So, I am waiting at the airport in Vancouver after travelling over 2700km trying to find Mount Sicgnar (sick-gnar), it’s been an arduous journey. I began my search in Whitehorse and have crossed the northern Rocky Mountains, twice. Once travelling east and once travelling west, I have travelled the Duffy Lake Road to Pemberton and crossed into Northern Washington and all the way to Mt Baker and the mysterious Mountain has still eluded me. I have pulled my truck from a ditch and listened to countless hours of boring radio. I have braved minus 30 in my heatless camper and yet she evades me still. I caught a glimpse of her between snow storms in the Pine Pass, and I know she was in Baker, but I think she was hiding from the warm temperatures and may have travelled further north to escape deeper in the Rocky’s. I have heard her whispers in my sleep but, alas, she eludes me still. For the last two weeks I have been hearing many a report that she has made a sudden relocation to the French Alps, so here I am waiting to board a flight to France to continue my chase. I hope to intercept her somewhere near the Swiss border in the Portes du Soleil.  Oh to see her beautiful curves once more and touch her silky skin. Her shimmering white peaks, basking in the cool winter sunshine. My fingers are crossed and my ski’s are waxed and ready, will she be there? I sure hope so………

Dirtbag Dreams

October 2, 2011

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In December of 2009 I lost my father to a very short battle with a very aggressive cancer. Anyone who has lost a parent(especially one whom you are super close to), will understand that no matter how much you would like everything to return to normal afterwards, it never happens. Your life is changed forever in an instant. I had told my Dad of all my future dreams and goals and to an extent his death forced me to realise that hard work is to be rewarded immediately, because you might not have forever to enjoy the fruits of your labour. I returned home and spent some quality time with my dad and my family, I grieved, saw the birth of my first niece, gathered my thoughts and hit the road…….. again. This was the beginning of my Dirtbag Dream, a plan that I had explained in detail to my dad and now had a pretty solid reason to follow through on.

So in early March I returned to France for another season of grind cooking for luxury charter boats, on the internal waterways of France. 5 days of reprieve from the heat of the kitchen in 7 months was the financial base for my trip. For those who don’t travel much, but then envy the nomadic life I live, here is a lesson in making it happen. 12 hours+ a day, 7 days a week, 7 months straight. It seems as if someone has flicked the light switch at the end of the tunnel off at times. Any dent in the finances is like a poke in the eye with a hot stick or in my case a hot cigarette, as that is usually what puts the biggest dent in my savings. Luckily my workmates, a solid catalogue of music, a sprinkling of emancipating drugs and getting to travel all over one of the most culturally rich and scenically striking countries in the world got me through an eclectic 7 months. Phase 1 of my plan was complete…… a phase I like to call ‘The Forgettable Phase’

Phase 2….. Geneve, Morzine, Amsterdam, London, Singapore, Perth, Melbourne, Perth, Lord Howe Island, Sydney, Perth, Singapore, London, Geneve, Morzine, Vancouver, Pemberton, Haines, Whitehorse….. November 2010 till May 2011.  Enough said 7 months of work 6 months of play… I worked throughout the 6 months to top up the budget and left Alaska in late April after the most epic winter I have ever experienced, not entirely broke but well on my way to it. I guess phase 3 was about to start….. I had no idea what I was in for.

 

Drilling is hard work, twelve hour days of intense physical labour, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, 9 weeks on 4 days off and repeat…. I knew I was gonna have to work hard to continue my dirt bag dreams, being a ski bum without a sponsor(“I am a gaper”) isn’t easy (insert your advertisement here). Like I said drilling is HARD work, but it sure does pay well and this is now funding phase 4. Camper Truck, return tickets to France and Las Vegas, friends in Montana, Washington, BC, Yukon and Alaska and a three year old dream is becoming a reality……

 

So the adventure continues into late 2011 and 2012, who knows exactly what the future holds, but I know I am gonna keep trying to make my dad proud,  try my best to be a good ambassador for my country of birth and make sure I am smiling and happy and surrounded by good people to share such amazing times with.

