Where Have You Gone, Seth Morrison
This story was published in the fall 2022 issue of Mountain Gazette. Here is a short excerpt:
Seth Morrison is always on time. More on that later, but the first thing you need to know about Morrison’s impeccable timing is that he showed up in Crested Butte in 1993 with purple hair and a pair of giant slalom skis right when the sport needed him to.
The number of resorts opening their lifts to snowboarders had just multiplied from a few dozen in 1985 to almost 500 in 1990. Skiing, and its traditional racing disciplines, lacked forward hype. Snowboarding culture, the freedom it implied, and its limitless potential for progression appealed to a young demographic in a way that skiing, it seemed, couldn’t any longer. There was hope in the burgeoning freeskiing scene, advertising a more extreme side of the sport with big airs and steep backcountry runs. But the freeski movement was still in its infancy, and it needed a poster boy—someone edgy and free-spirited—to take the sport to another level.
On cue, Seth Morrison, flying down Crested Butte’s most technical terrain at the second annual U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships. Nobody had heard of him. On the TV broadcast, his title on the chyron was “former amateur ski racer.” But the 19-year-old punk kid drew attention with his colorful coiffure flowing out the back of his full-face helmet as he dropped cliffs and popped off moguls with speed, confidence, and style throughout the grueling four-day contest.
The ski world took notice and the cameras came out. That season, Morrison was featured in Warren Miller’s Black Diamond Rush and Matchstick Productions’ debut, Soul Sessions & Epic Impressions.
“This guy Seth Morrison shows up,” Noel Lyons told me, “one of the most extraordinary athletic people I’ve seen on skis, but also still down to earth and humble.” Lyons, already a veteran extreme skier, shared a segment with Morrison and Suzanne Sawyer in the Warren Miller film that year. “When he skis, he’s in his element like a fish in water, and to watch it is pure privilege and joy.”
“He was just so comfortable on his skis, kind of like a cat,” Sawyer told me. “No matter where he was in the air or what bump he came off, he always landed.” He seemed so experienced, Sawyer was surprised when she eventually realized that Morrison was seven years younger than her. As they were saying their goodbyes after a week of filming together, “he said, ‘Hey, can I catch a ride home to my mom?’” she remembered. “I don’t know how he got there to film, but I just remember dropping him off at his mom’s, and then all of a sudden it hit me: Oh, my gosh. I knew he was young; I just didn’t realize how young he was.”
Few athletes remain at the top of their sport for more than a decade, let alone two. But Morrison continued to redefine the limits of freeskiing year after year through the aughts and into the mid-2010s. He frequented magazine covers and starred in more than 40 films—until 2016, when Morrison was dumped by his longtime ski sponsor, K2. He retreated to the mountains alone—no more camera crews, no more poster signings—leaving fans around the world wondering what happened, where he went, and why.
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