“For me, my livelihood has always been based in the outdoors.” Jay Starnino pushes back a little in his chair and looks at the table; “my happiness has always been based in the outdoors, and so much of that is the visual quality.” We’re seated near the back of the Last Drop, one of Revelstoke’s preferred watering holes. Jay’s in town for the weekend, having made the trip the day before, from Kelowna, where he’s most of the way through an environmental engineering degree. That’s how his winters go: haul ass in the classroom Tuesday through Thursday and then stop, clean the slate, and get lost in the mountains until the weekend rolls over into Monday and it’s time to head back again. His girlfriend’s parents are sweet, and they let him stay at theirs’.
Jay's primary sponsors are Liberty Skis and Fresh Air, a Kelowna-based shop that takes pride in supporting a strong cast of local talent. | Photo: Jordan Sullivan
It’s a self-sustaining lifestyle. See, there are folks in the UBC Okanagan engineering program whose lives are dedicated, devoted - cult-like - to the discipline. People who eat, sleep, and breathe engineering, wear the iron pin in their hat and the faculty jacket on their back. They have the blueprints to their lives all laid out, the same story as any corporate-minded faculty. Jay moves among them but avoids the kool aid. A profession is a means to an end, but skiing is boundless.
Photo: Jay Starnino
Now, that’s not to say that Jay has no plans of his own. Far from it. “If I can be ski touring and biking in these beautiful serene places, I want to keep them looking like that,” he says firmly. So: environmental engineering. A plan for the future, a means of preserving the raw proportion of the mountains for another generation. And not without pausing to enjoy the outside along the way. “There’s the famous old cliche ‘if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem,’” he reminds me.
New this season, Jay has been shooting for Hello BC, the provincial tourism board. It's given him the opportunity to shoot with the likes of Blake Jorgenson (photo above), whom Jay describes as one of the most impressive, intuitive photgraphers he's worked with.
Jay, now 22, first came to Revy half a decade ago, when he was 17. He’s quiet in a self-assured way, his outlook expressive of the place itself. Originally from Bragg Creek, Alberta, he went to the National Sports School in Calgary and is a founding member of the Goon Squad. He is the kind of skier whose passion keeps him grounded as it draws him into greater, wider spaces. I feel guilty saying it, but I learned about Jay from the clip below. That’s first run, incidentally.
The shot is actually part of a longer video. Jay’s into his second season making POV journals. They’re more like documents than edits; a firsthand account of a day in the life. The process is unstructured, capturing “one specific period of time” and framing it for the record. Sometimes it’s just a single day, not more than a week at most, that stands out against the rest of the season. The whole thing is designed to bring the viewer - who, remember, probably doesn’t get to ski Revy - in on Jay’s experience in this spectacular terrain.
Photo: Jordan Sullivan
Jay is first to acknowledge that we are “pretty fortunate with what we’ve got” around here. Taking a mental tour of the peaks that loom heavy over Revelstoke, “you’ve got Mackenzie, Cartier, Ross, Begbie, MacPherson, Tilley, Boulder, Turtle, Frisby, Sail and Mount Rev … you can see those all from walking outside this bar and you can ski every one.” The thing is, “the chairlift only takes you up one of them.” If you want the goods, you need to walk.
Photo: Auzzy Hunter
Out of bounds, there are fewer rules and harsher punishments. You need to have your shit together. “Touring is really cool in that way,” says Jay, “in that you have to run a pretty tight ship, you know. You can’t be an hour late getting out the door in the morning and not have your bag packed properly and not have enough food and not have enough water.”
Out there you have to stay focused. Movement becomes mechanical; you check your altitude and monitor your progress. One foot in front of the other, kick turn, skirt around prickly terrain. You are responsible for your own damn self.
Jay doing his best Chris Rubens. He never forgets to pay respect to the greats who have pioneered Rogers Pass: Rubens, Greg Hill, Joey Vosberg among many more. | Photo: Auzzy Hunter
It’s fitting that Jay spends as much time going uphill as he does coming down. There’s plenty to get away from, plenty of background noise. As a skier, he has never been preoccupied with the limelight. “I try and run a pretty low key show,” he says. “I’m not trying to be on the front page of newschoolers every day.” After a pause, he adds: “I love skiing. I hate the ski scene.” But there’s also plenty to see up there. The fact is, sometimes the only way to get the big picture is to make yourself small. Cut a track zigzagging to the ridge and look out at the back of beyond.
Photo: Jay Starnino
In the backcountry (the real backcountry too, not just the access gate at your resort) there isn’t much room for self-congratulation. “It’s powerful,” Jay says, “there’s no way you can get away from that.” He continues: “something I’m learning as I get older - as I get a little more mature with my skiing - is that it’s physically and mentally sustainable.” He’ll be out in the pass at 50 just as he is at 22.
Jay Starnino finds wisdom out there. He’s sat in the empty theatre of the mountains, heard the deafening silence, and gained perspective on the things that make the “real” world go round: security, success, likes on Instagram. Out there, where you can’t hear the highway anymore, and the clouds roll through the valley like it was some giant spillway, those elements are reduced and you’re left feeling miniature, staring dumbly at the beauty of it all. Like a “psychedelic experience without the drugs.” It’s what makes Jay happy. It’s what makes him a skier.
Photo: Jordan Sullivan