Adam Ü, 38, has never followed a standard path. One of the last remaining professional telemark skiers spends his summers on a ship researching the last remaining vaquita, the world's rarest marine mammal. The knee-dropper-slash-marine-biologist (slash former guitarist in the ski town band Metalmücil) grew up in San Francisco's Bay Area, where his first job was at a bait and tackle shop. At 16, he started studying whales and other marine life, an interest he has balanced with skiing ever since. In 1999, he moved to Bellingham and became a fixture at Mount Baker's nascent backcountry scene, landing a couple of magazine covers and numerous gallery shots in this magazine. "Adam likes to have options, and not play by any rules," says Steve Christie, a longtime friend and bandmate.

I've tailored my entire life to skiing in the winter and research in the summer. It's been a major challenge—you're supposed to get a Ph.D., but if I do that I can't ski.

There's no career path. You can't go to a guidance counselor and say, "I want to be a pro skier and a marine biologist."

A lot of my academic friends are like, "You need to be more serious." I got a job offer in Kenya a few years back. It seemed like a killer opportunity, but I wouldn't have been able to go skiing. I asked one of my mentors what I should do. He was like, "You should go skiing. All that stuff will be there when you're old and broken."

I didn't alpine ski till I'd been tele skiing for 10 years. My challenge for years was trying to make a parallel turn.

When I got started, plastic boots had just come out and tele specific skis and bindings were being overpowered. Now, there's no such thing as a tele specific ski and tele bindings are in this new renaissance with NTN and Tele-tech, and it's the boots that are the weak link. We're stuck in this chicken and egg situation. The market's content with just recycling what's out there because they're waiting for new boots.

I'm not skiing to be efficient, I'm skiing to have fun. It feels better for me, for my general mountain travel, to be on tele gear.

I think we get away with murder in the Northwest because of the snowpack. When we were young and dumb, we were blowing it; if we were living in Colorado we would probably be dead. I've been inside the ping-pong ball on the Shuksan Arm enough to know that's not what I want to do anymore. I've started communicating more, started talking about it more.

I like a project. Skiing just to ski doesn't feel that fulfilling to me. That's why I like shooting photos. I like working with other people as part of a team. It's like research. It's a scientific approach: Did we nail the light and the angle?

One thing I like about social media: If you don't like it, you don't have to follow it. It's totally on you to choose what influences you. Anyone that's pissed off about what they're seeing on their Instagram feed, they only have themselves to blame.

Metalmücil, I miss the band. We did it for four winters—we're all seasonal people—but we succumbed to band drama. It's like a four-person relationship.

The first song we wrote was about getting hurt, called "Vicodin Valley." My single most fulfilling life achievement is recording that album. My master's degree? Whatever.

I have the most anti rock-and-roll lifestyle for someone who loves to rock and roll. I just want to be up for first chair.