Click. I was landing in chest-deep powder, and it wasn’t the sound I wanted to hear. As I tumbled forward, I was already worrying about finding the ski. When I finally came up for air cursing, everyone else was laughing. I felt bad about making everyone wait on an epic day and kept expecting them to take off while I hunted unsuccessfully for the ski, but when I finally looked up, exasperated, I saw pro skiers Eric Hjorleifson and Chris Rubens, photographer Damian Cromwell and videographer Tim Grey in different spots probing and digging. There may be no friends on a powder day at a resort, but out here, where it’s both bottomless and endless, friends were just that.
Our home for the week, Sentry Mountain Lodge sits at 2,110 metres in the middle of funky, rolling terrain just north of Rogers Pass and is accessible only by helicopter. Above are peaks and alpine bowls, below are well-spaced old-growth cedar forests full of deep, protected snow. Abundant variation in altitude and aspect around Sentry ensures that you can find good snow any week of the season, and the benched terrain is tailor-made for touring.
Friendly pillow talk with Rubens. Cromwell photo
Our original plan was to take pampered superstars into the rugged backcountry and make them suffer for their shots, but Sentry made it too easy. There were no long approaches—you either skied right from the lodge or right back to it with no wasted time or effort. You earned your turns but made a killing on the deal. To make it even easier, a guide named Dave broke trail and showed us the path of least resistance. He had no idea what he was getting into and was forced to watch us launch airs, drop pillow lines, and ski general gnar while he planned out what a rescue would entail should something go wrong.
Just as Dave was starting to get comfortable with us, Eric found a monster cliff—a solid 15 metres, which, in December, looked like the biggest drop any of us had ever seen. We humoured him with “Looks great, buddy,” when the truth was it looked ridiculous. Tight trees led into a long launch that wasn’t steep enough to gain speed unless you brought it with you. The takeoff was around a snag, with brittle old branches waiting to grab a jacket. The landing was steep and deep, but only if you didn’t go too far. Coming up short also wasn’t an option—it was less a cliff than a disjointed tumble of sharp rock. As Eric skied into the behemoth, it looked like he was going too fast, but as he left the snow it was obvious he was confident and perfectly balanced. His hands didn’t move, and his skis were pointed perfectly toward the landing. His calm movements and the sheer size of it all gave the illusion of slow motion. The snow detonated in a violent cloud, but Eric popped out in perfect form. Even Dave cheered.
Hjorly gets friendly with the locals. Cromwell photo
We only had five days and needed to get after it. The boys found a super-booter rock in one of Sentry’s many boulder fields and challenged each other to a send-fest. Eric launched a lofty, picture-perfect Backflip. Chris stomped a Corked 720 but wasn’t stoked on his form. His next shot was different—a sickly steep slash above a cliff that I pictured being a slow, controlled couple shots. Chris saw it differently. He came in hot and laid into the turn. Sunlit crystals fanned out from his skis. Trees, rock and blue sky framed his dialed stance. He carried all the speed off the cliff, flying right over me with a stylish Safety grab and greasing the landing.
Both MSP stars were using Alpine Trekkers so they could tour on their usual skis with downhill bindings. Stashed in their packs on the way down, they added to the weight of skins, food, water and other extra gear. The heavier packs were a hindrance when flipping and spinning off monster airs but were necessary in this setting for safety. Alpine touring gear wouldn’t do because of the possibility of injuries. And if sleds or helis were around, they could get you out of a place quick if shit hit the fan, but a rescue while ski-touring was a huge effort. How far could we really haul someone up a hill covered in chest-deep snow? There were no machines around, and calling one in from wherever would be a crapshoot. The truth was, you couldn’t afford to get seriously hurt up here.
Hjorleifson finds a friendly neighbourhood. Cromwell photo
On our final day we rallied out late and climbed to a high ridgeline, tearing our skins off on a small peak. We hadn’t skied here yet, and Dave took a moment to explain the terrain and what to watch for. All I heard was that there was 600 vertical metres of well-spaced trees on a steep pitch. Before Dave had even finished his directions, Chris and I were off. It was going to be a friendly race for pure fresh. I skied as fast as I could but couldn’t ditch him. Our laughter and yells grew louder as we skied through corridor after white corridor at reckless speed. The guy behind couldn’t see anything between face shots and spray from the other skier. With a maniacal laugh, Chris accelerated past me. I’d pointed it in retaliation, accelerating in a desperate, blind attempt to get ahead when… click! But Ullr was on my side this time, and I’d found the ski instantly. Kicking into it, I heard the others coming. I wasn’t sure my binding was on properly, but I had to go. Friends or not.
Golden Alpine Holidays