Interview by Darryl Hunt. Pictures by Trevor Sexsmith
Every summer skiers from the Northern Hemisphere make the long journey south in search of the endless winter. The quest for year round pow skiing can be a long and expensive one, taking you to the far corners of the globe, in order to keep the skiing addiction alive. There are some people though who see the world around there for what it is. While most of us who stick around our homes in the summer months watch the snow melt while drinking a cold beer at the beach there are some who have other plans. Trevor Sexsmith has been on a mission to take full advantage of the lingering snow up high, long hours of daylight, and stable snow, and the big mountains around his home in Golden, BC. I sat down with Trevor and got inside his head as to what it's like to try and ski year round without heading down south for the summer.
How many months have you been skiing for now? Was it premeditated, or did it just happen organically?
I've been skiing for 25 months [in a row] now. 2 After I decided I wanted to live [in Golden, BC] full-time instead of just winters, that's when I thought I should go for skiing all summer long as well. I think I thought of just going as long as I could at the beginning, but in July or something it became clear that I could do it year round in the mountains around my new home even with my limited technical mountaineering skills.
What was the most ridiculous mission you have attempted?
There's been a few now. Well, a lot, but this one stands out and is before my blog. This was my first really consequential line I did solo, first time I made a truly inhuman early start, really the genesis of many things to come.
I had skied over Dogtooth Ridge to ski a pretty straightforward line on the north side with a buddy a couple days prior, and had a good view of the entire north side of the ridge. We spied a line that was so choice looking, I couldn't deny it. The next time the weather was looking right, I tried to get him to come with but he was busy with something and couldn't come. I had two mismatched mountaineering axes given to me just a little bit before and I was just learning how to use them. I got up nice and early and made the approach before sunrise. Because the ridge top is so jagged, you need to climb up a specific gully to reach your line, you can't choose a nice ascent route and traverse the ridge top to your line. So I went booting up a different chute than last time to hit the line I had in mind. Anyways, the inevitable happens on the steep, south facing gully in full melt-freeze cycle, I hit a bit of water ice. Now keep in mind, nobody has really shown me how to use these axe things, and I have no crampons, just ski boots. So what to do, turn around? That would be a shame, given what I know the snow on the other side to be like versus the near-unskiable avy debris and refrozen snowballs below me. So I decided to swing that spiky thing in the ice and see how it felt, and after a few sketchy moves I was on snow again. I could've chopped steps and done it relatively safely, but it hadn't occurred to me what the adze of the axe was for. Once at the top, I looked into what I'd seen from the other side. Is this the right line? What's that rock over there? All the usual uncertainty, magnified by a bad fall I'd had at the ski hill two years previous caused by not knowing the terrain I was getting into slowly disappeared as I studied the camera pictures and picked out terrain that fit the puzzle. Easing into the line, finding the most northerly aspects still holding powder at this low elevation, finding the right choke to ski through, committing to the hop turns, all the individual and estranged pieces of skiing big lines came together and gelled into knowledge and confidence. And an even greater hunger for more.
How often do you get shut down/can't ski the planned line?
I don’t get shut down very often. I'm deathly afraid of avalanches so I don't really get after it that much through the winter months. I wait for things to be become pretty ideal avalanche-wise before going for something big in winter. By the time all the nasty layers cook down in the spring, it's pretty much just you racing the sun and heat so things get really simple compared to skiing big lines in the winter, with a good success rate in consequence. I am more than willing to wake up at whatever hour necessary to get the line I want, I think that motivation is a pretty huge factor in not having to turn back very often.
Which month is hardest to get out and make turns?
September is the hardest month definitely. As the summer wears on, so does the remaining snow. You can go for turns at the start of the month, in order to have just a bit more of last season's snow, or you can risk it and hope for a good September dump. I remember last year, I went to a nice zone in August, then for September turns, decided to risk it and waited for some fresh snow to fall. Right at the end of the month, we got a big dump and I got my turns in. Just a few days prior, I would've been skiing massive sun cups, and in a couple days the zone turned into the powder skiing you picture in January.
Are you surprised by the conditions when you are out there so late in the year?
