WORDS: Ryan Dunfee, "The Base Grind"
Logan Imlach is one of the countless "pro" skiers who supplement their ski career with hard labor. The tradition of banging nails all summer to ski all winter is well-established practice in skiing. Being a drilling engineer on an oil rig in the Alaskan outback is not. But after winning the Superunknown contest in 2010, Logan was presented with the opportunity to film with Level 1 just as his girlfriend was starting Master's program in occupational therapy. In order to fund it all and still make time for skiing, Logan took his engineering degree to the front line of America's search for oil. He went to theAlaskan frontier, and worked three weeks on, three weeks off, twelve hours a day.
What is working on an oil rig like?
Everything is so huge and loud that at the beginning it's pretty nerve wracking to make your way around. Think about working on your truck: the biggest bolt is maybe 5/8" in diameter, right? Up here your average bolt is about 1-1/2" in diameter and the nut weighs 2 lbs. Not to mention you're drilling 30' lengths of drill pipe that weigh anywhere from 300-1000 pounds tens of thousands of feet into the earth. But as you develop, you get used to the process and gain trust in your crew. The thought of how dangerous what you're doing kind of passes and you have more time to focus on the task at hand.
What is the crew like? Do any of them know you're a pro skier?
We all work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so when you get off of work you pretty much eat then go to your room, watch TV, and go to sleep. As far as skiing, of course, every time someone notices the Level 1 sticker on my hard hat and I explain it to them, they always ask if it's Warren Miller. I've just gotten to the point where I say, "Yeah man, just like Warren Miller."
Has working on the rig shaped your opinion about American energy policy?
Even before I started working on a rig I had the opinion that America needs exports. We import almost everything we have and export next to nothing. How in the hell are we going to get out of debt when we buy exponentially more than we sell?
With that mindset, I think we need to be more energy independent. I am all for alternative energy research because some day there won't be anymore oil, but until that solution is found, we need to meet our current demand. Drilling aside, we need to create more sites for refining oil locally as well, rather than selling it to China to refine, then buying it back from them. I mean refineries are an eye sore, but when you build a refinery not only are you creating jobs, but you're keeping all of your product within our borders and driving the price of oil down.
What is the landscape like up there?
Flat (laughing). It really is. You can see the Brooks Range which is about 150 miles away, and that's really our only indicator of direction. In the winter I have been outside working at -80° F, and it's always windy and dark. In the summer, it's muggy and the mosquitos are so thick that everything looks smoggy. I've heard people say it quite a few times up here, and it seems to hold true: "God hates oil. That's why he puts all of the good oil in the places he hates."
(This is The Base Grind, Dunfee's weekly look at the idiosyncrasies and the idiots of the ski industry. He's also hawking his writing/copyediting/Civil War reenactment skills on his shiny new website: rdunfee.com)