Denali dangerous peak
(Photo/Denali National Park and Preserve)

See the First Adaptive Ski Descent of Alaska’s Denali in ‘Winter Starts Now’

On tour through December, ‘Winter Starts Now’ showcases two adaptive mountain skiers as they made the first para-athletic summit and ski descent of Denali.

The “Winter Starts Now” film documents several winter athletes in their pursuit of outer bounds. Within the 2021 compendium is the remarkable story of amputee skiers Pete McAfee and Vasu Sojitra through their descent of Alaska’s Denali (20,310 feet). Both men are without their right legs. “I love skiing because, for me, it’s turned into this equalizer,” said Sojitra.

The First Adaptive Ski Descent

In late June 2021, and after 2.5 weeks of acclimatizing at 17,000 feet, the para-athletes and a film crew of four climbed Denali’s West Rib route in a whiteout storm, with temperatures dropping to -30 degrees F.

McAfee suited up with an adaptive prosthetic for the ascent. Sojitra relied primarily on his upper body strength, using poles and a single ski to the summit. Each man dragged his equipment on 100-plus-pound sleds.

A calamitous forecast and ever-shrinking weather window forced the team to make a high-speed ski descent down the mountain. The descent would take 30 hours and require the team to scrap the majority of their perishables high up.

The film is the 72nd annual Warren Miller feature and is on tour internationally through December. Check out the trailer and learn more about each adaptive skier below. For tour dates, head to WarrenMiller.com.

The Adaptive Ski Descent Para-Athletes

Pete McAfee

Pete McAfee lost his leg below the knee in childhood, “making it pretty easy to adapt,” he says. McAfee was raised in the West Texas flatland and didn’t get into skiing until moving to Oregon in his late 20s. By age 33, he had fully immersed himself in ski mountaineering.

McAfee dedicates his time off to volunteer instruction, and he raises funds and awareness for outdoor adaptive inclusion through harrowing adventures. McAfee and a team of fellow amputees recently scaled several Ecuadorean volcanoes to raise funds for amputees without access to adaptive devices.

 

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Vasu Sojitra

Vasu Sojitra, who lost his right leg to septicemia at 9 months old, is a dedicated backcountry skier and skateboarder. At just 30 years old, he holds several noteworthy firsts. He’s the first para-athlete to land a 720 on a single ski, the first person with crutches to summit the Grand Teton (which he did without adaptive equipment), and the first adaptive athlete sponsored by The North Face.

The Indian-American athlete uses those athletic achievements to elevate his outdoor advocacy work for the Disabled, BIPOC, and other historically excluded communities. He is also a core member of The Outdoor F.U.T.R.E. Initiative, co-founder of the Inclusive Outdoors Project, and more.

“Winter Starts Now” isn’t the only on-screen appearance from Sojitra this season. It’s his third. “ASCEND” won official selection at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and TNF’s “The Approach” will premiere online on Nov. 23.

Portrait of Charles Crenchaw, the first black mountaineer to summit the denali. Commissioned by Outdoor Research and Seirus. Original painting by Lamont Joseph White, c. 2021
Denali’s First Black Summiteer Immortalized in Mountaineering Museum
The Portrait of Charles Crenchaw aims to honor the first Black climber to summit Denali and shed light on inclusivity outdoors. Read more…

Jilli Cluff
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Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing — and life would never be the same. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear family. She is based out of Atlanta, Georgia where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.