Posts Tagged ‘whistler’

Gold Medal Poet: That Night in Whistler

August 23, 2016


The first time I was presented with the idea that healthy people might die due to circumstances beyond their control was when I was about ten years old. It was a Friday night sometime in the 1960s, when the last thing that TV stations would show were five year old (or thereabouts) movies. It was a summer night, and my dad and I sat down to watch Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees:  The Lou Gehrig Story, a movie that my dad warned would be “a real tear-jerker.” Not knowing quite what he meant, we watched the movie and because I was a sports nut at the time, I loved it, that is, of course, until Lou is struck down with the mysterious ailment that still incapacitates and kills thousands of people each year. I’m absolutely gutted by the time Lou delivers his famous “luckiest man alive” speech, and for the first time in my life, I found out that life wasn’t fair. You never quite get used to it.

As Canadians found out in May of this past year, the Tragically Hip’s lead singer Gordon Downie had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Within days, it was also announced that The Hip would go on tour one last time, nominally in support of a new album entitled Man Machine Poem.

Dozens of bands have done farewell tours. Only one—that I can think of—has ever done a final tour because its lead singer/muse is going to be dead in less than a year. At the very least, it was all going to be, as Downie sings in the fabulous Scared, “a little beyond anything I’m used to.”

The Hip, as we call them in Canada, hadn’t really scored a major hit in a decade or so (in the days of file sharing, iTunes, and Spotify, who really has, and when was the last time you listened to an album for fully and completely?).

Still, the news shocked our northern nation. There are several reasons for this. First, at 52, Gordon Downey is still a young man, even though you might call the band, which has been together since 1988, “semi-aging rock and rollers.” Secondly, The Hip are a band borne of a Generation X demographic (Canadian writer Douglas Coupland coined the Gen X term) that broke decisively with the baby boomers and their Guess Who and Gordon Lightfoot albums. The Hip emerged along with The Pursuit of Happiness, Crash Vegas, The Skydiggers, 54-40, and, a bit later, the New Pornographers and the Joel Plaskett Emergency.

Not all of this new Canadiana made it onto your local FM stations, but The Hip certainly did. However, they were never a singles band-every song on Day for Night, Phantom Power, and Trouble at the Hen House was a keeper.

More than anything else, The Hip made CDs for long Canadian road trips; “looking for a place to happen, making stops along the way.” I’ll leave the laundry list of Canadian towns to the vast array of Hip completists to fill in the blanks. If anything, some of us would consult our Reader’s Digest road atlas to see exactly where the 100th meridian might fall, or ask a more literary friend if there really was a city called the Paris of the Prairies. All I know is that you could buy a Hip CD, toss it into your car or truck stereo, and the goddam thing would be stuck in there for weeks on end, until you’d wake up in the morning and have the lyrics of Wheat Kings in your head while you brushed your teeth.

The lyrics were written courtesy of the immensely talented lead singer Gordon Downie, and we really don’t know much about his personal life. (Just yesterday, I found out that he has four kids; who has that many, these days?) The band have been notoriously publicity shy for the past three decades, and, unlike in the United States where rock journalist’s careers are built on seedy exposes and well-planted puff pieces planned by unscrupulous PR hacks, most Canadians are happy to let him live his own life (maybe we’re all still horribly embarrassed by that farmer who stalked Anne Murray, all those years ago). The media personality with the closest connection is likely George Strombolopolous, and even then his interviews are respectful if not deferential, and mostly about the music. Maybe, unlike Americans, Canadian artists crave a bit of privacy.

On a scale of the crazy-ass Hip devotees out there, I’ve gotta say I’m probably about a 3 out of 10,especially when it comes to seeing them in concert. Strangely, it was their success that caused me to lose interest in their live shows. I first heard about the band when a former roommate played them in my apartment. He had just turned 25, freshly graduated from UBC, and I was 35 and, similar to now, kind of stuck as to what to do with my life. I instantly took to songs like Blow at High Dough, New Orleans is Sinking, Boots or Hearts or (gulp) Thirty Eight Years Old.  My enjoyment, though, was tempered by my roommate’s admonition: To get The Hip, you must see a live show.

And so, I did. I can’t recall the year, or the tour, but I sure as hell recall the venue because it was the historic Commodore Ballroom, where I had seen incendiary live acts like The Pogues, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Graham Parker and R.E.M. The story goes something like this. They played two nights, and they were both sold out. I went with a friend of mine, the scalpers wanted too much money, and he split. I stuck around and can’t recall how much I paid, but I got in.  And The Hip were ‘as advertised’, throwing sweat in every direction off the stage and Gordie, wound up like a dervish while the pretty much all male crowd rocked furiously away. It wasn’t punk, it wasn’t blues, but it borrowed from both idioms in a uniquely Canadian way. Like the Aussie band Midnight Oil, who were also big at the time, the Hip were anthemic without devolving into self parody, like post Born in the USA Bruce Springsteen. The Hip were sort of like E-Street Shuffle Bruce, best seen in a small club where you felt that special bond between artist and audience; a bond that I’ve come to realize goes one-way for most musicians, I bet most artists find so called “superfans” to be a total pain in the ass.

When dates were announced for the Hip’s final tour, I knew that it would be a memorable event, but was pretty sure I didn’t want to spend even the hundred bucks or whatever for nosebleed seats in 16,000 seat Rogers Arena. And besides, within minutes, due to the wonders of bot technology and the Death Star that is TicketBastard, all of the seats were sold. People were furious, and for good reason. Even politicians got into the act, promising some kind of “legislation” that would prevent such a travesty from occurring in the future. (Note to politicians—we’re still waiting).

