By Sauni Symonds
Raised in the mountains near Lake Tahoe, Dick Dorworth took up skiing at a young age. Ski racing brought him to Sun Valley in the late 1950s, but he soon started to call it home when he wasn't on the road.
It was on the slopes in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Dick Dorworth earned the courage to challenge the world speed ski record in Chile. His 1963 Diamond Sun race victory was just the push he needed after hopes to train and compete in the Olympics fell through.
"Part of why I went to Chile is, I was going to show them," says Dorworth, "so that was a big motivation. It opened a lot of doors that would never have been open to me, and I probably shouldn't have walked through some of those doors, but I did!
"You had to dig deep. So, I learned a lot about myself. It was a life changing event. Those things never end. Once you change something inside yourself, you've changed it. I was not and am not a quote daredevil wild ass guy like I have a reputation of being. I'm pretty calculating."
Dorworth speed ski racing
Setting a new world speed ski record brought opportunities to ski, coach, and travel the world, providing fodder for his journals and stories for a budding writing career. This combination of adventure and writing would shape Dorworth's future.
In 1968 he joined an expedition to Patagonia to climb Mt. Fitz Roy, an 11,000 foot peak of granite, ice, and snow.
Doug Tompkins, who sold his small company North Face to fund the adventure, and Yvon Chouinard, future founder of Patagonia, organized and planned the trip. "I wouldn't have been on that trip had I not been the famous skier. That's how I became friends with Tompkins," said Dorworth. "I met Doug, and we liked each other. We had a lot in common."
The climbing team, including the filmmaker, spent weeks on the road in a van loaded down with gear and food. "I wasn't even supposed to climb when we started the trip. I was going to carry loads, but by the time we got this thing going, I didn't want to be left behind; and so I convinced Chouinard that I could do this."
From a well stocked base camp they carried several loads of supplies to upper snow caves they had carved out of the mountain. On the first attempt to summit, a fierce Patagonia storm forced them to shelter in a snow cave for two weeks. When food ran out, they made a dangerous retreat to base camp.
Dorworth skiing in a Warren Miller film
After almost two weeks, the storm finally broke, giving them another shot at the summit. They would use every bit of daylight on the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere to reach the top.
"Doug and Yvon did the leading, and Chris and I kept care of Lito so he could make the film; and that is how it worked. A lot of times I would be the last guy up, and I'd be out there by myself on the side of Fitz Roy, knowing very little about that kind of alpine adventure, so it was quite spooky.
"For me, when we walked up to the top finally, it was a perfect day, beautiful weather. We had pulled this off. It was the end of a six month trip. Yvon looked at me, and he said, 'now we've earned our freedom for a while and there it is.' It was a great life lesson. You just kind of grind away at it until you get it, and it was worth every bit of it."
The Fitz Roy expedition and film influenced a generation to explore their world, seek out adventure, and become good stewards of the land. The peak, and Patagonia, are forever branded into Yvon Chouinard's legacy, an outdoor clothing and gear company.
"It was years before I realized that was probably the most significant climb done in the world that year," said Dorworth, "but at the time it was just this great big adventure for me. It was a big deal."
With the expedition behind them, the men went their separate ways; but their bond, forged on the granite walls of Fitz Roy, is still strong today. "It certainly changed my life, and I know it did everyone else's, too."
In the 1970s Dorworth's life as a writer and author began to take shape. Prominent outdoor magazines published his essays and articles. His name soon became synonymous with skiing and mountain climbing adventure.
Three of Dorworth's books
But his role in films wasn't over. Dorworth's expertise on skis landed him in several Warren Miller ski movies. His rebellious long hair and beard conflicted with the conservative nature of the filmmaker, but ultimately his skill on skis won out.
In his memoir Night Driving, he reflects on his many adventures and lessons learned, revealing his life as an angry young nomad, forever on the road from one adventure to another, all the while processing the frustrations of a generation faced with the Vietnam war and social unrest.
Skiing, climbing, and writing kept him on the move, but eventually fatherhood grounded him. At 76, Dorworth's wanderlust has faded a little, but not his connection to the outdoors, or his passion to write.
The journals he kept throughout his life provide endless material for numerous critically acclaimed essays and books. But perhaps his greatest triumph came in 2011, erasing any doubt about his place in American ski history, when he was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
Dorworth's future plans? "I intend to write and stay active and do what I can do to enjoy my life," he said.