It’s the end of a day of clinics at the Coldsmoke Powder Festival at Whitewater Ski Resort, south of Nelson, B.C. Local freeskier Sam Kuch has been showing my small group some advanced techniques in the steep moguls on the backside of the mountain. We’re working our way back to the frontside when Sam stops on a cat track. “I’ll throw a backflip off this if you want,” he says, the way you might offer to pick up someone’s coffee tab. We say yes, obviously.
Sam boots up a little run-in, yells out “Dropping!”, achieves escape velocity on the cat track, and then proceeds to huck a huge backflip a solid 50 feet off the edge of the run into steep, skied-out chunder. Back at the base lodge, I breathlessly replay the story. The locals smile gamely, as if to say “A backflip, huh? Must be Saturday.”
It’s no coincidence that the athletes and talent showcased in contemporary ski films are often grown in B.C. (Kuch himself stars in two new releases, Matchstick Productions’ “Return to Send’er” and Blank Collective’s “Seven Stages of Blank.”)
Forget Texas: Everything is bigger north of the border. I call it the “Canadian curve.” It generally works like this: a ski run that is rated a blue in B.C. would be a black stateside. A black diamond would likely be a double black, and so on. Think of it as the inverse to the exchange rate, although I suppose in both cases your money is going a bit further—and faster, and steeper.
Part of this has to do with the terrain. The sub-ranges of the Rockies—the Selkirks, Purcells, Columbia Mountains and so forth—seem to come untethered from the Earth once they cross the border, stretching from rolling ridgelines into 9,000-foot pyramidal giants.
Part of it also has to do with the culture. The small mountain towns of the Kootenays and elsewhere seem to foster free-range parenting, which leads to free-ride skill down the road. The 6-year-olds sliding down a steep ice luge onto pavement next to the public library at the Rossland Winter Carnival are destined to compete in the very much BYOB (build-your-own-bobsled and otherwise) bobsled race down Spokane Street a few years hence. Both of these activities would have personal-injury lawyers in the States salivating.
This is not to fetishize Canada or overhype the extreme at the expense of everything else. There is certainly something for everyone on the Powder Highway; Big White and Kimberley Alpine Resorts, among others, offer some of the best family skiing and accommodations in the region. Hot spring resorts like Ainsworth north of Nelson provide relaxing soaks for anyone with a pair of trunks and love of steamy mineral-rich water. And there are more miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails in southeast B.C. than you could explore in a lifetime.
Don’t be surprised, however, if you get passed by a class of kids doing perfect powder-8s down a blue run. (That’s a “Canadian blue,” for those keeping score.) //