Out of the internet, though, grew a tiny request—one of those Avaaz or whatever petitions was circled, asking the CBC to live-stream The Hips’s final concert in Kingston, Ontario—where they had formed and played their first concerts (like early Beatles and Stones shows, there are tens of thousands who claim to have ‘been there’, but of course they weren’t… only a dozen or so people were, legend has it.) And, without a Royal Commission being called or a senate subcommittee, the mandarins who run Canada’s national broadcaster agreed to go along with it.

As the tour gathered steam, a superb body of rock journalism was assembled. Dave Kaufmann in the National Post. A story on Downie’s oncologist in the Globe. Chris Koentges’s fabulous story comparing Downie to Terry Fox in Slate. (What? Slate?) And even, shockingly, a fabulous concert review of the Air Canada shows in Toronto that appeared in the New Yorker. Critical mass was building as the tour commenced and the summer rolled on.

Almost immediately, the resort municipality of Whistler announced that they would host a live-stream viewing at the excellent Olympic Plaza facility. Though in the following weeks other venues would become available much closer to home, I knew that Whistler, with its die-hard collection of hosers and tourists, would support The Hip… and I was right.

Arriving ten minutes or so before the show, most of the grassy area was covered in blankets, seats, beach chairs, and umbrellas. Fittingly, the finale of the Women’s 800 metres was being shown in rich HD on the jumbotron (or whatever they call those things now) and   I groaned when I saw Ron Maclean do a bit of a schtick with the Olympic athletes in Rio in welcoming CBC viewers to The Hip’s simulcast, but then I thought, “what the hell. Poor Ron has been so screwed over by Rogers. It’s great to see him doing what he does best, digging into our small town roots.” And, on a night that many would later put up there with Paul Henderson’s winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series against Russia, I recalled that Henderson’s birth certificate was the same as mine—the quintessential small Ontario town of Kincardine; one that could easily have been immortalized in any Hip song. Hockey and small town Canada; joined at the Hip, indeed.

I started feeling a bit mushy during the intro, when they showed some clips of old videos—long since forgotten by me—and it struck me, “damn, this really is it for Gordie, tonight. I choked up just as the cameras cut away to the band coming on stage in Kingston—the town where they got their start— and they went straight into high gear with a rousing 50 Mission Cap.

Then, my phone buzzed… it was a friend from Calgary, I guy I was once close to who reminded me of the time that I asked him if his Toronto Maple Leafs cap was his “fifty mission cap” — and he caught the reference right away. He was just texting to say hi and remembered the great memory of that song, which elicited tremendous applause both off stage in Kingston and, perhaps somewhat tepidly, in Whistler (after all, who cheers at a TV screen? That is just, like, weird…)

It took a bit of time, but the concrete pad at the front of the “stage” started filling up with people; initially, parents with one eye on the screen and another on their restive children. A third of the way through the show and there were likely a couple thousand people gathered, and by now dozens of true fans were near the front, unabashedly mouthing lyrics and having a blast.

I watched an texted with my friend Torben, who had seen the show in Vancouver on July 26 (coincidentally, my 60th birthday) and each text got more and more excitable as both the hits and more obscure songs were played to an ever-frenzied audience. At one point, I thought Gord’s energy was flagging somewhat but then the first encore featured incendiary versions of New Orleans is Sinking, Boots and Hearts, and probably the song that launched their careers from a commercial perspective, the propulsive Blow at High Dough.

If the first encore had been nostalgia, the second set was “one for the fans” that people will be talking about for ages. Nautical Disaster, (more on that, later) a song I wasn’t much familiar with. The gorgeous ballad Scared, followed by Grace, Too and that mournful yowl near the end where Downie is overcome with emotion. A day later, a brief clip of Downie lost in tears would emerge on social media.

For the final encore, I hung out with my friend Frank, who had lost his brother to glioblastoma in 2015. Frank’s seen the inside of a lot of hospitals as a health care professional, and was the first to admit that Downie looked pretty damned energetic up there. “He’s certainly channeling something pretty deep… I don’t know what it is.” It was likely Downie’s famous muse, the one first identified by his Grade Nine drama teacher.

After the show, I was supposed to go over to Frank’s place and stay the night. But I felt weird. I had to process what I’d just seen. So I drove back to the city on, in a turn of phrase from Bruce Cockburn, “the warmest night of the year.” The sunroof open, the windows down, and fragrant mountain air blowing through the cab. My copies of Phantom Power, Trouble in the Hen House, and Man, Machine Poem went into rotation.

I cracked open a beer and my Facebook page, and found the community I was looking for;  people who just wouldn’t let go and wanted to share their thoughts about the show, like an online version of Cross Country Checkup.

I searched out Nautical Disaster on YouTube, since it was a song I was unfamiliar with and it made a big impression on me. The tears were flowing by the time I got to “those left in the water were kicked off our pant leg/and we headed for home.” A callous witness to history, Downie is. More than anything, Downie is so young and so handsome in this evocative black and white video. In his concert, he wondered when, exactly, women started showing up to his shows, well, I’m guessing this was as good a place to start as any. But at 2:30 am Pacific time, six hours after the show, I had to shut it down for the night.

There was even more to ponder, the next day.

