GREG HILL’S SHORT FILM on backcountry skiing, “The Unbearable Lightness of Skiing” was included in this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival. We caught up with the Revelstoke, B.C. native and interviewed him by cell phone in mid-November. He was at 6000 feet, skiing in the mountains when we spoke to him and reported the snow was warm and coastal. Maybe that’s why he stopped to talk to us!
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO WHEN TOURING TO ACCOMMODATE FILMMAKING?
It used to be that because I had so much extra energy I would do a couple laps to burn up some time and get a good run in for myself. But I realized that’s a little selfish and maybe I could use my energy for filming by running around getting creative angles on what we were doing. Using my fitness to capture what we do, while not slowing what we do.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE WITH YOU WHEN YOU DO A SHOOT?
I wouldn’t really consider it a shoot, it’s just what we do on a day-to-day basis. We are not setting these scenes up. They just unfold, with three or four of my ski-touring buddies. I would like to not force the scenes. This is backcountry and this is how we do and why we do it. It’s just backcountry as it is in its true form.
IS THIS FILM HELPING YOU TRANSITION TO BEING MORE OF A FULL-TIME PRO SKIER?
I won’t lie to you. There is definitely a move to get more sponsors behind me so that I can keep doing what I do and somehow get paid for it.
THERE’S NO SHAME IN THAT.
I would be quite happy if I could support my habit and then share this amazing habit with everybody.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SERIOUSLY BACKCOUNTRY TOURING?
This is my tenth year of really going for it. 1999-2000 was the first year I got my skins and started really getting up there. In my early twenties I got into rock climbing and loved the physical challenge of it. But I popped my shoulder out and I thought “well, now what do I do?” I ended up finding just as many challenges and rewards in backcountry skiing as I had in rock climbing. It was an easy transition.
DO YOU SKI MUCH OUTSIDE YOUR HOME BASE IN WESTERN CANADA?
Because I’m a family man with two kids and a wife I try to do most of my adventures near home. Luckily Revelstoke is surrounded by more adventure than I could knock off in a lifetime. It’s limitless. I have travelled to Alaska and Europe, but I like to come home and see my kids after an amazing day.
GIVE SOME ADVICE TO OUR OUTDOOR DADS ON HOW TO CONTINUE WITH ADVENTURES AND STILL BE WITH YOUR FAMILY?
That’s a tough one. It’s a very fine balance. You need to do what you can to keep it balanced like get up at 4 and be back by 10. You need to keep strong on both fronts because family is very important and more rewarding in the end than mountain travels. If the mountains make you who you are than your kids will respect you for going out there.
Kids definitely change your perception of risk. You want to make sure you make appropriate decisions and get back to your kids so they can be inspired by what you do.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD ANY CLOSE CALLS SKIING?
Yeah. Probably. I’ve never been buried or anything like that but the mountains do have their dangerous aspects and there have been some close calls, but I try to pay as much attention as I can to avoid those.
ARE YOU TALKING MOSTLY ABOUT AVALANCHES?
Yes, but there are cliffs and crevasses too.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO FOLKS WHO SEE THE FILM AND WOULD LIKE TO TRY BACKCOUNTRY SKIING?
Be wary, and recognize that it is a dangerous world and that you should get as much knowledge as you can. Knowledge is what is going to keep you alive out here. I highly suggest taking a course or skiing with people who know a lot about it and pay attention as much as you can.
WHAT’S YOUR OFF-SEASON LIKE?
I’m a forestry worker so I plant trees and do tree-related jobs to maintain my lifestyle.
IF SOMEONE WERE TO COME UP TO REVELSTOKE AND DO BACKCOUNTRY TOURING, WHERE IS A GOOD PLACE FOR THEM TO GO?
Right now I am at Roger’s Pass which is a backcountry Mecca around here. It has an access road that will take you to 4500 feet with access to all sots of terrain.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SKIING ACCOMPLISHMENT?
A few years ago I tried to do as many 10,000 foot days in a season as I could. That was one of the hardest challenges I have ever undertaken. I would aim to climb 10,000 feet in each outing. I did eighty days like that in one year a couple years ago. That feels like the pinnacle of what I’ve done.
WHAT’S YOUR SECRET?
The biggest thing is believing in what you are trying to achieve. I have a firm belief in the goals I have set for myself. If you go up believing instead of going up doubting, belief will probably take you to the top. I had a mantra; breathe and believe.