go anywhere. You can't actually do something. This is all just set up bullshit." Like we wanted to go ski stuff.
Shelby Stanger: (silence). Noah and his brother were making B grade films about their epic ski trips, but it quickly turned into something they called Powderwhore Productions, a full fledged production company that showed films all over the country. The best part was that Noah could continue backcountry skiing. He got really good at it. If you're a longtime listener, you've heard of me talk about The Chutting Gallery, a book by Andrew McLean on the 90 most challenging descents in the Wasatch mountains. McLean was the first to complete all 90 slopes. And Noah was the second. When did you do Andrew McLean's Chutting Gallery? We interviewed Caroline Gleich who also did that after you, you were the second guy to do it.
Noah Howell: Yeah. Andrew hadn't skied them all until he heard I was going to try and tick them all off. And then he like had to left and so he went and took them and beat me to it. But yeah, Andrew was a big inspiration for me. I was a backcountry skier skiing like mellow powder bowls. And then I went to a slideshow where he presented his new book, The Chutting Gallery. And it was just skiing all these couloir. Like we talked about these crazy stupid, weird lines that-
Shelby Stanger: Are narrow.
Noah Howell: ... narrow and weird traverses on like crazy ribbons of snow that you'd look at and be like, "Why would you go there?" But it sparked something in me. I was like, "That's so dumb, but that looks cool too." So I started to skiing some of the mellow ones and the more actually fun ones. And then I realized I was like halfway through the book a couple of years later and I was like, "Oh, it'd be cool project to try and tick all these off." So I got a little more serious about it and had some good winters and I was able to do that.
Shelby Stanger: How long did it take you to tick them off?
Noah Howell: Well, I mean, I didn't really start with that in mind. It was just I skied them. I mean, I don't know. I got the book in the late 90s and then I finished I think in 2011 or something so, 10 years, but I wasn't set on finishing it until like the last few years. It was like the last few years where I was like, "Okay, I want to really finish this up."
Shelby Stanger: Were those last few lines hard to find and finish?
Noah Howell: They were tricky to finish because in backcountry skiing you're dealing so much with the snow. The conditions are everything. If you ski something that's 30 degrees, but it's ice it's horrifying. So when we're talking about 50 degrees stuff and 45 degrees stuff, you really need it and you want it in good snow is just more enjoyable. So as I had fewer and fewer left, you don't get as many days where conditions line up for those. And it becomes more dangerous because when you're objective driven, you're trying to force it. You're like, "Oh, maybe it's good today even though it's not ideal, we could maybe get away with it we maybe push it." Instead of just trying to ski, "What's the best thing we could ski today when you've got these objectives in mind." But it's a fun game. That's what I love. I love the fun and the challenge.
Shelby Stanger: It's a game?
Noah Howell: It is. It's totally a game.
Shelby Stanger: It's so fun. So when you did the last one, the 90th line, how did you-
Noah Howell: Yeah. We got whisky. And I brought Andrew along. So that was really cool. We filmed it for Powderwhore. It was our film company and then put a little segment together. So that's out there on online, but yeah, it's like a hanging snowfield up high and then it just rock. And so you repel over the rock to get to the apron and ski down.
Shelby Stanger: So one of the things I read about you is you've crossed so many items off of what I'd imagined to be like the ultimate winter bucket list. Like you're a bucket list ticker. Just talk to me about how you've managed to build bucket lists in skiing and adventuring?
Noah Howell: Putting in the time. I'm old-ish. And so I've been around and so we've been able to stay healthy enough and stay alive and tick some things off. Yeah. It's really just getting out a lot. And I love backcountry skiing and I love all the aspects. Some people just like powder skiing, or some people just are in the fitness realm. And to me I've been lucky to have sponsors that can give me all the skis I need to go play no matter what the conditions are. So we've got really small skis to run around. And so I've done some cool stuff like big ultra link up, it's like the ski Hardrock 100. We did that in the winter.
Shelby Stanger: I don't even know what that is. So you basically-
Noah Howell: So do you know the Hardrock 100 Race, it's 100 mile race in the summer. And we went and did it in the winter and we camped one night and then stayed in different towns. So we linked up like Ouray to Telluride and then it ends in Silverton.
Shelby Stanger: And you do it on skis?