Two memorable events stood out for me; one during the concert, and the other in the plaza. Gordon Downie called out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not once, but twice during the show. The first time, I thought it was pretty much a free time political telecast that Trudeau would lead us into an historic reconciliation with our aboriginal First Nations. The second time, though, I wasn’t so sure it was a metaphoric high five as much as an admonition not to let people down on this extremely important issue. As he mouthed, “thank you” to Gord and the band, I wouldn’t blame the PM for feeling a little bit intimidated by such a big ask; after all, if you’re going to win votes by wearing the t-shirt, you’ve got to hold up your end of the bargain.

The second observation was of a mid-20s couple in front of me who were locked arm in arm for the longest time. I didn’t think much of it other than they literally appeared to be “joined at the hip,” and then, on closer inspection, saw that they were two guys. I’ll bet Downie himself would be pretty damned impressed that a gay couple could come to one of his shows and just be another pair of faces in the crowd; it wasn’t likely how things were in the raucous college town of Kingston back when the Hip got their start in 1984.

Yes, the Kingston, hell, the CANADIAN, finale had tears. But it also held hope. Far as I could tell, the band and its fans were going out in style, but also remembering, as none other than Peter Mansbridge tweeted, that this special night was “about the music.”

Is Gordon Downie making us scared by confronting our own mortality and forcing us to “push through” whatever challenges we have while we’re still alive? Yes, quite possibly he is. A great artist can of course do that, but in Downie’s case he’s showing, not telling. Doing, not talking.

When the tour was announced back in June, The Hip said that they “wanted to blow people’s minds.” Well, to quote that great line in Scared, “You did what you said you’d do.”

Thanks from the bottom of our hearts, Gord. That was one hell of a Night in Canada.



The World Comes to Whistler (Again), Which Resorts Are Open (and Closed), Deals, Deals, and Going MOD with Recon

April 12, 2012

“It Begins…” Canada’s Biggest Ski and Snowboard Festival At Whistler: Photo Credit: Mike Crane/WSSF

Hey, if I wasn’t laid up with post-op knee surgery, you can bet I’d be couch surfing up in Whistler and attending the TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival. From its humble beginnings as the World Technical Skiing Championship to a year-end party that is totally huge in its scope and creativity, the TWSSF brings together the international ski and snowboard tribes to shred, talk story, show videos and images, and generally spread the stoke. And of course with a snow base that’s measure in hundreds of centimetres, (I gave up counting in mid March), the skiing and riding will be truly awesome.

In no particular order, here are my top picks:

Olympus Pro Photographer Showdown – Wednesday, April 18, Whistler Convention Centre. What, it’s SOLD OUT already? Maybe they should move this event to Rogers Arena to accommodate everyone who wants to see it. Good luck to elder snowboard statesman shooter Scott Serfas, who is an entrant this year.

The Mountain Culture Variety Show – Sunday, April 15,Whistler Conference center

This could really be the sleeper event of the year, given the outstanding artistic talent on top. Coast Mountain Culture Magazine, and The Spearhead Huts Committee present the first annual Mountain Culture Variety show which promises to be one that will leave audience members’ palms sweaty and hearts pounding.

To evoke the mountain madness, the show will use the state-of-the-art audio-visual setup from the Pro Photographer’s Showdown and will feature presentations from local mountain enthusiasts Jordan Manley, Sherpas Cinemas, Robin O’Neil, Johnny “Foon” Chilton, Chris Christie, Les Anthony, and Sterling Lorence. Emcee is some guy named Scott, who is pretty funny. To learn more about the Spearhead Huts Foundation, go to:

Tickets are $20 and will be available at Whistler’s Escape Route and online here. The show starts at 9:00pm and will run until 11:00pm. Doors will open at 8:00pm.

World Skiing Invitational – April 19 – 22

You can bet there will be plenty of Red Bull helmets when the world’s top freeride skiers converge for this star-studded season ending event in slopestyle, big air, and superpipe. The guest list reads like a Who’s Who of the DEW Tour of X-Games and includes Bobby Brown, Gus Kenworthy, Joss Christensen, Jossi Wells, Kaya Turski, Russ Henshaw, Tom Wallisch and Torin Yater-Wallace. This is the biggest freeskiing event to be held in Whistler since Jon Olsson competed back in 2009.

Who’s Open, Who’s Not?

Easter fell a wee bit early this year, but the copious snowfall through March has pushed closing dates ahead at several resorts.

Closing This Weekend: Mount Seymour, Big White, Silver Star, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Still Going Strong: Grouse Mountain (April 29), Cypress Mountain, Mount Washington (April 22), Mount Baker (Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays – through April 29), Whistler (April 29), Blackcomb (May 28) – note that both Whistler and Blackcomb are now open a half hour later, until 4:00 p.m. daily)

Done for the Season: Red Mountain, Whitewater, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Hemlock Valley Resort, Manning Park Resort, Apex Resort, Sun Peaks Resort, Kimberley Resort.

Deals of the Week:

Cypress Mountain, this is the final week of the Spring 2012/13 Season Pass Sale – Take advantage of teh lowest pricing of the year for next year’s passes – new passholders cross country ski free for the remainder of this season!  Sale ends April 15th.

Grouse Y2Play 2012/13 Snowpass: Almost sold out! The best deal in town is back for a limited time. Enjoy skiing and riding up at The Peak of Vancouver for this winter and all of next for up to 80% off regular pass rates. Y2Play sells out every year. Senior and Tot Y2Play Passes are already sold out.  Don’t miss out!

Whistler/Blackcomb: Too many fantastic lift and accommodation packages to mention. Renew your EDGE card and ‘lock in’ 2012 pricing.