Always, man! Once the avy forecasts shut down and the remote weather stations stop being updated (looking at you, [Parks Canada]) conditions get really hard to predict. Last year, I was amazed at the meter plus that was on my pretty low-elevation firm snow patch, and even more amazed at the quality, laid up perfectly with the pack progressively more dense and cohesive the further down you go. On the flip side, this late May, I was surprised at how poor the quality was on the ~600m Tumbling Peak couloir. It was almost like snow that had weathered an entire summer already, despite a great aspect and reasonable elevation. So yeah, surprise is all part of the game, maybe even an appealing aspect from a certain point of view.
Tumbling Peak in May.
Ever question if it's worth it?
Sometimes on the way out if I got shut down I'll be down in the dumps for a little while. But I just need the next fix and everything is good again. Even with crappy snow, or a melt line up further than expected, everything is forgiven when I get the views off the top, enough to make bad skiing OK even.
Are you ever tempted on just doing a season in the Southern Hemisphere? Why/why not?
I've thought about it a couple times before I got into this whole summer skiing thing. The skiing here is pretty good year round though, and there are a lot of places that I wouldn't have seen without summer, there's only so many windows for big lines through the winter where the summer is pretty much game on all the time, logging roads are easy to go way back on, as options for skiing close for the summer, unintuitively there are a lot that open. I love the mountains around Golden, there's so much variety to be had within a couple hundred km's of here. Seems like a shame to split my time in the mountains before I really feel like I understand the ones around here.
From a more practical standpoint, it would be hard to do. Either you're a ski bum who makes enough money through the summer to live off all winter, or you're a career guy, and they can't let you go to another hemisphere for a few months. Even if they did, you'd be working like a dog all winter instead, so you probably wouldn't net very much additional "good skiing". Being sponsored or something is the only way I could see really getting your money/time's worth.
If you found a good, reliable spot, do you go back, or is the search half the fun?
Yes, that spot I was talking about from last September. A pocket glacier with no crevasses and just a couple hours from the road. I've brought a few friends there and swore them to silence so there will always be good Aug-Oct turns in there. But I actually haven't been back this year. You're quite right, the search is half the fun. Maybe even more because a good, new view makes up for a lot on the skiing quality front if need be.
Trevor and Ryan Ford below their September turns.
Are you usually alone on these missions? Do you have regular partners, or whoever you can convince to join?
Through the summer, I'm alone for most of the time. I go with partners whenever I can but I have gotten pretty comfortable going by myself. I do have regular partners, and prefer to go with them if I can. You get to know what they might have problems with, where they might get irrationally afraid, or on the flipside where I might push them too far out of their comfort zone. Things just go smoother with a person you've got some mileage with. If I've got a mission in mind that's pretty tame, I'll try out new people and see how they do. Really though, if you want to get things done, you really need to be able to assess when conditions are good, and have the courage to take everything into your own hands and go for it. Nobody's going to do it for you.
Ryan Ford following Trevor's boot pack up Destroyer Peak. October 19/14
How is your stoke level for the winter when you get your first pow of the season? Is it easy to jump the gun on winter and make these missions a more regular thing?
Pretty high! The first pow is always a surprise, you come out expecting and being prepared to ski some more hard suncups, or maybe with pockets of fresh here and there but the first real pow of the season is always magical. Considering most interior BC resorts only open in December sometime, it's so easy to get an early start on winter. Always at some point in October, you can get good snow consistently from then on, that's 4-6 weeks of some of the best untracked all winter, even due to almost nobody competing for it. Bring rock skis though, if you love your skis too much you won't have much fun.
Would you say skiing in the summer makes you better prepared for big missions come the winter months?
I'd say so. Being out in the summer, watching the sun make or break your day you really get a good feel for how quickly solar input can affect things, talking both stability and ski quality. You also get a lot of good lessons on skinning technique in the early summer, I can think of one line this spring that I literally couldn't have got to without good technique, plus all the extra speed you get from confidence in the merely somewhat sketchy skinning. But I think the biggest thing you get is perseverance, nothing like hauling boots, skis, overnight, glacier gear up a long ascent up scree and crap to snowline to harden you up and make you OK with whatever the mountains throw at you in the winter.
Stoked for winter? Wanna go for a shred? Let's do this!
Ohhh yeah, always stoked. Come up my way and I'll show you some burly stuff, regardless of season.
To see what Trevor has been up to in the past, and for future skiing excursions, check out his blog at http://www.perpetualski.ca