Cover photo by Jeremy Allen

For as long as there has been the sport of skiing in North America, there has been a pilgrimage of skiers to the true north of Canada. The limitless terrain produces and attracts some of the best skiers in the world - from Canadian legends such as Mike Douglas and JP Auclair to regular visitors like Tanner Hall and transplants like Sammy Carlson.

Right along the Powder Highway is the small town of Golden, often overlooked in favor of other nearby mountains towns and regularly passed by in the blink of an eye. Winter enthusiasts who do decide to stop in Golden are in for a treat though, as the town is home to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort - by far the most underrated resort in the Canadian Rockies.

Upon exiting the resort’s gondola, a vast sea of mountain peaks from the Dogtooth Range greets you with endless lines of untracked snow. Hundreds of chutes ranging from steep to insanely steep are strewn about, offering some of the easiest-accessible intense skiing in North America. For this reason, Golden has become a freeride capital, offering perfect terrain for big mountain competitions. Many of the skiers at this year's Freeride World Tour stop have been competing at Kicking Horse for years.

Wrangle the Chute, one of Canada’s most iconic freeriding competitions, was created with a different intention to most. It was more of a “How do we create an on-mountain party?” thing.

The event was the brainchild of Jordan Petrovics, the Event Coordinator for Kicking Horse Mountain Resort at the time of inception. “When we came up with the vision for the event, the whole idea was to do something a little different. A little off-the-cuff from a normal freeride event,” said Jordan. “The vision was to make it an event that was as equally entertaining for spectators as athletes.”

In 2008 the idea manifested a three-part competition that combined big mountain terrain, park jumps, and mechanical bulls. Competitors from pros, sponsored and unknowns began by skiing down CPR Ridge, hitting the sixty-foot booter then riding the mechanical bull dressed proudly as a horse. (Which was not even a mechanical bull, but actually a fifty-gallon oil drum named EJ Hector...) The final score was then a combination of the three different components.

Photos courtesy of Jordan Petrovics.

“Every year it was the best place to be,” added Jordan. Wrangle the Chute didn’t just involve competitors and spectators - it was both an on and off mountain party in Golden. Employees dressed up as cowboys, lifts were surrounded by haystacks and fake robberies were planned throughout the day. Matt Coté, one of the competitions back in the day noted that “In the early days people were hucking 30, 40, 50-foot cliffs - crazy ass lines! People won’t do them today. They still were able to set up their line to still hit the jump.”

The event was run for four years in the true, original cowboy-esque format. The Freeride World Tour saw the potential in the terrain and took the reigns of the event in 2012. Wrangle the Chute became a 4* qualifier for the Freeride World Tour, which in turn helped Kicking Horse be put on the map as a freeriding capital. When speaking to Jordan he expressed excitement about the attention Kicking Horse has gotten since the original Wrangle the Chute; it’s a really big deal. The addition of the tour gave local skies an opportunity to compete on a bigger stage.

Slightly lookers right to Wrangle the Chute venue, Truth and Dare.

Every single North American competitor on the tour has competed in Wrangle the Chute as a qualifier. It’s an iconic event that brings together a community of really really good skiers down really really scary lines.

It wasn’t until the 2018 season that the top-tier FWT competition made its debut stop at Kicking Horse. The event opened the previously permanently closed area, Ozone, which was quite a momentous occasion for the small ski town. For years the face of long lines of steep snow glistened in the distance, beckoning for someone to ski it. The zone originally belonged to Purcell Heli-Skiing but for the tour, the company made it possible to access the Ozone as a venue. For the price of a rather long hike, the area is open for all skiers to enjoy, not just competitors on the tour.

Ozone Face, not to be skied by the faint of heart.

Liam Peiffer, a local Whistler freeskier and rookie on the tour, has now competed at Kicking Horse at every level of IFSA competitions.“I am pretty certain that I have skied every competition venue at this mountain, so to be here on the tour just feels like the natural next step,” the Canadian said.

He began competing at Kicking Horse as a junior on the Whistler Freeride Team. After aging-up to the tour qualifiers, he then began to compete at Wrangle the Chute and in 2018 finished in first with a daring run which helped solidify his spot on the tour for 2019. This season he was able to make it back to Kicking Horse to compete at the Ozone, finishing in 8th on the stop after casually skiing off some giant cliffs and throwing down a backflip for good measure. “It feels like I am completing the circle in a sense and I feel right at home,” he added.

Liam Peiffer at Wrangle the Chute in 2018. Photo by Jena Lee.

Grifen Moller, a second-year skier on the tour and Colorado native, describes the feeling as moving from Wrangle to the tour as “better than sex,” though will admit that his line at the Ozone this year was, in fact, not better than sex. After landing a three right out of the gate, he clipped his ski on a hidden rock and fell. In this particularly shallow year, there were many sharks in the snow. Liam added that “if you think you’re going to hit a rock, you’re going to hit a rock.”

Canadian Logan Pehota also won Wrangle the Chute back in 2012 but didn’t qualify for the tour until a few years later.

In describing the terrain the Pemberton local agreed, “The first word that comes to mind is rocky...You see some lines and think you could ski down the whole thing, but really you just have to air over it all.” The tactic worked for Logan in the inaugural 2018 competition in the Ozone, earning him a first place finish in his homeland of British Columbia.

Logan Pehota’s 2018 Ozone run, avoiding all the sharks. Photo by Sam McRae.

This season, as a wildcard, Logan managed to billy-goat his way into some huge airs - even bringing back some of his park-background and stomping threes both ways. Airing over it all seems to work quite well for him, as he walked away with another podium finish in third.

Excited to be on the podium. Photo by Brian Coles.

Outside of the competition, many of the skiers enjoyed the delay days on the mountain by finding inbound lines of secret pillows, playful jump lines off the groomers and untracked chutes through a little bit of hiking. “To me, it’s the geography of the mountain that makes it stand alone, other resorts have that classic ‘British Columbia look’ but here, it’s just different,” explained Liam. “Everywhere you look on the mountain there is another feature to hit or a new zone to explore. It feels like the wild west of ski resorts in British Columbia.”

Over the years the town of Golden has managed to keep their authentic, western-ish vibe alive both on and off the mountain, making it a rarity in these over-commercialized times. With steep chutes, fluffy powder and harrowing cliffs Kicking Horse might just remain British Columbia's best-kept secret, but locals and visitors alike don’t seem to mind that at all.