Gear of the Week: Test Drive Recon’s MOD Live at TWSSF

Don’t miss your chance to demo Vancouver-based Recon’s MOD Live goggle technology on the slopes of Whistler during the Telus World Ski & Snowboard Festival. MOD (stands for Micro Optics Displays) tracks virtually every aspect of your ski/snowboard experience: Speed, Jump Analytics, Altitude, Vertical Drop, Distance, Lap/Lap Times, Location, Satellite Tracking/Navigation and more. The MOD Live is even Android compatible.

Take the test drive and you’ll be entered into the MOUNTAIN FM contest to win a MOD Live and the unreleased SCOTT NAV-R-2 goggle before it’s even on the market. Demos will available at Whistler’s Roundhouse (look for the Recon flags) from 9:00 am – 2:00 pm on April 14, 15, 21, 22. The contest winner will be announced 5pm, Saturday April 21st at the Mountain FM tent.

Recon staff will also take a photo of you showing off your top stat and post it on a Facebook album. You can tag your photo and show off your stats to all your friends. If you’re on Twitter, tweet about your test drive experience, brag about how fast you went, and start up a friendly competition with other test drivers using the hashtag #TestMODLive.

Say, What?

Following on the massive success of Sh*t Skiers Say – created by Voleurz’ Darren Raynor in January (1,000,000 hits and counting) is Jackson Hole based Lyndsey Dyer’s Sh*t Girl Skiers Say which dropped earlier this week. Dyer, one of the, uh, most photogenic skiers you’ll ever meet, with charging the Selkirk Mountains around Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Selkirk Tangiers Heli-Skiing.



Red Bull in the Baldface Shop, Final Kick to the Season, Save Big Dough at Cypress and Grouse, A Faster Way to Seymour’s Summit

April 4, 2012

Vancouver SUN Ski Guide Blogpost for April 4, 2012

Where to possibly begin with this week’s Vancouver SUN ski blog? After all, so many outrageous pictures and videos have been posted from skiing at areas all across western Canada. Here’s one with a bit of a reminder – just because a ski slope has tracks going down doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent safe. This pic was taken in the slackcountry near Lake Louise (a fantastic ski area where I skied for several years in the late 70s). Note that this avalanche slid right to the ground after dozens of skiers had gone over it. (So much for ‘ski compaction – note how tiny the skiers at the left of the picture are, for some perspective).

Though the Rocky Mountains generally have a sketchier, weakly layered snowpack, keep in mind that several CAA avalanche advisories have been posted this winter. Always go to to get the meta-forecast for the area that you want to ski, and watch those slackcountry zones (West Bowl, above, is only a short hike from the ski area, as is Taynton Bowl at Panorama, where two skiers went missing – and thankfully were found – last weekend).

Red Bull Super Natural on NBC Gives Great Exposure to BC’s Baldface Lodge

Baldface Lodge owner Jeff Pensiero must be grinning ear to ear after last Saturday’s two hour telecast of the Red Bull Supernatural snowboard event on NBC Sports (thanks, NBC, for timing it before the NCAA hoops semi final). The actual event went down in February, but this event had truly had Mother Nature on its side and some very creatively placed camera and Contour helmet cam angles. And the home made stunts were outrageous. Can’t find the full broadcast right now, but a Contour POV edit is online. BTW Red Bull, nice April Fool’s trick featuring finger boarder Mike Schneider on Sunday.

Kicking Horse Extends Season to April 15

Also up in the Rockies, March’s epic goodness has blanketed Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, which is staying open until April 15 – one week later than planned. On slope accommodation recommendation – the Copper Horse Lodge co-owned by my good pal Gord Vizutti. Don’t miss the Lushmasters Dinner, April 7th @ 6:30pm in Corks Restaurant, located right in the hotel. Five courses paired with 5 alcoholic beverages!

Generations at Whistler-Blackcomb

Whistler-Blackcomb has dropped so many deep pow shots and videos in the past month that they’ve created a special video room to watch ‘em all. This edit is from mid-March, with over 30 cms today (April 4), I’m sure there will be more. The Generations video from Switchback Entertainment features a sentimental look at one family and their history of skiing at Whistler.

Sarah Burke Public Memorial

A Special Memorial on Tuesday, April 10th in Whistler Village will be held to honour the life of Sarah Burke, the female slopestyle skier who tragically passed away back in January in Park City, UT. Her loss reverberated throughout the larger sports world—you can expect that there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

 Jumbo Pass Ski Resort – Two Views:

As was widely reported two weeks ago, the BC government has granted final approval for Oberto Oberti (I love that name) and Grant Costello to proceed with their long term vision for a four season, glacier skiing resort high in the Purcell Mountains near Jumbo Creek. As these two stories in Ski Canada and The Adventure Journal prove, opinion is split amongst skiers as to whether or not this is a good thing. No comment from me!

Multi-Million Dollar Investment at Mount Seymour!

OK, so I cut and pasted this, so you don’t need to go to the link! Mount Seymour is excited to announce the addition of the five million dollar state of the art Mystery Peak Express quad chairlift.  The new detachable high speed Doppelmayr lift from Austria will be installed over the summer months in time for the 2012-2013 season. The Mystery Peak Express promises to cut line-up times by more than half and will transport skiers and boarders to the top of the mountain in record time, taking just four minutes, compared to the currently-in-use lift, which takes nearly nine minutes.

