Words & photos by Jeff Schmuck
It's day three for Momentum and day four for Camp of Champions up here in Whistler, and after a beautiful and sunshiny day up on the hill yesterday, the infamous west coast rain returned today making for some seriously wet but still seriously fun skiing on the Horstman Glacier at the top of Blackcomb Mountain.
So because the weather hasn't been all that Dubai'ish over the past few days and as a result we're lacking on the usual bluebird photo madness, I figured I'd take the opportunity to start these camp updates off with a look at the true unsung heroes of summer camp...the diggers.
The diggers are the hard working men and women who really make camp what it is, as long before, during and after the campers arrive and click into their skis, they're up on the glacier spending long and back-breaking hours constructing, shoveling, shaping and salting the ocean of features that will bring an immense amount of stoke to so many kids over the next month.
Here's what a few of them had to say about their lanes and how things are looking for this summer...
Bailey Mitchell & Carl Fortin, the ski diggers at COC
How are things going so far at COC?
Carl Fortin: Pretty good. I started last Thursday and we spent the first two days working on the big hip on the left. We put a lot of work into it and it's super nice this year. Then we put in all the rails which was also a big job, but we're on time this year which is good.
Bailey Mitchell: Yeah life probably couldn't be any better. Most everything is set up and in full swing. Some of the wall rides at the bottom need a little work but otherwise everything is looking really good. We're just waiting for a little sun so everyone can start sessioning the big jumps.
Did you guys start earlier this year to get things going?
Carl Fortin: Well I only started on Thursday but I know some of the guys were up there like two weeks before camp with the cat drivers, getting all the big stuff done like the jumps and piling the snow together to create the hip.
Bailey this is your third year digging right?
Bailey Mitchell: Yep, year three. Time flies, and it's been a really good couple of years. It all started for me because of you guys with the Make Me A Digger contest. It pretty much made my life. It helped get me my winter time job at Powder Mountain Cat Skiing as well, so I definitely won the lottery with that one (laughs).
Just how much work has it been to put everything at COC together this year? Because it really is a massive park that you guys seem to put together pretty quick.
Bailey Mitchell: Well compared to years past it's been a little less work due to the lower snowpack. Less snow means a little less features but it's been good because it's given us the opportunity to be able to focus on the features a little bit more. Like for example with the big jump line last year we had three jumps and the last jump was huge so not too many people were hitting it, where as this year we've only got two so I think it'll get more attention and spread people out a little bit more.
Describe a day in the life of a digger.
Carl Fortin: We're at the bottom of the chair every day at 7:15am and usually head up before the campers. We start by salting every feature to make sure they're hard all day, because there's so many people riding on them that it's tough to keep them nice and firm since it can get so slushy. Then we open the park and if there's any work to be done on the features we get right to it, but if things are looking good we get to take a few runs. Then we go for lunch a little earlier than the campers because when they go for lunch it's super quiet in the park so it gives us some time to salt everything again and make the features nice for the rest of the day. Then in the afternoon we again work on anything else that needs touching up and get to do some shredding, and then after we close to park we salt everything again so the groomers can go on the landings, because if it's too soft they can't do anything.
It really is a hell of a lot of work but every digger sure seems to love what they do.
Carl Fortin: Oh yeah man. It's great because we all have our own ideas on how we can set up the park and the camp listens to us, so it's super cool to create the park and then have the opportunity to ride it. And if I wasn't a digger I wouldn't be able to afford to come to camp so it's definitely worth all the hard work. And everyone riding the park is stoked, and they appreciate what we do, which is the best part.
What feature are you most looking forward this summer?
Bailey Mitchell: Pretty much all the rails. Living in Whistler I've gotten pretty use to boxes so I'm looking forward to getting on some metal and transferring my tricks over to those.
Carl Fortin: For me it's the big left side hip at the bottom. It's bigger than last year and we put a lot of work into it and I'm sure everyone is going to have a lot of fun on it and people will get some really good shots.
Charles Bedard, head digger at Momentum
So this is your first year as head digger here at Momentum. How's it going so far?
Really good. I've got a great crew this year. A lot of them are from Calgary and I've got a couple of kids from Quebec and Colorado. We've been putting in a lot of hours lately because we unfortunately had a few problems with the mountain on cat time so that's why the old High North lane is still in progress, but we're going to get it done asap.
How long have you guys been at it for?
We picked up some rails at Hemlock Mountain on June 7th, and then after that we took some time to make sure they were looking good by cutting boards and doing some stencils on them. Then I've been on the glacier with David Lakey out cat driver for the last week and a half. So it's been a lot of work. The day before camp started we were actually on the glacier from 7am until 11pm.
You pretty much pulled an all nighter up there too didn't you?
Yeah the day before that I was up there until 4:30am and slept in the patrol shack. It was a wood cabin so I'm not sure why but I ended up having some crazy nightmares (laughs).
Describe how challenging it is to put all of this together.
Well the funny thing is I was a digger at High North for a few years before Shane promoted me to be a coach, which was really cool, and now I'm the head digger at Momentum. So it's kind of come full circle for me because I've been involved in all of sides of camp over the years. It's a lot of hours and it's a lot of prep but to be honest, it wouldn't be possible without the great crew I'm in charge of. They give me their valuable input every day and I'm there to regroup them and make sure everybody is happy.
Yeah as hard of work as it is it seems like your crew is always pretty stoked when they're on the hill.
Yeah you know I've been in Whistler for nine years now and when I was first digging I was digging to ski and that's exactly what my guys are doing now. I'm on a little different program now because I of course still love skiing but that aspect of it isn't as important to me as it use to be, but I realize how much my guys want to ski and how much work they do so they can.
And on top of the skiing you must get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the campers smiling...
Oh yeah. Seeing the campers smiling and having a good time is by far my favorite part.