This article was produced in partnership with Columbia Sportswear.
If Bend, Oregon had to pick just one individual that personified what it meant to be an archetypal local, embodying the outdoor spirit of the mountain town in all aspects, a top candidate would be Curtis Cizsek. A pro rider, fly fishing guide, snowmobile don, I made a serious question while we talked as to whether he had any intentions of running for office in Bend. He’s really got it all. A true outdoorsman, I’d bet Curtis spends 20 hours a day outside, no matter what the season is, and he’s made a living doing that. Most recently, Curtis has not only been brought on to Columbia Sportswear’s team, doubling down on the winter action sports space and bringing new tech to the slopes, but has been working on his first personal project. One that has both sentimental, and comedic value as he sorts through the uncertainties of a Covid world. While Curtis resides in Bend, a shred town that is truly having a moment in terms of early season snow, we discuss the present and future for Curtis.
Every year there’s that whisper, a rumor amongst the riders about which location in the US is getting snow early. This year, the northwest played that role. Bend has been a scene that seems to have sprung to life a month ago.
Yeah, it really took off early with splitboarding access and pretty quickly we were able to do some snowmobile stuff as well. The coverage is one of the best early starts I’ve ever seen living here. The mountain just opened, everything is good to go, now we just need a reset!
What’s the scene report in Bend right now, who’s going off?
Big air Jare, Gabe Ferguson, and Ben Ferguson built a wedge the other day. Austin [Smith] and I went up and helped film it. It was so rad to just watch those kids get in the freakin’ groove and get it going. The session was actually insane for November. I mean, Jared did a psycho trick. Like wow, you already have a double cork and it’s November, I climbed a tree with a GH5 and a harness and I’m just strapped into this tree filming fisheye. It was such a rad session.
For a backcountry rider like yourself, a lot of the early season is spent sitting down on a computer looking for low pressure systems at high altitudes. Are you clocking screen hours right now?
Yeah. I feel like everyone that is a backcountry snowboarder is basically a weatherman these days. Oh, it’s going to snow 6 inches here, let’s drive 14 hours and then have it snow 3. But it will be interesting to see how everything goes this year with not being able to go to Canada as easily. It’s going to be an interesting winter.
Yes, as I understand it, you are in the midst of working on quite a meaningful personal project last winter when Covid hit, can you give us a run down on that?
Yes. This is kind of a long story, but my dad passed away a couple years ago, and he left my three siblings and I a 46-foot sailboat. We had the idea to make a movie documenting our sail from Oregon all the way up to Alaska. The crew being Eric Jackson, my sister Shelly Ciszek, and Connor Winton who is the filmer. It’s a 46-foot catch rig sailboat. It sleeps, say, 6 if you were really cramming people in.
Our goal was to get to Bella Coola, BC where there is a heliskiing operation. We were going to fit as many days as we could afford at that location, and when the money was getting dry, we’d collect our snowboard stuff, pack it on to the boat and sail to Haines, AK. It’s sort of funny because at this time we considered that our “worst case scenario” would be that we might have to leave the boat in Ketchikan, a small city in the very southern part of Alaska, and resume the mission in the springtime.
I say it’s funny that was our worst-case scenario at the time, because nine days after crossing into Canada, the border closed due to Covid. Unsure of what to do, we sailed to Bella Coola where we found out that Bella Coola Heli Sports closed the day before we got there. At this point, we’re in the middle of nowhere, and to every village we sail past, a boat with the US flag while Covid is going nuts in Seattle, we’re not exactly welcomed. We’d go into ports to get fuel and the cops would get called on us just for being there. Everybody on the boat felt really weird about it obviously, but in all reality, it’s hard to argue that this group of people wasn’t doing a good job of quarantining, just three of us on a boat in the middle of nowhere for two months. It was pretty cool besides that and quarantining in a country that didn’t seem to really want us there.
Here’s a question I have been dying to ask. Is E-Jack much of a sailor?
No, E Jack is not a sailor haha. When I was 6 until I was 9, I actually lived on a sailboat and sailed halfway around the world. My dad has always had boats, he grew up sailing. Big sailing family. My sister is also super into it. She owns her own boat. So her and I are the sailors. Eric and Connor picked it up pretty quick, but Eric gets a little seasick when it gets rough.
What would you say is more frightening, a rough sea or a tall cliff?
It’s totally different, but a rough sea is scary, especially when shit starts breaking on the boat, that’s when you know the boat is getting tossed around. We had a couple things happen that weren’t chill at all, but we’re still here. My sister and I were kind of co-captaining, but I have a captain’s license through the fishing guide stuff I do, so I felt responsible for the people on the boat. It’s like okay, let’s not die here, we got to figure this out.