 

Thankyou Dad and Mum….. you have always been people who I strived to make proud, I hope your keeping up with my progress. If i didn’t have such interesting parents who inspired me to travel I don’t know where I’d be.

Words for Snow

May 11, 2011

According to our favourite guide for writing wrong’s, “Google”, it now suggests that it is but a myth that Inuits or Eskimos as they are more commonly referred to, have an unusually large number of words for snow. I am therefore suggesting that those responsible for the largest number of words for snow may now, quite possibly be Ski Bums.

Think about it. How many ways can you describe a type of snow…….. Mash Potatoes, Cold Smoke, Wind Buff, Boiler Plate, Hot Pow, Cold Pow, Corn, Slush the list goes on. I can guarantee to you that the mere mention of anyone of these words can whip your regular society drop out, ski bum into abnormal amounts of conversational activity, before the actual thought of sliding on this wonderful stuff causes them to form a somewhat glazed over look and they become withdrawn and quiet.

Just like surfers and the endless thought of the next barrel, skiers and snowboarders only breath because there is the possibility of another epic powder day. We congregate in lift lines before they open, sleep in campers with our snow machines ready to run and wait in carparks in the middle of nowhere waiting for the heli to come and pick us up. We scrape by for the entire winter on leftover food, unshowered, unshaved and living in near poverty because the powder needle has been injected. Unlike smack heads though our habit is healthy and we work our arses off all summer to be able to live in poverty for yet another winter.

So next time you hear someone say ‘Eskimos have the most words for snow’ laugh it off, knowing full well, as a dedicated ski bum that you are in fact among the leaders of the ‘words for snow’ pack.

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What an immense thing to see…. nature accentuating it’s full capability to awe and amaze when you least expect it on a Wednesday night about 1 am.

Guide ships are fun, it’s where a qualified guide, in this case Ted Purdy, lead guide of Alaska Heliskiing, takes a bunch of up for it trainees out in the field to go get some realistic, steep and dangerous experience. It’s a way for us to learn and a way for the guides to judge and assess our ability as skiers and leaders. On this particular day Ted along with Lucas Merli (a shredder from Juneau with more mountain experience at 21 years old than most of us will ever have) took three of this years guide-schoolers (Roland Griel, Douglas Lawton and Myself) out to some ‘real’ terrain, places where clients rarely go and in this case two faces that had only ever been skied by professional skiers with film crews.

Puckering is a word that best describes the two faces, one chute with a slightly hourglass shape that starts off on a 50 degree pitch slowly mellowing into 45 and runs for nearly 2500 feet. This is called 50/50 chute, if you watch MSP’s In Deep you will see Henrik Winstedt tomahawk down this face whilst racing Daron Rahlves. To the lookers right of this chute on the other side of the cliff wall is a second chute called 25/50 and this is where my story really starts.

We were all buzzing from a successful descent of 50/50, all safely down at the pick-up zone. Lucas had set off a small reactive pocket, which I also released again from above the hangfire, but luckily we both stayed above it as the slides although small in weight ran full length of the chute at high speed (100km an hour plus)  It was then at the bottom of 50/50 we all assessed 25/50 and as a group decided it was time to drop that fucker. Although the landing zone is very pleasant in comparison to the stomach wrenching clifftop landing for 50/50 it is a far narrower and steeper chute that is probably 50 degree pitch for 2000 vertical feet with a split blind entry over a big convexity. I was pumped and nervous at the same time. This is the sort of thing I came here to ski and it was time to step up to the plate. Three skiers cut the top to check the stability and got to their safe point where the whole chute becomes visible and then sent it, all reports where great snow and lots of sluff.