Outrageous Spring Skiing Deals at Cypress, Grouse:

With a base of over 400 centimetres and sunshine in the forecast, it’s Cypress Beach time – one of the best North Shore deals going. Or… even better, purchase your new 2012/13 Gold or Silver Pass now and Ski or Ride Free for the rest of this season – sale ends April 15th! Hopefully, they’ll get that barbecue fired up at the top of the Lion’s Express; that’s a great place to hang out and feed the birds. Grouse Mountain’s super popular Y2Play pass is now 80 percent sold out.

 Winter Surf Adventure:

Yesterday was not only a fabulous day on the slopes at Big White ski area, the surf was up at Antlers Beach near Peachland, as well. Don’t believe us – check out the video!

Vancouver SUN Ski Guide Blogpost: Week of March 11 – 17 – Steve Romeo, Shames, Whistler Pounded with Snow, Cypress March Madness, Radical Reels from Banff

March 14, 2012

Proceeds from the Radical Reels festival on Thursday go to the Spearhead Huts project. Here’s some awesome alpine scenery from the Garibaldi backcountry, courtesy of Liz Scremin.

No columnist or blogger wants to continually be the bearer of bad news, but this has been a really, really tough week for those of us in the snowsports world. Word arrived on Thursday that highly-experienced ski mountaineer Steve Romeo (and one of the best ski bloggers) from Jackson Hole and his partner Chris Onufer had been buried in a huge avalanche while attempting a ski ascent of Ranger Peak in Grand Teton National Park. You can read a fascinating interview in Outside Online that talks frankly about the kind of risks that elite level ski mountaineers like Romeo take.

Then, on Saturday, came the awful news out of Grindelwald, Switzerland, that Canadian ski cross team member Nik Zoricic died after landing on the final jump of the course. This tragedy has truly resonated throughout the snowsports world – huge condolences to his family and the Craigleith Ski Team. Nik’s father Bebe was coaching at the J1 Nationals in Whistler over the weekend. There’s a wonderful tribute by Zoricic’s team members on the Alpine Canada website.

Let’s not forget, however, that it was a weekend of great success, as Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon scored her first career World Cup podium Saturday, placing third in the slalom at Are, Sweden. Gagnon is ranked 10th in slalom and is only 22, so she’s got a bright future ahead of her.

Rio Tinto Mines White Gold at Shames Mountain

OK, how about some good – if not great – news? Yeah, the people of Terrace are getting that, following an announcement in the Terrace Standard that Rio Tinto will be contributing $175,000 over the next three years to help offset operating costs at Shames Mountain, which is now operated by a not-for-profit co-op. Of course, there are mountain managers who earn that kind of dough in one season, but here’s hoping that some of the other companies who operate in the Kermode Tourism Region will be able to step up and help out as well. If you want to get some idea of what the skiing at Shames is like, check out Jordan Manley’s video story of the little ski hill that could. Also compulsory viewing: mad Norwegian telemarkers from the Haglofs team poaching deep Northern BC pow.

March On The Mountain at Cypress

No, Cypress’s march on the mountain isn’t like those protest marches in front of the Art Gallery. It’s a two week long series of special events happening up at Cypress Mountain – things got underway over the weekend with something called a Nordic Fondo (or, is that ‘Nordic Fondue, maybe?) held at the cross country area over the weekend. There’s a whole list of fantastic events and programs, but perhaps the best one for harried parents is the Raven Riders four day spring camp. It’s a great deal and is definitely better than dropping ‘em off at the mall.

La Nina. Killing It At Whistler for the Second Year in a Row.

Talk about lots to do – on and off the slopes. The Whistler event calendar says that there’s a Winemaker Apres this week at Steeps restaurant, and a Nintendo Family Adventure Day on March 25, and there’s even the 15th Annual Showcase Showdown slopestyle snowboarding event on March 29. But the real story at Whistler Blackcomb is the 29 feet of snow that has fallen – and continues to pound down – on the bowls and glades, since Mike Douglas created that Embedded video, way back in November (Remember that?) Just another record breaking year in the Coast Range. Use those Edge Cards up, now!

Reel Radical Films Hits Vancouver on Thursday Night

Every year, the Banff Mountain Film Festival gathers up the craziest videos screened at their annual fall festival and sends ‘em on tour throughout the rest of the world. These Radical Reels will be coming to Vancouver on Thursday, March 15, at the Denman Cinemas in Vancouver. Tickets are $12 online and $15 at the door. The proceeds from the event will go to support the Spearhead Huts Project.


Winter Returns to BC, with Considerable Avalance Danger

February 22, 2012

Black Thunder at Big White Ski Resort

After a two-week hiatus, winter has returned with a vengeance to British Columbia, with all three North Shore mountains getting hammered over the weekend (almost a metre in 36 hours at Mount Seymour on Saturday and early Sunday). Reports have been excellent at Whitewater, Big White, and Silver Star as well, with all three resorts reporting over 60 centimetres in the past three days.

Backcountry Warning from Canadian Avalanche Association

Backcountry skiers should note that the danger scale for the South Coast has tipped into the ‘Considerable’ range which in many ways is the most dangerous, since some slopes can be 100 percent safe, while lingering instability in the snowpack on other aspects can lead to disaster. After doing a brief tour in Mount Seymour Provincial Park on Sunday, I came back home to find out that three experienced skiers had perished in an avalanche outside of Stevens Pass, WA. Among the deceased was Jim Jack, whom I met a couple of years ago when he organized the only Canadian stop in the Freeride World Tour at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. In this particular accident, 12 skiers were buried and one of the women, Elyse Saugstad, was saved when she inflated her ABS avalanche safety airbag and stayed on the debris bed, despite sliding for over 600 metres down-slope.