Noah Howell: Yeah, we did it on skinny little skis, just moving all day, 30 mile days, 11,000 feet, just pretty wild terrain in Colorado. And we were the first group to do that. So I love getting out. I love skiing powder just as much, but the mountains are always changing. And so I just like to link up my skis and my objectives with what's good, and go play.
Shelby Stanger: Where have you been in the world on skis, and where are some of the most memorable places you've skied?
Noah Howell: Baffin Island is probably the coolest place it's up in Canada, it's in the Arctic and it's some of the most incredible terrain. It's like Yosemite Valley, huge sheer walls, but there's coolers that run through them like five, 6,000 foot couloirs.
Shelby Stanger: What's a couloir?
Noah Howell: It's a tight shoot of snow. So it's like a narrow hallway of snow. And it's usually like an erosion gully and then the snow fills in. So we camped on the fjords up there for 17 days. We used kites to get around on the flat ice to the base of these shoots.
Shelby Stanger: So you kite snowboard as well, or kite ski?
Noah Howell: No, but I'm not afraid to just try stuff even though I'm not good at it or do it. And we just kind of did that. We were like practicing like two weeks before the trip how to kite and we ended up getting some strong winds up there. We were going like 45 miles an hour on the ice at one point. And so that was probably one of the coolest places I've been. I've been to Antarctica on the cruise ship where they take zodiacs to the shore and ski off the boat. That was really weird and unique. I spent a lot of time in Alaska, skied a lot of different ranges up there. I think I've been up there 14 seasons, a bunch of different new lines up there and ranges that haven't been skied in. All over the Western US. I haven't really done much in Nepal or the big mountains over there. Budgetwise it's just so easy to go to Alaska and there's so much to do there. Good snow.
Shelby Stanger: Budgetwise, I feel like it would be expensive to go to Alaska.
Noah Howell: Well, compared to find big mountains, you got to go out to the lower 48. And so your kind of options are Canada and Alaska, which are much cheaper than going to like-
Shelby Stanger: Europe.
Noah Howell: Yeah. Europe, Nepal, Pakistan, stuff like that.
Shelby Stanger: In the past 10 years, Noah has continued to stay off the beaten path. Instead of regularly posting on social media, Noah's gone old school. He puts on slide shows across the country. When we come back, Noah talks about his favorite slideshow moments, his crazy 11,000 foot descent, and how he built a yurt. (silence).
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Shelby Stanger: Noah stopped making movies with his brother about five years ago, since then he's been a semi-professional ski athlete. He also does some guiding, avalanche education, writing. And he puts on slide shows across the country. When I say slideshows, I don't mean PowerPoints. I mean, he takes photos from his most amazing adventures, chancellor's them onto old slides, and he projects them from one of those old school reels that ticks as it shifts from slide to slide. He does these shows in partnerships with Ascent Backcountry Snow Journal, and they show them the audiences across the United States.
Shelby Stanger: So you also do slideshows?
Noah Howell: I do slide shows. Yeah.
Shelby Stanger: Well, I think that's really interesting, because we're in this world of like YouTube and social media and Instagram and you're like, "That's like as old school as it gets." Slideshows?
Noah Howell: Yup.
Shelby Stanger: So you go to cities and you take slideshows with you and talk to people. I mean, this is like 80s.
Noah Howell: When you put it this way you're really not selling this to anybody.
Shelby Stanger: No, it actually sounds epic, but it's just so funny because like that never happens today in my world.
Noah Howell: Right. Well, it's kind of ties in with we'd go on the film tours, and it was so fun to roll in and have a beer with people you haven't seen for a while. We've got friends in all these places and talk about skiing and get people excited. And I don't feel like Instagram delivers that when people hardly read captions, it's all curated. Everybody says exactly what they want and edits it and filters it. And when you're put up there in front of a live audience, I don't know what I'm going to say. I forget what slide's coming next. So I like that on the spot, I like that real like get to know the person and the athlete. We had these buddies, they biked from Salt Lake up to Alaska and climbed Denali, the tallest peak and skied it. And it's like, "That is so cool." But you're not going to get that story on Instagram. I don't care how many-
Shelby Stanger: And that was the slide that you were showing?