My turn, I dropped onto the convexity and unloaded it before cutting hard across the chute to get to my island of safety but as I hit the previous cut lines I hit rock hard base and my rails went from under me and as this happened I got blasted by the soft slab I set off on top. As I flipeed the first time my speed doubled and I realised I could be in big trouble, after the second and third flip one of my skis had popped and I was still in the midst of the slide and still going very quickly. Luckily for me the way I landed meant that the ski on my downhill leg had stayed on and allowed me to bite that edge in and start to swim off the top of the sluff, with a combination of ski and swim I got out to the right side of the chute and out of the fall line of the sluff which continued to run the 1500 feet left in the chute.

The guys at the bottom had seen the sluff and the ski I lost run out of the chute but no skier, Ted had seen me go down but due to his position couldn’t see me either. I yelled up to Ted to let him know I was alright but had lost a ski and then I gathered my thoughts briefly before side stepping down the chute another 250 feet towards the possible location of the ski which Lucas had intuitively eyeballed until it stopped. With good radio communication from Lucas I finally dropped down to where he thought the ski was and could just see the toe piece of the binding popping out of the snow. I got that thing on as quick as I could, took a breath and skied as fast as my nerves and my shaking legs could carry me to the pickup zone where my friends were happy to hear I was uninjured perhaps with the exception of my ego. This was the fifth run of a day filled with good skiing and scary big faces, the guides had done their work with the professionalism you would expect from the best in the world and we all loaded the heli home safe, stoked and alive.

The biggest problem for me now is I need to get back to 25/50 and ski that thing again, the mountain showed me who was boss that day and we have a small score to settle now.

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This story starts with a series of random coincidences, a kind of bizarre journey and the making of many new friends. It was 6 in the afternoon and I was sitting at Heathrow airport waiting to depart for Vancouver. I was a ball of nervous energy, my first real adventurous travel in some time all framed in by an uncertainty of what my next few years would hold. Then I saw what I thought was a familiar face, a guy called Nic Mattia, waiting for the same plane. Turns out it wasn’t him, and I was once again occupied by my thoughts and music, for some reason though I knew I would see fake Nic again soon. Boarding was called and as always I wait till everyone is  boarded, then casually walk over and ask if there is a seat on first class for me. There wasn’t as usual but one day there will be. Anyway as I made my way towards my seat I realised my assumption was correct and as I sat in my allocated seat, I introduced myself to fake Nic, who was actually named Michal Osinin and was allocated in the seat next to mine. As always the normal questions of where are you going and what are you doing, followed the introductions and after very little talking we realised we were not only off to the same place, but the exact same course, The Alaska Heli-Skiing Guide School. Now it doesn’t seem all that special in print but when you consider that only 18 people are in the course, they make there pilgrimages from Germany, Austria, England, Australia, Czech Republic, Norway and so on and so forth, and they all arrive at different times in Alaska, there is approximately 10-20 flights leaving three of London’s airports and also roughly 450 seats on the particular aircraft I was travelling on, there must be a one in a million chance of meeting this person, before I arrived at the course.

This was the start of our pilgrimage, 2 fish in a big pond of ski bums making their annual migration to Haines, AK. Some may have already left and some may be leaving later, for some it would be the first time (ie. Michal and Myself) for some it would be the 20th, we will travel by train, car, plane, boat and helicopter and we will cover between us over a 1/2 million travelling kilometers. We are ski bums, but we are also mechanics, chefs, cricket bat makers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, digger operators, hunting guides and artists. We are here to learn not only about the snow but about ourselves. I am going to continue this exploration in a series of stories, interviews and photos of the characters involved,  in the hope of collecting enough information to apply for some independent funding to make a documentary about this strange cultural migration we make. I’ll keep you all posted and this story will become far more interesting, I guarantee it!

………….. working in sluff management, however,Kate Knott is……………….

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In the anticipation of endless trophy lines and blower powder I think that people who come to Alaska to ski, generally forget that this industry relies on perfect storms and optimum weather patterns, of which Haines is experiencing neither at this point in time.  That doesn’t mean however, that days should be spent moping around whinging that this place sucks whilst sat in-front of a computer watching the weather patterns in the lower 48 where you have just come from. You aren’t there and no amount of snow fall there is going to make your trip to Alaska any better!!