For the most complete avalanche data, consult Karl Klassen’s blog at

Y2Play, Buy/Ski Today

With snow bases totalling well over two metres in southwestern BC, there’s plenty of time to enjoy your Grouse Mountain Y2Play Pass, which went on sale last weekend. A financial saviour to mortgage strapped parents throughout the Lower Mainland, Y2Play is one of the most successful season pass promotions in western Canada and is valid for skiing and riding from the day of purchase through the end of the 2011/12 winter season. It then becomes valid again October 1, 2012 through the 2012/13 winter season. You can even get 50% off brand new 2012 Giro snowsports helmets, plus discounts on many other Grouse services and attractions. Note that there are a limited number of Y2Play snowpasses, and this promotion sells out every season.

Mount Washington Awash in Snow

Mount Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island will extend their winter season by a full week in April. Skiers and snowboarders can now carve the slopes until April 22, 2012. With a 334 centimetre base as of February 21st , they could ski well into June, I’m sure.

Hollyburn History Lesson Happening in March

Do you dig North Shore ski history? Well, Mount Seymour’s Alex Douglas informs us that Hollyburn Lodge Through the Seasons & Generations premieres at the West Vancouver Historical Society’s General Meeting on Wednesday, March 14, 7:00 pm., West Vancouver Seniors Centre (21st St & Marine Dr., NW corner).

The 60-minute film was produced by Don Grant, Hollyburn Heritage Society, and includes many historic and contemporary photos, home movies and HD video. The film reviews the history of this historic building in its setting beside First Lake and the decades-long effort of the Society to gain community-wide support for the restoration and continued maintenance of the lodge.

Celebrity Sighting at Mount Seymour

Was that really Red Bull athlete Sean Pettit up at Mount Seymour last weekend, giving ski tips to members of the Mount Seymour Progression Freeride team? Seems that’s the case, as this short video proves. Pettit, who has had huge feature segments in the last three Matchstick Productions (MSP) videos, is finally getting his own K2 signature model ski next season, called the Pettitor.

Stoked on the Film Fest

The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival ended on Saturday night with a raunchy chat from those Patagonian bad-boys, Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy. Their feature presentation on climbing and then removing bolts from Cerro Torre showed a lighter side of what truly has become one of the more fascinating mountaineering controversies of the past couple of decades, at least ever since the Into Thin Air debacle on Mount Everest. It was pretyy obvioThe 2012 Juried awards were also handed out, including Freedom Chair (Best Short), Solitaire (Best Ski Movie), Conflict Tiger (Environment), Moonflower (Climbing) and On the Trail of Genghis Khan (Grand Prize Winner).

Londoner“Stoked” on Tourism Whistler’s Sabbatical Project

“Stoke” is to the 2000s what ‘extreme’ was to the 1990s, but whatever, the English language is getting pounded from all sides these days. Luke Dillon from London, England’s life is about to change, for the next month or two, at least, as he gets to not only ski but experience just about every possible Whistler experience (midnight ziplining – who knew? Dancing with go-go girls?) including a photo session with the famous Paul Morrison. Dillon’s entry in the Whistler Sabbatical Project was selected by a trio of judges that included Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Tourism Whistler CEO Barrett Fisher. You can get a full idea of what Luke’s going to be taking part in, here. The real question is, is his team Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, or Fulham?

BC Ski Blog – Notes from All Over: Coldsmoke’s A’Coming, VIMFF, Zero Ceiling, etc

February 14, 2012


We’re well into the impressive program of films and guest speakers at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, and have been some amazing presentations. On Monday night, legendary sea kayak adventurer Jon Turk enthralled the audience at Centennial Theatre with stories and images from his ski/hike/kayak circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island. Lest you believe that all adventurers are young bucks sponsored by rampaging energy drinks, Turk is in his 60s, the author of a half-dozen books, and as he said, this trip had him looking death square in the eye (Turk had to be medivac’d one day after he completed his trip). His stirring narrative was reported earlier this year in the New York Times, and he recently wrote a solemn, yet inspirational, meditation on avalanches and death after the holiday tragedy on the Duffey Lake Road that took the life of pro patroller Duncan MacDonald. You can find out more about Turk’s adventures (and buy his books) on his website. National Geographic has nominated Erik Boomer and Turk as one of their Adventurers of the Year 2012 for their Ellesmere circumnavigation.

Quick Competition Notes:

Another awesome weekend for Canadian skiers/snowboarders, led by Invermere’s prodigious Ben Thomsen, who finished second on the 2014 Winter Games course in Sochi. Canadians took home five medals in the Dew Tour action sports stop in Utah over the weekend, while closer to home, Olympic snowboard queen Maelle Ricker from Squamish abbed first place at the Mount Baker Banked Slalom competition.

VIMFF Continues – Two Ski Show Nights

“Ski Night” has proven to be so successful that this year, VIMFF will have two nights devoted to sliding (and some suffering) on snow. Nick Waggoner from Sweetgrass Productions (Signatures, Hand Cut, and VIMFF 2011 Best Ski Film: Desert River) is coming up from the USA to present their latest film, Solitaire, along with stories about making award-winning ski films utilizing simple self propulsion.

Help Whistler’s Zero Ceiling Raise $20,000 ($4500 in one week… a great start!)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since Whistler ski pro/mountain biker Chris Winter started Zero Ceiling, an innovative programme that introduces at-risk street kids to finding a positive life working and playing in the Coast Range Mountains. Zero Ceiling has a fund-raiser happening from now until May 31st to select ten underprivileged youth to relocate to Whistler and participate in their Work 2 Live program.  Find out more about the great work that Zero Ceiling has done on their webpage and Facebook page.