Noah Howell: Yeah. They came to several shows and killed it. And it's so much fun. I like the real, I like being a little more honest and upfront and raw. I think it's cool.
Shelby Stanger: And what slides will you show?
Noah Howell: Different projects. So last year we skied an 11,000 foot run, which is really rare on the planet and only been skied once before.
Shelby Stanger: Where was that?
Noah Howell: Up in Alaska. And so I presented on that this year.
Shelby Stanger: So what's the picture that I'm going to see and what are you saying to me?
Noah Howell: Well, before you head into a range, we'd get a fly over usually check out conditions from the air. So there's some nice visuals from the plane of the line, good snow, good condition. So we got landed on the glacier and there's some camping photos of us setting up a little mid tents and our base camp getting that dialed.
Shelby Stanger: What was skiing down 11,000 feet like? And how long does that take?
Noah Howell: It took us about probably three or four hours.
Shelby Stanger: To ski down one run?
Noah Howell: Yeah.
Shelby Stanger: I like cried at Sun Valley because one run took me 20 minutes.
Noah Howell: Those are long.
Shelby Stanger: And they were so steep, but for you they're not steep, but I was terrified the whole time.
Noah Howell: So it starts at 17,000 feet and the top 1000 feet was horrible. Because it was wind blown. It was some of the worst snow. And then it turned to powder. I'm not even kidding. We skied like boot top to needy powder for eight or 9,000 feet. So like a run at Sun Valley is like 2000 feet. So this was 8,000 feet of continuous in like beautiful snow.
Shelby Stanger: How do your legs feel?
Noah Howell: Luckily, there were four of us. So you kind of do what's called leapfrogging. So you get breaks. So a couple people ski and then pull off and then it's your turn and you'll go pass them a little bit and pull up and stop.
Shelby Stanger: And so you could follow their tracks?
Noah Howell: Follow their tracks sometime. Or you're the one leading out and try not fall in crevasses or go off in no man's land or hit ice and stuff, so. But then it starts snowing so bad that we couldn't see it all. So we just sat there for like 30, 40 minutes. And that's when you're like, "Did we bring enough food? Is this going to light up?" Because we didn't have tents and we were 20 hours in at this point, we'd set some stoves with food and fuel and big puffy clothes. So we could hunker down. We could have bivyed if we needed to. But luckily then it light up and we could just ski more powder.
Noah Howell: And then the crux of that line was it got really steep at the bottom and icy. So we were up on the icy ridge and that was really slow. You're side stepping down with your ice ax out like 50 degrees fall or you're going to die. And we got 3000 feet left to go some little bit of intricate navigation. It often then it was like good corn. Maybe it was-
Shelby Stanger: Good what?
Noah Howell: Corn snow.
Shelby Stanger: I don't know what that means. I'm sorry.
Noah Howell: No problem. So when the snow settles out and gets really compressed and warm and then it freezes at night, but then in the morning or at some point in the day when the sun just kisses the top part of it, you can shred into that. Like your edges just bite into that. And sometimes it's like a corn consistency, like granular. And so that's really fun. Very different. More like skiing a groom run or corduroy at the resort. But yeah, so we had that to the base and then we rested for like an hour and then we had to climb back out of there, but that was an amazing day. But one of the biggest days of my life and biggest lines.
Shelby Stanger: That sounds so fun. What you do sounds so adventurous, and the sense that not many people have done what you've done and very free.
Noah Howell: Yeah. There's a lot of people out there doing really cool stuff it's really blown up, and lucky to have some great partners on that one. Ben Peters, one of the best skiers I know. And then Adam Fabrikant and Billy Haas are both guides. I mean they're 10 years younger than me. And so my fitness is kind of waning and they're super strong.
Shelby Stanger: How old are you Noah?
Noah Howell: 43.
Shelby Stanger: Well done.
Noah Howell: Yeah.
Shelby Stanger: How do you stay in shape for backcountry skiing?
Noah Howell: A mix of things. So to climb 10,000 feet in a day is a lot, and you have to build volume. So right now that's what I'm doing. It's early in the winter. And just getting out every day trying to do like 5,000 feet in like four or five times.
Shelby Stanger: Skiing or walking or running?