Pack some lunch and go for a walk, there are limitless amounts of trail heads to an infinite amount of amazing bays, lakes, peaks and coves to visit. Alaska is a vast wilderness, full of amazing flora and fauna, who knows what you may run into. For example yesterday I went up to Chilkoot Lake and at the inlet we saw a family of seals enjoying the fish trapped in the outflow. They were super stoked but not as stoked as we were, to be seeing them in action. All this happened under the watchful eyes of a couple of bald eagles and any number of Moose hiding in the edge of the forest, and shadowed by the youngest mountain range in the world carved out by receding glaciers in the last 10-15000 years.

Mother Nature rules up here, she sculpts those amazing lines you see in the ski films and she also blurs the parameters of reality when it comes to these visions we see. She provides  infinite wisdom and humbles us with her power on a daily basis. Go immerse yourself in her glow and for her sake, just forget about heli-skiing for a day!

Down Days…………

March 3, 2011

It’s -20 out, the winds howling, the jobs that need doing are done and the helicopter is definitely not going anywhere today, so what do you do? Guide School is over and those 6am starts are no longer mandatory, there are any number of ways to spend those 12 hour days that were spent learning and uploading information to your cerebral cortex.

Maybe some beacon practice, I’ve got a big backyard at the trailer and there are multiple burial avalanches going down there nearly everyday. Get your friends, get some stuff bags and go bury some beacons and practice your efficiency at finding one or more at a time, one day it could make a difference at saving one of your best buddies lives. Fingers crossed it doesn’t ever get to that, but if it does you want to know you are giving them every chance at survival.

So now your on the brink of frostbite, and you think your nose is about to fall off, what to do next? How bout cruise on over to 33 mile, get yourself a coffee and chat to some of the guides. They are a wealth of information on all things Haines. Snow reports, up-coming events and general knowledge is what you’ll find here and it never hurts to make some new friends.

That done and your guides are growing tired of you endless questioning, get a shovel and start building some form of ghetto terrain park. Your hours of hard work will be rewarded with down day skiing, jibbing and bonking and hopefully not an injury. Plus all your friends will love coming over and hanging out, chatting shit and maybe even getting a nice photo to send home to their friends of some gnar shreddage in the backyard.

Exhausted?? Go home and cook yourself some dinner, read a book, watch a ski flick or play some cards. Then go outside build a huge fire and throw some sacrificial skis on it, the snow gods will undoubtedly love you for it and provide you with a week of bottomless powder…. or maybe not…… just make sure they’re someone elses skis!!

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So, Heli Skiing in Alaska is scary. You get dumped on top of a mountain you’ve never seen the side of, you can’t tell how far anything is away, you’re on a tiny little ridge and you know the avalanche danger is high……… You also feel super alive, you can feel the earth under your feet and you breathe deep and tell your guide through the two way…. DROPPING!!  Then you get humbled….. you realise that thing you thought was about 200 metres away is actually 600 metres away, you feel your legs burning and your breath is like fire on your lungs, you wonder why you came here and you wonder why you didn’t spend the whole pre-season running 100km a day at high altitude…… this place is for big boys and I think at the moment I am still toddling and sometimes the only thing I think is “Dropping” is my stomach when I get left on the top of a 5000 foot line and I am standing on top of a 3 metre wide ridge with near certain death in the case of a fall to the south face.

Haines Alaska is real, the consequences are real and the fear is real. All you can really do is take a breath and hope you’re prepared……….

All that said, this place is amazing. The people guiding and teaching us are the best in the world. We have the lead guide and Alaska guide for TGR teaching us, we have spent 5 days under the tuition of Bill Glude, one of the world leaders in Avalanche research and the guides here come from some seriously gnarly mountaneering, skiing and climbing backgrounds…. I trust their judgements and I feel safer in their presence. Will I ever be one?? I am not sure, but I definitely know I am alive everyday I wake up here…..