As a 12-year-old with a penchant for pushing the envelope, Seth Wescott developed a taste for back-country snowboarding by climbing Tuckerman Ravine and plunging over the head wall.

Two decades and a pair of Olympic gold medals later, the Farmington native retains a hankering for back-country boarding. He regularly takes trips to Alaska for remote riding made possible by helicopter. This week, he embarks on a new adventure.

He took a 300-foot cruise ship to Antarctica.

“One of the goals for my snowboarding is to get to see different parts of the world,” Wescott said last week from his home in Carrabassett Valley before departing for Buenos Aires. “This was an opportunity to go and explore a new place.”

Wescott, along with the Alaska guides who accompany his heli-skiing trips and about 70 other hardy souls, is currently steaming through the Drake Passage aboard The Clipper Adventurer, which embarked Tuesday from Ushuaia, the southernmost port in Argentina.

Next stop: the Antarctic Peninsula.

The plan calls for a week of hiking, exploring, skiing and riding the pristine peaks of the Southern Continent, taking inflatable Zodiac boats each morning from ship to shore and returning to The Clipper Adventurer each night to eat and sleep.

“Clearly it’s all going to be weather dependent once we get there,” Wescott said. “But it’s very long days right now. We’re expecting around 20 hours of light a day, so that gives you a little more of a window everyday, depending on what the weather’s doing.”

Wescott and his mountaineering friend Chris Davenport, a New Hampshire native who relocated to Aspen, plan to tackle some of the more challenging terrain, accompanied by a still photographer. Many of the other passengers are recreational skiers who will stick to the foothills and gentler slopes.

“We’re just going to try to capture images and stuff for sponsors to use, just kind of pushing the realm, I guess, of exploratory back-country snowboarding,” Wescott said. “That’s kind of how Alaska works for us, too. We go there, you pay the heli bill, but at the same time, you know you have a responsibility to your sponsors every year to produce images and material and video for them that they then turn around and use to market you. So it’s all part of the process.”

Mindful of the World Cup snowboarding season beginning the third weekend of December in Telluride, Colo., as well as his remote surroundings, Wescott won’t be pushing the envelope too hard. On a similar expedition in 2009, one skier broke through a snow bridge and fell 30 feet. The resultant broken leg required an emergency evacuation aided by a Chilean survey plane.

“Getting injured down there isn’t the same as having a helicopter ready to LifeFlight you to Anchorage,” Wescott said. “So I’m sure we’re going to be taking all that into consideration when we’re picking out the peaks.”

Wescott will bring a traditional snowboard and another that splits vertically and has special bindings that can be used as skis, in case the base of a desired slope is a long way from shore. He’ll also bring safety equipment.

“There’s a different level of preparedness,” he said. “You’re bringing ice axes and crampons and ropes and all the climbing-type stuff to be able to get yourself out of a situation if you were to fall into one.”

He’ll also bring his camera and keep an eye out for penguins, seals, whales, albatross, skuas, snow petrels and other exotic wildlife. The chance to be on the other end of a long-angle lens is an appealing change.

Racing snowboards, after all, is his job, one he plans to continue at least through the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Back-country trips such as this one rekindle his passion for the sport.

“I think part of it goes back to my continued love of being in natural surroundings,” Wescott said. “It’s also a way to progress mentally in the sport, because you’re usually in more critical situations in the back country than you are within the bounds of a ski area where everything’s managed.”

If you’re thinking about signing on for the 2013 Antarctic trip — it’s a biennial adventure — prepare to write a check for roughly $8,000. And that doesn’t include airfare to Argentina and back.

“It’s definitely stepping into the unknown for me,” Wescott said. “So it’s a little unnerving, but I’m excited.”


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