On April 30, Dylan Freed's nascent ski career veered close to a tragic end. The Utah native was climbing up a 40-degree slope on a remote mountain on Iceland's Tröllaskagi Peninsula with partners Andrew McLean and Matt Turley when a 200-foot-wide slab avalanche released 100 feet above them (all three survived). When the avalanche dealt its first violent blow, Freed fought back, thrashing his arms and legs to keep from being buried. He tumbled — headfirst, on his back — over a 15-foot cliff. In a split second he rolled out of the slide, spied a safe zone, and pinned himself behind several huge boulders. The move saved Freed from a 1,000-foot plummet over a series of cliffs and avalanche chutes. One day earlier, Freed had turned 20.
"My first reaction was disbelief," says Freed. "Then I thought it was a great lesson to learn. But lessons are only learned if you're not dead."
Wise words from a kid just two years out of high school who's decided to forgo college in favor of full-time wilderness immersion. A backcountry phenom since he slapped skins on and began hiking uphill at age 13, Freed has thrived under the tutelage of ski-mountaineering superstars Mark Twight (his uncle) and McLean—both of whom he credits with being significant influences.
McLean doesn't hesitate to return the admiration. "Dylan's future accomplishments will set new standards for speed, proficiency, and style, says the renowned ski mountaineer.
An accomplished telemark skier by age 15, Freed locked his heel down when he was 17. A year later, he was skiing virgin lines in the backcountry with men twice his age. But Freed's no hotheaded hotshot. He holds Level III avalanche certification and gets props for his timeliness (always first to the trailhead), ambition, respect for those who've come before him, and modesty. Says John Whedon, a regular ski partner and an avid ski mountaineer: "Dylan hasn't gone a lot of places yet, but he'll get there in time.