One of my favourite places on earth is the Slocan Valley which is just north of Nelson. My parents own a small piece of property south of Silverton which is one of the few small towns that sit on the edge of the massive body of water that is the Slocan Lake. We call the property Graceland because of it’s secludedness and beauty. It has one small road that meanders through the property and ends at a small opening that is surrounded by a mossy forest floor and hemlock dominated woods.
Last summer my brother Sam, his girlfriend Caitlyn and I went and spent some time at the property. While we were there we had interactions with many different animals. Owls hooted in the dark, squirrels threw pinecones at us from the trees above, and we were escorted off the property by a dog we named Rufus. But the most interesting interaction was with a sightly larger animal.
It was the first day, we finished setting up our camp then wandered around the forest to remind ourselves and to show Caitlyn how majestic the eight acres really were. After a while we made our way back to the opening where our camp was positioned and started a fire. Evening was falling upon us and shortly after the logs in the fire began to crackle we had a visitor.
Caitlyn saw him first and pointed out that a deer walking down the road towards us. As he got closer we noticed one of his antlers was dangling in front of his face, which made him sort of spooky to look at. The other odd thing about him was he seemed to show now fear of us. We were more afraid of him! As he came uncomfortably close we made sure to keep the fire between us and the wild animal. After letting him do his thing for a few minutes I started waving my arms and I shooed him away. He turned around and walked back up the way he came. His head was down, and his body language was telling me he was sad and I immediately felt that maybe he needed our help. I started to call out to him, asking him to come back – which he did. He turned around and walked towards me, this time I wasn’t afraid and went into the woods towards him. I let him walk right up to me, he was so close I could smell him, then he stepped closer and began to smell my chest. I looked back at Sam and Caitlyn and slowly raised my hand and began petting the deer in complete awe. The others joined me in the woods and we stood there with this deer for about ten minutes.
After a while we decided to go back to the fire, and what did the deer do? He came with us. Once on the road he even galloped a bit, shook his bum and showed his teeth almost like he was smiling. He appeared now to be very happy.
That evening he hung out with us around the fire and would wander off into the woods, but if we called out to him, he would return and did so three or four times. It was one of the wildest experiences of our lives. We named him Dufus, and I can tell you, none of us will ever forget meeting Dufus the deer.
One thing some of you may not know about me was that I lived in a school bus for just over five years. For the most part it was as if it was an extension of the house I had it parked at, but the best time I had in the bus was when I had it parked on the Elk River one Fall for a few months. Those were actually some of the best months of my life, cooking by candle light, eating breakfast by the river and taking my mountain bike across the highway into the Provincial Park for a ride everyday.
When I had made my transition from town to the new location I only had one important item left to move, my canoe. I biked back into to town and met my good friend Davis at the house where the bus had been parked for a few years. We put my bike in the canoe and portaged from 4th Street to the edge of the Elk. I forget exactly how the conversation went but I remember Davis and I pointed out that neither of us had ever flipped a canoe…
At the river we tossed our shoes into the boat, tied my bike to the support in the middle just as a precaution and pushed off the shore into the rapids. It was a beautiful day, the sun was sparkling on the water and every once and a while a refreshing splash would come over the edge of the canoe, cooling us down as we paddled.
About half way to our destination we caught up to some girls floating the river, we stopped paying attention and struck up a conversation. Not a moment after we started talking we hit a shallow spot and tipped. Luckily we were able to half save ourselves and neither Davis, myself or my bike fell in but the canoe had taken on a lot of water. The girls laughed out loud and floated away, we could only imagine what they were thinking.
Davis and I were now stranded in the middle of the river and had no choice but to get back into the extremely tippy canoe that had water up to the edges. We almost didn’t make it to shore, but we did. We emptied our boat and laughed at ourselves and at the conversation we had earlier. We now had both officially flipped a canoe.
We cautiously got back onto the water, this time we payed more attention and went slower, hoping that we would not to catch up to the girls.
The rivers and all water for that matter, demand respect. So please be careful this summer.
It was a regular summer day at Fernie Alpine Resort, I was working on the trail crew still at this time but it was my day off. During those summers I would work five days a week building and testing the trails, then spend my two days off riding the resort. I would literally spend every single day at the ski hill for 2 months, and love every minute of it.
