Ryan’s Blog: This is Backcountry
Ski Club Leader Ryan Davison Crisp has skipped Europe to spend an entire season in Whistler. In this latest instalment of his blog he ventures off the beaten track to discover more about the area’s famed backcountry.
March 2014, one heck of a snowy month out here in British Columbia.
The resort skiing in Whistler Blackcomb has been truly amazing and, along with my new found friends, we’ve made the very most of it. However, March was to offer me so much more than the joys confined within resort boundaries. It began with my AST Level 2 (Avalanche Skills Training), a course organised by Alltracks Academy as part of my package and ran by the incredibly well regarded Extremely Canadian.
As an extension to the basic Level 1 course I completed earlier in the year, the Level 2 adds to your knowledge base by taking you out into the backcountry and asking questions of yourself to help you build the tools needed for safe travel in what can be a very treacherous arena. Until this course I had never had the pleasure of experiencing ski touring and I was a little concerned as to how much I actually would enjoy it. I love making the fresh turns, but skinning up mountains for them? Isn’t that what lifts, cats and helis are for?
Well, turns out I loved it. Alas, it’s easy! Of course, you need a decent level of fitness and it can be a workout, but my oh my does it beat the mundanity of the gym. Moving up and through the mountains at a steady pace proved to be a lot more enjoyable than I had anticipated. Being in the middle of nowhere with your buddies, having worked for your turns is a truly special feeling. Looking down at virgin lines, imagining where you will make your earned turns is the cherry on top.
The Extremely Canadian guides gave us the tools and guidance for us to make our own decisions in order to find such great skiing off our own back. Through a mixture of theory and practice, the three day course really does add to your knowledge base and lead you to consider travel in the mountains in a more appropriate manner. Whilst there’s no real substitute for the experience money can buy you with a professional mountain guide, the course was an incredibly useful experience, one of which I gained much from. I really can’t recommend the AST programme enough.
I believe many people gravitate to a level in their skiing when real backcountry is what they really crave. Don’t get me wrong, I love resort skiing, but let’s not kid ourselves, there wouldn’t be many days skiing in a resort where I wouldn’t swap it for being out in what often feels like your own personal wilderness, ripe and abundant with opportunity. Fortunately, Alltracks Academy’s off-piste course didn’t just whet the appetite, but delivered the banquet. Following on from the AST course, our group would then head out to the Hurley Pass to join Backcountry Snowcats for two days of immense powder skiing.
Our cat adventure began with us having to snowmobile to our lodge in the Hurley Pass. Ninety adventure fuelled minutes of snowmobiling at that. So much fun it was easy to forget that we’d be skiing fresh powder for the next two days. And boy were we doing just that! Our first day saw the stars align to give us a bluebird powder day that even the two guides admitted was one of the best of the season. Not a track to be seen, our group spent our two days in steep trees, open bowls, drops, and even pillow lines. At one point, there was even some retro powder eights going on. It was magic!
The Backcountry Snowcats trip was a fitting way to see out what has been a truly amazing eleven weeks spent out here in Whistler with Alltracks Academy. A new group of friends putting all their new skills to the test in the most wonderful of environments. Everyone got their powder fix… or did they?
Well, not quite it would seem. Thoroughly addicted to the powder as I am, I decided the best thing to do would be to arrange a private cat trip with yet more new friends, this time with a different local outfit: Powder Mountain. This was not me being powder greedy, but was me wanting to share the joy of backcountry with yet more friends that had not been part of the first trip. We quickly assembled a group of twelve (including Alltracks’ very own Guy Hetherington), set the date and prayed that Ullr would be kind. I’m pretty sure you’d all agree that 50cm of fresh was about as kind as it gets. Oh my days was it deep.
Spending the day skiing blower pow with your friends is a priceless experience. High fiving triumphs, laughing at misfortunes, generally having the time of our lives. Whether it was out in the surrounding backcountry, with Backcountry Snowcats or Powder Mountain, myself and my buddies created lasting memories. Sharing in all the intricacies of backcountry skiing, the pinnacle of our sport in my opinion, we all agreed that we’d simply have to make this magic happen more often. And for that, I’m glad. Turns out there really are friends on a powder day.