Noah Howell: Yeah. Uphill so I count vertical feet gained. So not mileage, but just like how much you've climbed or booted and trying to get 20 to 25,000 feet in a week. And then if I can do that consistently for like a month or two, then I have a really good base to go into the spring for like bigger single day pushes and bigger missions, but then supplement that with getting into the gym and just doing strength work, keep everything connected and get strong.
Shelby Stanger: And how do you avoid injury? Because-
Noah Howell: I don't. I've torn three ACL's.
Shelby Stanger: Yikes.
Noah Howell: Yeah. I had two repaired. And then this last time I did it, I didn't get it repaired because I just didn't want to go through the recovery, and it's been fine getting to the gym enough that I've kept it strong, but down the road, I should probably get it fixed.
Shelby Stanger: Good luck with that.
Noah Howell: Thanks.
Shelby Stanger: That's tough having-
Noah Howell: It's pretty common from skiing.
Shelby Stanger: Advice to people who want to get into backcountry skiing. Where could they take a lesson?
Noah Howell: So yeah, it's funny. A lot of people have the fitness, a lot of people coming from like mountain biking or trail running and wanting to get into backcountry skiing. So they have the fitness for the uphill. I'd really recommend skiing, like going to the ski area and learning how to downhill ski. You see a lot of people that are just not very good skiers and it's actually kind of dangerous and not as fun if you can't enjoy the downhill. So getting the resort laps and then obviously avalanche education courses and those are blown up all over. And then, yeah, just be smart and follow your gut out there. And I always tell people it's not tennis. You can't just pick up a racket and go on the court. This court can kill you. So to me this is a lifelong mastery process and you have to look at it that way. A lot of people are just like, "Oh, I'm going to buy an airbag and I'm going to get skis and skins and I'm good to go." And it's like, "No, you're not. You're dangerous." So looking at it that way, and I think the backcountry community is doing a good job of still passing that fear on that needs to exist. Like climbing it's clear, like if you fall, you're going to get hurt. But with avalanches, it's very different. Coming into this, you don't know where they're lurking, and you don't know when you're in danger. And then it can happen and it's a bad thing, so.
Shelby Stanger: I'm terrified of avalanches. So I think the backcountry industry has done a good job of teaching people in need education about that.
Noah Howell: It's having that fear of knowing that, but then working towards it, there are ways that we can go play there safely, but you need to learn those rules and you need to learn those protocols.
Shelby Stanger: Doing what you love can be scary. It can be hard on your body and it can be hard to buck the norm and focus on just what you want to do. For Noah it was important to be honest about that. He doesn't want to sugar coat his life. You want to do things your way, but at the same time you want to make a living doing what you love?
Noah Howell: I'd rather tear things down than build up a facade, and that's been hard as a quote unquote athlete where I'm supposed to project it like, "Everything's amazing. And I just shit flowers and like everything's easy and I'm fully supported." Maybe that's the case for some people, but it's not for me. And I'd rather be honest and tell you what's really going on. Even if it's-
Shelby Stanger: Yeah. Tell me really quickly, like how you actually make it work. It hasn't been the easiest-
Noah Howell: Financially?
Shelby Stanger: Yeah.
Noah Howell: Scrambling for sure. Like when we did the Powderwhore Films, that actually was decent we were pulling in like 50 grand a year.
Shelby Stanger: Working for Jewel was lucrative? Doing Powderwhore?
Noah Howell: Yes, exactly. Yeah. Powderwhore was great. Now it's a full scramble of little bit of writing. I still shoot videos. I still edit, a little bit of guiding, a little bit of sponsorship funding. I do a little woodworking. Yeah. A bunch of piece it together.
Shelby Stanger: You do woodworking. Okay. So I appreciate that. You're telling us that it's not easy always to do what you love.
Noah Howell: I think there are some people that were just like that links up and they get the big sponsorship contract. But everybody I see is working hard or they're a trust-funder, so.
Shelby Stanger: That was a very honest answer.
Noah Howell: Yeah. No one talks about that though in the industry. It's funny. I'm like watching these people and like, "I know your sponsors, this just doesn't add up, you're traveling year round and just going to team meetings." And I'm just like, "Wow, I'm not on that program." And there's a little bitterness, but also I don't fully want to play the game too. Like I don't want to be doing that all the time.