That day I was riding with a few buddies and we went to ride this new section I had been working on. That week we had removed two massive stumps and made a gap so you could jump from one trail to another. I came in first, launching from what used to be called Power Trip onto Mister Berms which led right into a corner. I came in fast but I came up short and my bike stayed where it landed. I shot forward with all of my momentum over Mister Berms and into the inside of the corner. Unfortunately we had thrown all of the chunks of the stumps we had removed earlier in the week into the inside of this corner and I went tumbling through the debris.
When I came to rest I couldn’t breathe. I had knocked the wind out of me. I struggled to remove my helmet trying to breathe, but could not inhale even the slightest of air. I rolled on the ground as my friends gathered around me. I couldn’t breathe for so long I began to think I was going to pass out before any breathe would enter my lungs.
Finally, a slight gasp of air entered and I painfully regained my composure. Everyone was asking me questions but I could not answer. After what felt like an eternity I spoke and said that I was fine, I just needed a minute and I would ride down.
I tried to stand up but could hardly move. We were close to the top of the Elk Chair so I tried to walk uphill but only made it a few metres and collapsed. Something was not right. One member of the crew jumped on their bike and ripped down to get help, soon after a Patroller on a quad came to my rescue and drove me down the base area where my friend Tanner was waiting. It was an uncomfortable ride to the hospital, both for me and Tanner who had to watch me in pain all the way.
The initial impact had missed my spine by a centimetre and the doc said I had broken five or more ribs. Luckily I had not punctured my lung and had to spend only a few hours in emergency hooked up to an I.V. and oxygen mask.
These ‘extreme’ sports are dangerous, but so exhilarating. A rush of adrenaline is like nothing else and keeps me coming back for more and more.
A few years ago, my brother Sam and I loaded up his pickup truck with our camping gear and my canoe and set out on Beese Road in Hosmer. We were heading to McCool Creek which is a small tributary to the Elk River.
At the mouth of the creek sits a miniature cabin, presumably an old hunting cabin. I say miniature because you have to crouch to get in the door and the cabin itself looks like that of a hobbit house. Inside there is a small wood stove and just enough room two people to sleep semi-comfortably.
We cooked dinner on the fire outside, shared a few beers and stories then shot guns into the night on the edge of the river, listening to the echo of the shots ricochet down the valley. We stayed up late that night, being brothers very close in age we easily kept each other company. We joked and laughed and danced until we decided it was bed time. After all, we hadn’t been canoeing in a few years and the water level was high. We wanted to be in good form for the mission, or brother-quest as we called it.
That morning we left Sam’s truck at the cabin and slide the canoe into the brown water of the Elk.
“Here goes nothing,” I remember Sam saying as we loaded up. I will admit I was a bit nervous. Anytime I share an experience like this with Sam, I feel an extra bit of tension compared to being with a friend. I guess, that is just the older brother in me, looking out for my kind.
We got about a kilometre down the river and my fear was slowly disappearing. Our parents had taught us well; we were nailing every corner with ease, we knew the angles and how to maneuver the canoe through the rough water.
It was a unique trip, just the two of us using the lessons we learned from our childhood. From canoeing the lakes in Ontario where we would spend our summers to the moving water of the rivers with our folks on camping trips, those times made us feel like naturals on the water that day.
So thanks Mom, Dad. This is one of many gifts you have given us, and we are forever grateful.
It was the same time of year as it is now, the smell of grass filled the air, street cleaners were hitting the streets and we were experiencing every type of weather you can imagine. The ski hill had been closed for a few weeks but the mountains still had lots of snow on them. Malcolm and I had not given up on skiing so we planned one more winter mission.
Our story starts out once again on a backroad below Mt. Hosmer. We parked a truck just off the power line and tried our best to use game trails so we didn’t have to bushwhack the entire way to the snow line. Once we reached the snow we began touring up the south east drainage. It was a long haul, and a dangerous place to be in the wrong time; most of that side of Hosmer drained down the gully we were using as access but the spring conditions allowed us to travel safely.
Once we gained the ridge just below the true summit we made our way to the top of the slide features that are lookers right of the Ghostrider. The snow on that aspect was sun affected, which we knew it would be. Our plan was to ski down the north east side.
The chute I wanted to ski never sees the sun, so I had faith that the snow was going to be good. I knew I was standing on a cornice as I inched my way towards the edge. The cornice was so big that I was confident it would hold my weight. At first it appeared the only way to access the chute was to huck the cornice which would have been about a 30 foot drop into the chute, a big move that far out in the backcountry so I re-assessed.