Grinding at Grouse… on Snowshoes

Hikers throughout the Lower Mainland have tackled the infamous Grouse Grind – “Mother Nature’s StairMaster” as it’s been described. But did you know there is a winter equivalent that’s not quite as physically demanding? It’s called the Snowshoe Grind, and covers a 4.2 kilometre course from the Peak Chalet to the summit of Dam Mountain and back again. You can do the Snowshoe Grind at pretty much anytime, but the Snowshoe Grind Run coming up on February 25th offers plenty of prizes and is a great way to meet other snowshoers.

BC Nordic Photo Contest Offers Great Prizes, Courtesy Tourism Whistler and Yeti Snowshoe

The BC Nordic Marketing Society is running its annual Nuts for Nordic photo contest (no, you don’t have to be crazy to enter…). Upload your favourite (original!) photo of you, your family, or your friends enjoying Nordic activities, like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, Nordic ski touring and backcountry skiing in British Columbia. It can be a fun, goofy photo, a loppet pic, a family snapshot, or a contemplative scenic landscape. Just show them what inspires you out there as you enjoy BC’s beautiful Nordic trails and you’re in the running for a prize!

Hit the Road to Whitewater’s Cold Smoke Festival

For six years now, the Cold Smoke Festival has been British Columbia’s premiere backcountry skiing skills festival. With competition and courses from skiers like Eric Pehota and Allison Gannett, this three day gathering of the AT and telemark tribe is definitely worth the drive over to Whitewater to partake in. Meet and ski with Kootenay ski legends like Peter Velisek, Wren McIlroy, and Ramin Sherkat. Oh, and as always, there are awesome prizes by Arc’teryx, Genuine Guide Gear, and Backcountry Access. Make sure you check out the Backcountry Olympics page…

Eye Candy of the Week: Norrona Magazine

Norrona is a premium outerwear clothing company based out of Norway, and their on-line magazine is a visual delight. My favourite story and photo essay from this month’s edition was written by Kari Medig, an award-winning photographer out of Nelson, BC. He completed the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Traverse last spring and brought back some visually dazzling images.


All.I.Can – Ski Stoke With a Message

September 24, 2011

Christian Begin Meets Edward Burtynsky – A review of All. I. Can.

Skiers and snowboarders anticipate the arrival of winter by attending ski and snowboard movies. The deep powder segments, the ragdolling falls, the big mountain scenery, the spine riding – the boys at MSP, TGR, and even Warren Miller step up at this time of year to provide endless winter stoke mere weeks before the first snowflakes fall.

For 2011, there’s a new film gang who has ridden into town—the Rocky Mountain Sherpas. This trio of Alberta videographers burst onto the scene in 2008 with The Fine Line, an alternately soulful yet terrifying project about avalanches and snow safety. The Fine Line redefined the concept of a mountain ‘safety video’ in a fresh way that made it look like you’d actually never seen a movie in this genre before.

From there, the Sherpas aimed their sights higher. Much, much higher. Their next project was called All.I.Can. and it was going to be a movie about skiing and the effects of global warming on our mountain environment. A huge topic, to be sure.

The first thing they did was release a series of trailers that featured stunning photo and still videography, with creative genius that really technically pushed the envelope in innovative ways. The closest thing to it might be Stance Studios Life Cycles, a mountain biking movie, or That’s It, That’s All from Jackson Hole based Brain Farm Cinema.

So, in total, there was about six minutes of trailer footage. Could the Sherpas (which have now relocated to Whistler’s Function Junction creative hothouse, and dropped the Rocky Mountain part of their title in the process) concept play out over the course of a ninety minute movie?

Clearly, the sold out crowd at the Whistler Conference Centre thought so.

Initially, I was expecting an incredibly preachy, over the top visual presentation that would slap us upside the head about our wanton consumption habits in the wicked Western world. That message is there, in a manner of speaking, but this is not An Inconvenient Truth. What it is, however, is a pastiche of movie making styles that – unconsciously, I believe, pays homage to some of the best filmmaking of all time. In one long, run-on sentence: All.I.Can. contains the Canadian soulfulness of early Christian Begin flicks with the technical brilliance of TGR and Matchstick, adds a dose of Warren Miller humour with a topping of Jeremy Jones-style self-sufficient big mountain spine riding. Then there was an added element – the obvious debt paid to the industrial photography of Edward Burtynsky, whose haunting, large scale images of the Fort MacMurray oil sands and other resource extraction sites around the world clearly informed a lot of the urban/commercial images spliced through the movie.

But the sum is greater than these parts. Though a friend of mine who has viewed far more ski movies complained that “I wanted more ski porn, and the skiing was mediocre at best” – I did not want, nor expect – ski porn. I wanted something more – a thought provoking and visually stunning piece of work.

In short, I expected to be blown away, to see the best ski movie of all time. And for awhile, I thought that must be the case. As the chapters rolled by, I kept thinking “insane, this is insane.” But there were technical issues.  The voice overs from the skiers and, particularly, environmental activists like Auden Schendler and Arthur de Jong were really difficult to make out. The music was all boom-boom bombast, but I needed to hear the narrative. I got some of it, but not all.

The Sherpas real specialty, however, is special effects and point of view; notably long, time lapse images and aerial shots, along with super close in macro stuff (Eric Hjorleifson ‘traversing’ Mark Abma’s eyeball) – stuff the non-technical amongst us go: “How the hell did they do that??” Digital magic, of the highest order.

