Interview With Telemark Skier and Kayaker Jake Sakson

Jake Sakson

In a previous interview with kayaker Fred Norquist, we talked about this converted ambulance called the Gypsy Mobile. Well today we have a special treat for you – the brains behind the Gypsy Mobile, Jake Sakson.

Jake drives his Gypsy Mobile all over the country looking for the best slopes for his tele skis and untapped creeks for his boat. He’s also been skiing in exotic places like Japan and Alaska. Check out Jake’s interview below. My questions are in bold, followed by his responses.

Can you give our readers a quick introduction… where are you from, what are you up to now, etc.?

I was raised in Carbondale, CO and still reside there, in all my travels I have yet to find a place I would rather live. Currently I work for a Tree Service and am saving up money for next ski season and future adventures. I am also redesigning my on-board vegetable oil filtration system and hopefully putting a turbo on my van this summer.

How did you get started in the outdoor lifestyle? Is it something you grew up with or picked up from friends?

I did not come from a family of adventure enthusiasts but at a young age I met my friend Hayden Kennedy through our ski program and his family took me under there wing – taking my climbing, biking and kayaking in the summers. Basically in debt to them for getting me into these sports.

You’re an avid telemark skier and kayaker – even been featured in some films. Is there one that your are more passionate about than the other?

I couldn’t really say I am passionate about one sport in particular – instead it is the feeling derived from challenge and finding that state of mind where one is on the edge of their comfort level. In that respect, I am more passionate about whichever sport I am doing at any given time. I tend to have a fiend like personality so whatever season it is I do that sport as much as possible. However, at this point I am on the work and kayak in the summer and ski full time in the winter program.

Is there such a thing as ‘too extreme’ for Jake Sakson? Ever been base jumping or sky diving?

Um, I definitely feel it is important to know my personal limits – I don’t want to get weeded out too early in the running. So I have definitely walked away from lines or rapids. Base jumping really appeals to me – I am sure it is an incredible feeling but the death rate of base jumpers and a lack of free time is keeping me away from that right now. But base jumping and or paragliding are things I would like to incorporate into the sports I already participate in.

I’ve seen a video of you filling up your Gypsy Mobile with used vegetable oil from restaurants. Tell me about the inspiration behind the Gypsy Mobile, how long did it take you to build and do you get all that oil for free?

Honestly the inspiration behind the Gypsy Mobile was to do everything I could to lower my expenses. In kayaking and skiing those expenses are fuel and in the winter – lodging. By building a vegetable oil powered van I hope to achieve very low costs in these realms. I also wanted a way to be well outfitted and stay comfortably on the road for long periods of time. The Gypsy-Mobile is 4wd so hopefully it can get me to some interesting places as well. I have spent about 3 months of physical labor on the van but have thought about it for much longer than that. So far I have yet to save money on fuel – due to start up costs and problems but I am determined to make it work. This is hopefully something I can figure out over this summer. The appeal of free fuel and a decreased dependence on fossils fuels is too great. I also want to put a turbo on my diesel engine – the Gypsy Mobile is grossly underpowered and I have heard these actually increase fuel economy on diesel engines. But yes – all oil I have burned I have gotten for free.

Have you ever been in a situation on the mountain or in a creek where you were scared for your life?

There have been a few times where I have missed a line skiing or kayaking but narrowly escaped disaster. When I was 15 years old I put onto Golden Gate section of the North Fork of the American at what turned out to be absurdly high flows. I missed a line and narrowly caught and eddy above a sieve – the group of paddlers I was with were screaming at me to paddle like I had never heard before. That whole run I was pretty much scared for my life though – at normal flows it would have been the hardest run I had ever attempted. It is always scary when things are moving fast and you don’t know what is behind the next corner. Scary situations seem to be inherent in these sports, this is just one of many experiences but they are good wake up calls to the amount of risk we expose ourselves to on a regular basis and are always humbling.

You’re passion for outdoor sports has recently taken you to Alaska and Japan. Do you have plans for any other huge trips? Where your dream destination?

I have so many plans for huge trips its kinda silly, making them happen is the tough part. I am itching to explore the East, South and Central America and Europe in a kayak and on skis. There is still so much exploration to do on this landmass, kayaking in California, the Northwest, Montana. Skiing in Wyoming, interior and Coastal BC.

I imagine someone with your skill level has seen his share of difficulty on the mountain. What’s the toughest run you’ve ever skied? Was it also the highest elevation?

Using the qualifier “toughest” is hard for me, in these sports we are driven to challenge ourselves. Hopefully, what is my toughest today will soon be my everyday. There are so many factors that go into the way I feel about any given run – how I skied it and my state of mind at the top – both which play together. The hardest run I have ever skied may have felt like butter, but I may have hacked my way down another, less intense run – making it “tougher.” As a freeskier difficulty, expression and fluidity are fused in any given line. However, a few years back I skied a run in freesking competition in AK that, much to my surprise and dismay deteriorated into sheer ice as it got steeper finally requiring a ten foot billy-goat stick above 100 foot cliffs, to a 50 foot air. Although I stuck my line I felt like I had narrowly escaped death. This was further reinforced when the next person who tried to ski it fell and broke their back. I probably won’t be skiing that one again…

Do you have any advice out there for younger kids who aspire to live a similar lifestyle as you?

The first step is to dream, the second to believe and then, the most grueling is of course to make it happen. In our current society there are lots of pressures that can prevent us from reaching our highest potential: the appeal of entertainment, comfort and pleasure, social pressures to be “successful” and of course economic pressure as well. The further I get down the gypsy path the more I realize – “if it was easy it wouldn’t be called the gypsy-life.” Currently I work one 40hr per week job, bike taxi two nights a week, am taking an online class in web design, am improving the gypsy vehicle and amidst all this mayhem and trying to stay and shape and get on the river as much as possible. My advice would be, do what feels right – pursue your passion whatever it is – no matter what other people think about it (listen to others input and advice of course), and when the going gets tough, which I think is inevitably will for those of us without trust funds – you just have to get tougher to make this dream a reality. But the first step – stop wishing and start doing. Get out there a lot and work hard.

I just got into watching Dexter… I freaking love it. What’s your favorite movie, TV show and music group?

Ha, your asking the wrong guy this one. I enjoy movies, no favorite though – I haven’t watched enough TV to have a favorite show – I like some music from almost all genre’s, but I would have to say Pink Floyd if I were to have a number one.

Here are a couple of videos with Jake.

Jake in the backcountry

And the world famous Gypsy Mobile

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