Words by Darryl Hunt
Photos by Darryl Hunt (and Duncan Browning and Ian Stibbe as specified)
We all know that skiing is quite possibly the best thing in the world. The amount of freedom and joy you can experience with a pair of skis on your feet is hard to match for those of us lucky enough to experience the sport. So why stop? After so many years of dedicating myself to, and shaping my life around skiing, the thought of giving up the ski bum lifestyle is not an easy one. Lately I've been in a vicious cycle where I wonder what I am doing with my life. I know there is more to life than just skiing and I feel the need to move on, while at the same time there's a voice inside my head telling me I'm a fool to give it up. My main philosophy on life for years has been "do what's fun", and since I've been a little kid, skiing has given me more joy and perspective - both inner and outer - than anything else combined. Just like with anything though, if you aren't growing, things tend to lose their appeal.
A mountain top in the backcountry is a very powerful place. It's hard to put into words the energy you feel while high in the mountains on a clear day looking out into the endless mountains that seemingly go on forever. The word freedom is almost an understatement.
I've talked about this in the forums before, but felt like it should be addressed again during this series due to it's relevance to the big picture. On November 9th, 2013 NS member 'Lou.' made this thread: http://www.newschoolers.com/ns/forums/readthread/thread_id/763563/ asking how to stay motivated to keep trying after taking hit after hit. Here was my response:
"I've gone through waves of progression and 'regression' with my park skiing. In about 2007 I had an epiphany about my skiing, personal progression, and keeping the love of the sport alive. I learned how to ski at something silly like 4 years old, I have skied my whole life and around 12 years old I knew that I was a skier. If you were to define who I am as a person in the simplest way, I would say "I am a skier". Between the years of 2003 and 2006 I kept getting stuck in ruts as far as park skiing goes. I went from trying to get the grab in a switch 9 and trying to cork 1080's to just throwing 360 safeties with the odd 540. While at the same time I would just casually ski around the mountain not really going for any real aggressive terrain. I just wasn't pushing myself while out skiing.
One night back in 2007 I realized that if the trend were to keep going, I would ultimately get bored of skiing and do something crazy like move to the city and get a desk job. Obviously this was NOT an option, so I made a promise to myself to get my shit together. Since that night I have purpose on the hill. Every day I put skis on my feet I have to progress something in my skiing, try and push myself - no matter how big or small. Doesn't matter if it's trying a new trick in the park, hitting a new cliff, stack of pillows, or new billy goat line, or something as simple as working on my edge to edge, balance, and timing on a groomer. No matter how big or small, I need to try and progress something - always work towards being a better skier.
If you don't try and push yourself, you WILL get bored and quit. Use that as your motivation to hike back up and try that rail again. Because if you give up on the rail after your first try, how can you expect to go anywhere with your skiing? You have to try again for the sake of the future skier in you."
Now, I think this is a very important mentality to have if you want to keep your love for skiing alive. Over time, life has an annoying way of getting in the way and making this sport (or hobby) called skiing end up taking a back seat and lose it's ability to lure you out onto the mountain every possible chance. I know I'm not alone with this mentality, and I'm sure it is shared by many higher up pro's in the game. While simply competing might be enough motivation to keep progressing, I would like to believe that most pro skiers - especially film skiers - true motivation for progression is to keep the sport fresh and enjoyment/excitement levels at an all time high. I've done a lot of reflection this winter at a personal level, and looking at the sport as a whole, and how far everything has come in just under 20 years. Watching Henrik Harlaut's nose butter triple being thrown down alongside Jossi's zero spins and nose taps at the 5 ring circus this month made me very, very proud to know that what 'we' started back in the late 90's has matured into what it is today. The weird part of the whole thing is, I don't even ski park anymore - like... at all.
Photo by: Duncan Browning
While my park days are over, I still enjoy getting upside down every now and than. Here I am doing a flare tail grab on a quick quarterpipe my friend and I build out of a windlip in the backcountry earlier this month. Yes, I am using Dynafit FT's in this picture.
Progression, at all levels, can take many different forms. It's no coincidence that most of the best big mountain skiers today started their roots in the park, and racing/moguls before that. One can only do the same thing for so long without it losing it's something special. I find the natural progression of an individual skier beautiful. Combine that with ability for someone in this sport to have so many different ways they can slide down a mountain is what I believe truly separates skiing from almost every other sport in the world. We do something special, there is no doubt about that. We partake in sport that is one of the oldest in all of humanity and is constantly reinventing itself every few decades - that's not exactly something to you can just ignore.
Here is where I start to lose myself though.