To the right of where I wanted to drop in there was a buttress, a sort of rock outcrop and when I stood back I noticed the side of the cornice had peeled away from the rock. I could see light at the end; it was a tunnel between the cornice and mountain. The tunnel was about 20 feet long, and just big enough for me to kneel on my skis and pull myself through to the other side.
It was so tight that once I made it through I had a very hard time putting my skis on, but it was well worth the struggle. The snow below the cornice was incredible, I skied in the shade of a rock wall which was preserving the snow from the sun. Once the wall ended I wrapped around to watch Malcolm ski the line above, which was an elevated chute with exposure on either side.
We enjoyed our turns back down to the end of the snow and bushwhacked back to the truck. A classic spring mission with better snow than expected.
My favourite memories of work are from when I was on Trail Crew at Fernie Alpine Resort. We would rise with the sun, watch the sky change and see the first light hit Mt. Broadwood as we drove towards the ski hill. Almost immediately we would set out into the woods. Being amongst the forest and working with my brother Sam and our best friend Connor is what made that job so special.
For the first two yeas our duty was to ride the chair and walk the trails with a handsaw and our digging tools. The years after we started building new sections and new trails. It was an amazing job. Surrounded by friends, dirt and trees all day, test riding our ideas for other people to enjoy.
I remember the best days of that job were after a storm. Before the lifts would open our crew would be dropped off by a truck to ride the trails to make sure there were no fallen trees. We would ride by ourselves, packing a handsaw to take care of any small trees and also some flagging tape and a radio to let the Saw Crew know of any big trees down.
One of these mornings I was checking the Ever Dangerous Downhill in Curry Bowl, the most secluded trail on the mountain. When it comes to skiing or biking I only have one speed. Once I get going I find it very hard to take it easy. Even though this was a trail check I was riding my normal speed.
Near the top, I rode into an open section. As I came around a corner I noticed hoof prints in the middle of the trail. Those are huge! I thought and kept going into another corner. As I blasted through the berm I saw the fur that left those tracks. I hit the brakes, skidding in the mud, hardly slowing down. It was a moose with huge antlers laying on the trail. I slide right into it’s back leg, hitting him with my front tire. Before he could get up, I planted my foot and pivoted my bike. As I took off through the brush I looked back seeing the confused moose stand up. He was as surprised as I was. I am just glad he didn’t hear me coming.
To this day, my favourite line I have ever skied is a cave halfway down the south face of Mammoth Head.
The first time I noticed this unique piece of terrain I was intrigued and wanted to know more about it. That year I was able to ski it successfully, but a more fascinating story is about one of my few failed attempts at skiing the Cave on Mammoth.
The only way to access to the cave is from below. It is a steep climb up the face then using ice axes and crampons I climb up a cliff that sits below the mouth of the cave. The cave itself is huge, the size of a city bus stretching about 25 feet into the mountain where there is a skylight, which allows snow to trickle in and cover the floor. That makes it possible to do four or five turns before hitting the mandatory cliff and skiing down the face towards the boulder field of Mammoth Head.
The first time I climbed in I carried my skis on my back, but this time it was earlier in the season and the cliff was bigger so I needed a different plan.
Once I got to the bottom of the cliff I tied one end of a rope to my belt loop and the other to my pack, setting up my skis so once I gained access I could pull my equipment up to me.
I began the climb, smashing my ice axes and crampons into the rock and ice. I had underestimated the size of the cliff, and right before the top I felt the rope tighten. I did not want to down climb so I anchored myself in and took a moment to think of how I was going to get up the rest of the way.
My ice axes had webbing that looped around my hands so I untied the rope from my belt loop, removed my belt, and tied all three together then tossed the axe perfectly into the cave. Using my one other axe I climbed the rest of the way then began pulling my skis and pack up the cliff.
While pulling up my skis, they jammed on the rocks. I gave the rope a tug but my belt could not withstand the force and broke at the seam, sending the rope down the cliff.
There I was, standing in the mouth of the cave with no way of skiing out of it. My only option was to climb back down. I was forced to jump the last part of the cliff, landing with a scream of exhilaration beside my pack. Out of the three attempts I have only once skied that line properly. I love the challenge that it brings, and look forward to skiing it again one day.