Shelby Stanger: It's a constant battle internally. I understand that. And there's a lot of people who have resources and you don't know what people's situations are. You'll never know unless you ask them. And some people are more honest about it and forthcoming than others. Yeah. But you've managed to make it work and you've done so many things that people would only dream about. And I think that's really cool. Like taking off bucket list, ski lines, skiing down a run that's over 20 minutes is to me incredibly impressive. Four hours long is wild. That's one of the most wild ideas I've ever heard on this podcast. Another thing you recently did was you built a yurt, which is like very relevant to your personality I'm learning, because it seems like you built this cabin in the middle of woods, which is like the ultimate dream for so many people listening to this podcast. What was that like? Where is it? How did you make it happen?
Noah Howell: So I did this dumb bucket list thing. I was like, "What do I really want to do?" Like, I really felt there's still things I want to ski and things I want to experience in the mountains, absolutely. But I feel like I could be good where I'm at. Like I've skied a lot. So I came to the one thing that popped up was like, "I want to build a cabin." So I started looking around and found some relatively cheap land nearby and bought that. And then we-
Shelby Stanger: In Utah?
Noah Howell: Yup. In Utah. And then we bought this old piece of shit trailer off KSL for like $1,700, this 1979 trailer.
Shelby Stanger: What's KSL like craigslist?
Noah Howell: It is, it's a local craigslist and we parked it up there, put it on blocks, put it like a reinforced roof up there for snow loads, put a stove in it. And we had a fun little place to hunker down for a few years and then wanted to do a year. So yeah so put up a yurt this year, this fall.
Shelby Stanger: Sounds like a lot of people were really willing to help you build it, including your dentist.
Noah Howell: Yeah. How did you-
Shelby Stanger: I researched.
Noah Howell: I was like, "Wow. I don't remember." Yeah. My dentist is awesome. Thanks Rich. I haven't paid for dental work in like eight years. Just been training for ski gear. So Rich is an awesome guy.
Shelby Stanger: That's cool. I mean, one of the ways you make it work is you trade your skills.
Noah Howell: Yeah.
Shelby Stanger: I know you don't like giving advice, but a lot of people have bucket lists and they don't take them off. Advice to people building a bucket list and then checking those items off.
Noah Howell: You know I won't say it for anyone else, but for me it's like what I keep asking and demanding of myself is honesty. Like what is really going on? And that trickles down in the mountains where it's like to me that relationship is utmost important is where are you at? And what are you really observing in the mountains? And to me, that's what's kept me safe. And that's what kept me going is that honesty. Because it's easy to lie to yourself and like, think, "Oh, I can do this." When you're not ready or you're trying to prove for someone else. Or there's just so many internal motivations that affect, they're always like at work and in play when we're doing these things and that's fine, but what are they? And do you know them?
Shelby Stanger: So what's the next bucket list item?
Noah Howell: So I'm working on a project because I like ticking books obviously. So there's a book called 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America, and 30 lines deep into that. And so yeah, in the skiing realm, that's what I'm working on is skiing those big monster lines all over Canada, Alaska and in the lower 48.
Shelby Stanger: Wow. Congratulations. Well, best of luck with that.
Noah Howell: Thanks.
Shelby Stanger: So what's on your bucket list? Are those goals on your list because you actually want to experience them, or because of what other people might think of you? I really respect Noah's ability to say yes to the things he loves and the things he wants to do. He's not confined to conventional norms, instead he's built a life pursuing his wildest ideas. Thank you so much to Noah Howell for coming on this show, even though you explicitly told me you don't like doing podcast interviews, because you don't like telling other people how to live their lives. I had fun with you, your dedication to living a life on your own terms and your own bucket list is inspiring. You can learn more about Noah Howell at NoahHowell.com that's N-O-A-H-H-O-W-E-L-L.com. You can also connect with Noah on Instagram at Noah_J_Howell.
Shelby Stanger: Wild Ideas Worth Living is part of the REI podcast network. It's hosted by me Shelby Stanger, written and edited by Sylvia Thomas, and produced by Chelsea Davis. Our executive producers are Palo Mottola and Joe Crosby and our presenting sponsors Subaru. As always we love it when you subscribe to this show, rate it and review it wherever you listen. And remember some of the best adventures happen when you follow your wildest ideas.