Afterwards, the same aforementioned critic said, “it was good storytelling and filmmaking, but it wasn’t (Sweetgrass Productions) Signatures.”

I hadn’t thought about that movie at all when I was watching All.I.Can. because they are very different projects. But I kind of agree; the Zen-like spirit that I go into the mountains to pursue was shoved aside, save for a fabulous sequence filmed at Whitewater of a group of seniors’ skiers playfully sharing their love of deep powder. That was really fine storytelling, and a treat to watch. Other highlights were: Kye Petersen in the Tantalus Range, the gritty urban jib seggy courtesy of the great JP Auclair, and an utterly rippin’ deep pow sled performance by Dangerous Dan Treadway that I took an enormous guilty pleasure in enjoying, though its response was quite muted throughout the Whistler crowd. It was almost as though people were afraid to root for anything that did not agree with All.I.Can.’s ethic. I appreciated the fact that logos and sponsor call-outs were all but non-existent.

In sum: the Sherpas delivered a mind-boggling cinematic treat. Not perfect: maybe fifteen minutes too long, with a few too many repetitive visual sequences. Thankfully it did not guilt us out with a scary environmental message. For the Sherpas know that ski movies are all about stoke, which All.I.Can. delivered that in spades.

La Nina in Da House… West rocks out with early season blower…

November 19, 2010

We all have our favourite bumper stickers. Mine fave – I think it originated in Fernie – is I HEART BIG DUMPS! And I do. And right now, across the western USA, all the way up into the Interior of British Columbia, it is puking. Pix from Silverton, Steamboat, Jackson, Alta, Whitefish, Whistler, Sun Peaks, Silver Star, it’s going off, just like the meteorologists said it would! Virtually every major resort in the West will be  open in time for US Thanksgiving next weekend, and from the looks of it, conditions are, like White Planet author Leslie Anthony sez, ‘it’s all-time!’ Late today, through the miracle that is Facebook, a beauty of a Vimeo segment dropped on the Black Diamond website that features one of the Pettit brothers – the elder Callum, who is shredding pow in BC and Alagna, IT, in this unbelievable footage with a PINK FLOYD soundtrack… I have never seen people so stoked for the season… “Waiting for Someone or Something to Show You The Way…”

Turkey Sale trip to Whistler, and another WB feature

October 10, 2010

Just got back from a quick day trip to Whistler, where the `legendary`Turkey Sale of used, rental, and discontinued gear was taking place. Wasn`t quite as lined up as I`ve seen in the past, but there were certainly deals to be had. I picked up a VANOC padded ski bag (a nice, if not belated, souvenir of the 2010 Winter Games – for $10! (List price: $70). Garage Sale Frank bought some Salomon DH boards for $50 – don`t ask me why – while I actually unloaded a couple of pairs of skis and was more than happy to turn over the 20 percent commish to the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.

Dropped in to the Escape Route, where shoppers were busy loading up on half price clothing from Arc`teryx, Icebreaker, and Patagonia. We Canadians love our bargains!

Also squeezed in a great moutain bike ride down the switchbacks on Binty`s High Trail – which was in outstanding condition. At one point, the trail was completely carpeted by yellow leaves. (Sorry, no pix). Eat your heart out, Utah and Colorado.

There was tons happening this weekend with the TGR presentation `Light the Wick`and an apparently really solid new bike movie called Life Cycles by some new film crew (Stance Films) out of the Kootenays. (Is everybody in the Kootenays a filmmaker… just asking!)

Another observation: Resort Muni of Whistler and ITW again owe a huge debt to Australia, whose booming resource-related economy is driving its young people to work at Whistler for their `gap year.`- Cheery smiles and nasally accents all over the place.

A superb story on Intrawest and WB hits the stands this week in Canadian Business magazine. I`ll have some comments on it tomorrow, but reporter Mike McCullough (disclosure: he`s a friend and former business partner) – has done a hell of a job and brought some new voices to the conversation who haven`t been heard from, yet.

I also got some very cool news about ski touring in the Spearhead Range that I`ll be investigating at some point.

Report from TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival

April 27, 2009

The TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival wound up today, and I attended from Thursday PM until Saturday. Caught the Pro Photographer Showdown, the invite-only “PowWow” by Origin Design (check out my blog post at MediaTent) on that event, the Metric concert on the Kokanee stage and even did some fine skiing’ over on Blackcomb on Saturday. Hard to believe that this is the 13th annual festival – I was invited to the very first one, which I wrote up (and kinda slammed) for Powder magazine in 1996. It truly bloody amazes me that there are so many people that come out for this event at such a late date in the season – truly a testament to the organizers at Watermark and the foresight of the event’s founders like Doug Perry, Skip Taylor, and Don McQuaid. After watching Jordan Manley (check out the guy’s blog) win yet another Pro Photographer Showdown, it’s perfectly obvious to me why the guy wins so consistently – he really ‘gets’ the storytelling concept of a slide show; outstanding images (of course), well-conceived music, and more than that – a flair for storytelling by ensuring that each and every image flows from the one before and leads to the one after. One thing I will say, though – Manley’s vision is pretty dark for such a joyful sport as skiing. I guess he’s spent too much time in the gloom at Whistler and on Vancouver’s North Shore shooting his subjects. I really enjoyed Christian Pondella‘s seggy as well; though I think that the constant  Red Bull logos didn’t work in his favour.