You see, I've been in love with skiing for as long as I can remember. I was around 4 or so when my parents put me on skis and sent me down the hill. My early childhood memories are filled with being a little dude just exploring around the small hills of Ontario, getting my first taste of the absolute freedom one has while skiing. After a quick attempt at racing in my early days I realized I like being in the air and joined a moguls program. Mogul skiing set me up perfectly for the upcoming park movement during my teenage years. Fast forward a few years to 2003 when I moved out to BC and officially started my ski bum career. Before I moved to the mountains, keeping motivated to ski was quite simple and to the point: learn new tricks in the park. Once I was in the mountains though, things got harder and more complex. Park days were going down in numbers and I didn't have the skill set or mountain knowledge to properly take advantage of my new playground. This is where [as mentioned in the post I quoted above] my mental game of keeping motivated hit it's hardest. Once I refocused my energy into progressing my skiing in any way possible, everything clicked. I was doing tricks in the park with a new found confidence and even adding some style to my jump game, I learned how to properly ski mountain terrain, and eventually started to get into touring and exploring the backcountry. Switching from park skiing to 'REAL skiing on REAL mountains' is arguably unavoidable for anyone who dedicates enough time to the shred. I'm sure everyone has their own reasons and does so their own way, but in the end, we all end up as powder skiers eventually.
Looking down the guts of the aptly named Forever Young couloir before dropping in. While I have learned that accessing this kind of terrain isn't always for me, it's pretty amazing to think where skiing can take you. I'm sure not in Ontario any more!
A funny thing happened to me over the past two years though. As my mountain skills improved over time, my thirst for bigger mountains and more consequential lines grew. This led me to making a move from Rossland to Revelstoke two years ago in search of big, alpine terrain. As I started to get to know the mountains around Revelstoke and hitting some big lines, I wasn't really feeling it as much as I thought I would. The terrain I have been skiing is legit, and the mountains sure are big, but something has been off. Two weeks ago I was on a hut trip surrounded by huge terrain and waking up to blue bird skies every day, but the snow pack was very spooky with lingering potential of setting off huge, propagating avalanches. The desire to hit certain lines was always trying to win my decision making over skiing safe, mellow terrain. I've spent a lot of time during and since that trip thinking about what it all means and I have come to yet another epiphany about what I actually want to ride. While yes, the big alpine lines are very desirable and tempting, I don't believe it's worth the risk in the end to spend my winters focused on trying to ski them. Does that mean the past two seasons were a waste? Not in the slightest. You'll never know what you don't want until you try it.
This natural avalanche happened right behind the hut on the day we arrived. While throughout the week we weren't getting any signs of stability issues, we knew the layer was there, and if we ever wanted to forget, this guy would always remind us of what was lingering below, waiting to make us a statistic if we chose to ignore the signs.
Over the course of my skiing life I have transitioned my focus in skiing in a very stereotypical way - little shredder to moguls to park rat to big shredder to pow skier to where I am now, a backcountry skier looking for big mountain lines. I didn't choose that path because it was what I was supposed to do, it just kinda happened by coincidence that my skiing evolved in the way you would expect it to - until this winter. I realize now that I find the most fun and enjoyment in skiing by playing in the safety of the trees hitting smaller, less demanding terrain. Some could look at it as a step backwards, but as I said earlier, the best part of this sport is the absolute freedom you have while clicked into your skis. For years I considered anyone who was still jibbing in their mid 20's and older as 'doing it wrong'. Why would you still be hitting rails when you could (and should) have moved on to shredding pow in the mountains. Turns out, I was looking at the whole thing with the wrong mentality. There is no right or wrong way to ski as long as you are maximizing your enjoyment while participating in the sport. Next time someone tries to give you shit for hitting an urban rail, or lapping the park on a pow day, don't even bother getting defensive because in the end, you're the one who's having the most fun that day and that's all that matters. The key to a long successful life in skiing is to keep motivated and skiing how you want to ski, not by doing what 'they' say is the proper way.
Photo by: Ian Stibbe
This is my happy place. Stacks of pillows in the safety of the trees. Not sure if I'll ever get bored of skiing this kind of terrain.
I believe Warren Miller said it best at the end of Level 1's Refresh.
"Skiing's become very popular for a very simple reason. Man's basic instinct is his search for freedom. A lot of peoples first taste of freedom, is they traverse across a hill and make a turn. And if they can't get to the side of a hill, they can find it on a flight of stairs, they can find it on a rail. There's something about putting those slippery sticks on your feet that gives you freedom... ...When I go down the hill with people and I get to the bottom of the hill, everybody who got down there with a smile on their face were the same. And quite often when I'm skiing with people, all I tell them is 'Look it. When you're my age, I just hope you have as much fun as I just had on that run."