You of course are no stranger to boats, not just sailing but you are quite the fly fisher. In fact, considering it has become a pastime of many pro snowboarders, I would say you were an early adopter in our scene.
Yeah it’s kind of weird because now it’s like this trendy thing to do.
Does that bother you?
No not at all! It gets people outdoors and doing stuff. Maybe more problematic when it’s nothing but fish on your Instagram, but I’ve been guilty of at times because it’s exciting.
Yes, on top of being a pro snowboarder, I heard you started your own guiding company on the Deschutes river! Very prestigious considering there are only 12 available licenses on that section of the river.
Yes, I convinced my fiancé to spend a good portion of our savings and start this fly-fishing guiding outfit on the Deschutes because I had been working for people for the last eight years and I was like, let’s branch out and do our own thing. So I buy this permit to give me the right to guide the river, and then two months later right as everything closes because of the pandemic, I start to worry. what’s going to happen? Sorry honey, I just freakin’ sank the ship. But it actually ended up being very busy this summer. I think people usually travel to all these crazy places to fish, and a lot of people were now stuck locally. I went from thinking I would have a month of solid work this summer to being booked every day for almost four months straight. It was a lot, but it was good because you know, speaking of transitioning, it’s just good to have back-up plans. Backcountry snowboarder isn’t exactly the most stable job you can hold, haha!
No it isn’t. So next logical question is going to be, will there be a flyfishing portion of the movie? Can we expect an E Jack full-flyfishing part?
Yeah, there will be some fishing in there. I know that’s probably not what all the snowboard people want to hear but there will be quite a bit of fishing. We had this little 12-foot inflatable jet boat on the back of the sailboat. We’d anchor in these bays in the middle of nowhere, get in this little boat and go like 10 miles up these rivers into some of the remote land I’ve ever been in.. Like grizzly bears, wolves, the whole deal. It was pretty sick.
Yeah, I guess that’s a little more rugged than the Bend terrain.
Yeah, a little more. Like bear spray, as if that does anything. Here let me season myself before you eat me to death. Yeah, it’s just nature. You’re just like, hopefully nothing matters because we’re in the middle of nowhere. But it’s pretty cool. 10 miles up this river in the middle of nowhere then you jet back down in a little floating home in the middle of this bay.
I would like to talk about your new sponsorship with Columbia. That’s an exciting new chapter.
Yeah, it’s been epic especially with the crossover stuff. The ability to get called for a backcountry shoot in the winter and a fishing trip in the spring is pretty nice! But obviously Covid has shut down those plans in the immediate future. But as far as gear that I actually use in my everyday life, whether it’s guiding fishing on the river or snowboarding; They make everything, and they make it well.
It’s kind of a new wave thing you got going on! A multisport athlete vibe. Tech gear is also more important than ever right now, especially as people are going to try to go out and get their own turns during Covid. What do you think we can expect there?
Oh, it is nuts right now the amount of random people hitting me up on Instagram asking if I have any old splitboard stuff is overwhelming. The parking lot for touring across the street from Bachelor is jam-packed by 6:30am, which might be scary but hopefully people are taking the right steps in getting their avalanche course certifications. We’ll see what happens. I will say, Bachelor just opened, and I heard a lot people worrying about the parking reservations , but it was honestly so easy. There’s four different lanes to check in and once you’re there, it feels business as usual.
I can’t help but wonder if this whole year is going to seriously recalibrate the way everyone goes about making video projects. Knowing you couldn’t get to Alaska to film has probably sent you back to the drawing boards. What are your thoughts there?
I mean, from the beginning we had it set up as a two-year because there’s just so much stuff to explore up there. We also have a vision of surfing on the way down, assuming we are able to get back to the boat [currently docked in Washington] in a timely fashion. But as for now, I’m going to try and travel and see what we can do for this, plus do some K2 trips and get back on the snowmobile and just do some local backcountry stuff.
How would you rate your luck in Alaska historically? Ire can really bit hit or miss on those trips. How have you fared in the past?
We got really hosed in Valdez like two years ago. Then I had one okay trip to Haines. Oh yeah, and I had a really good trip to Haines with the Drink Water guys too. I had two good trips, two bad trips.
Wow. Ok so it’s really 50/50 for you. Well I know I’m pulling for you Curtis. I appreciate you catching up. And I can’t wait to see the project.