My recent experience has left me with new outlooks and appreciations. It has also left me with haunting thoughts and realizations. I want to go over a few of the mistakes I made that day to help myself and others in the future. I also want to express what I am now most grateful for, only a few days after the incident.
As an avid backcountry user, there are signs that I am aware of and heed too. The day of the avalanche I noted five red flags. Five! After three red flags we should have firmly decided to ski simpler terrain. After the fourth red flag we should have gone back in bounds.
There had been recent snow and wind throughout the entire week and earlier that day I noticed recent avalanche activity. It was a small pile of debris on a different aspect than what we wanted to ski so it caught my attention but I ruled it out as a non-deciding factor. Those signs were at the back of my mind, I did not spend too much time thinking about them. Red flag #4 was a whumphing cornice on our ridge walk over to the peak. We should have turned around right there. The last, and to me the most important red flag was the voice inside my head telling me to ski the lower, safer slope but I ignored that voice. This voice is so important, but it can be very hard to know the difference between psyching yourself out or hearing your true voice of reason. To differentiate the two comes down to instinct. You may hear many voices of concern before you ski a line but if you pay attention and trust your instinct you will know when to listen and act on it.
Being in tune with myself and with nature has helped me be successful in the backcountry for over ten years. I’ve been pushing boundaries as long as I can remember, with almost no close calls. Until this winter. I made a few decisions that brought me closer to an avalanche than ever before. I thought about this before I dropped into T3 which ended up cracking 40-50cm deep, 150m wide and ran for over 1km.
I had been building up confidence all season, I was comfortable with the dangers. Those close calls were not enough to scare me away. I will admit my ego got in the way that day. I allowed it to overpower my voice of reason, a mistake I am ashamed of but can learn and grow from.
Many things will come to light over the next few weeks. Now it is fresh and my mind is still processing. Since Sunday I have come to appreciate a few things, things I love already. But love itself now has a new meaning.
I am grateful for friendships and family. The amount of love and support I have received over the past few days has made me realize how many people I have affected, and how many lives I can still change.
I am grateful for the peaks around Fernie. They recently showed themselves. The clouds retreated and the peaks had sunlight and fresh snow on them. I wanted to ski them, which felt good, reassuring me that I will return to the mountains.
I am grateful to have people to think about. Instead of closing my eyes and being surrounded by snow I feel surrounded by love and by light.
I am grateful for this winter. It was one of the best winters I’ve ever had, and this experience does not change that.
I am grateful for being able to dance and play music for my friends. I can’t imagine not being able to do this.
I am grateful for avoiding the slope that ripped to ground and everything that happened for me to be left above the snow.
I am grateful for the strength to fight for my life and the guardian angels that I know were there.
I am grateful that my partner was able to make it down safely and for us to be able to ski away that day.
Two days ago a friend that I have never skied with before said that he could not wait for next year. He wanted me to show him around the backcountry. I was astonished. I was worried people were going to be afraid to ski with me. This has been my greatest fear. Are people going to trust me the same? He made me realize though that If anything, this experience has humbled me. I will be more cautious and pay more attention. I now have a sense and understanding that not many people have. With that, I am more apt to protect myself or anyone in my group from a circumstance like this.
I have been given a gift and perspective that will allow me to live my dream with wisdom. Possibly, there are no mistakes, only judgment calls that have consequences. But if I take responsibility I will grow through this and be stronger. At this time it is hard for me to imagine skiing a loaded spine, but I know I will be back. More experienced and calculated than ever.
For the past few days I have been looking through new eyes. The air smells fresher and tea tastes better. When I close my eyes though I relive horror that most big mountain skiers can only imagine.
I see the slope release. I see moments of violence and power around me. I see moments of struggle and then acceptance. I can see the mistakes I made and I can remember the people I thought about.
It was the day of the full moon March 12, 2017. Pete and I just got off the beaten track that was a staircase of a boot pack leading out of bounds from Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. From the top of T2 we could see our objective but ahead of us was a complex ridge walk to the next peak. The snow on the ridge was deep and there were cornice’s on either side. Once we finally summited T3 we had a good look down the face. From the top looking left there were some small chutes and pillows that extended into a bowl that ran down into the slide path. Looking fall line was the main chute about 300 metres long. It had a spine feature on the right that ended as the chute became tighter about half way down.
I really want to ski the spine! You should probably ski the safer line…
We dug a pit which didn’t produce any serious results. We had discussed skiing the lower shoulder to our right but the pit gave us confidence. We decided if anything was going to go it would be a small storm slab. We chose to ski from the top, down the main spine. I ski cut, penetrating fifteen centimetres onto a soft base. I looked back at Pete and smiled. It felt solid. I told him I would meet him at the bottom of the chute, opposite the beginning of the slide path. From there we would regroup and have a 1500 metre run down to the end of the runout.
This is going to be sick.
I dropped into the middle of the chute, skiing towards the spine on my right. I got on top of the spine and I realized it was more of a hanging snowfield and there was a lot more snow then in the chute.
I am in a bad…
Before I could even finish my thought process the entire slope ripped out. Deep. There was so much snow moving. I could see it going over the edge below me. I was already overcome but I knew the chute flushed out the bottom so I fought as hard as I could to get off the spine. I was forced to throw my weight forward and go headfirst into the chute to avoid what turned out to be a 150 metre slope that ripped to ground during the slide. I was fully submerged as I went through the chute. Light followed the darkness as I flushed out the bottom and I felt myself being pushed down under the snow by an unimaginable force. The darkness surrounded me again.
This is happening.
I accepted the fact that I was going to be buried. I braced for it as the motion seemed to end. The snow was crushing me. Life slowed down. Then all of a sudden I was moving again. Fast. Tossing and rolling, I could see light. I choked and coughed, gasping for air. I felt like I went over a cliff then it slowed down again. I had lost all my gear at this point and I was able to move snow from my face and stick my hand up hoping it would not be covered. Again, the violence continued. I felt the power of the mountain and the energy within the snow.
Between the thoughts of fear and doubt I thought about love and I thought about life.
You are not dying today.
I fought. Flailing my arms, trying to swim. It would not end. After a while, I could fight no more. I was exhausted. I couldn’t move my arms. I felt forced to give up. I was still moving with snow all around me. Slower now. I finally felt calm as I entered a very euphoric state. Then nothing.
I came too sitting upright at the bottom of the slide path. Uncovered. I could not believe how long that had lasted, how far I had traveled. Shortly there after Pete found me. We embraced each other in complete awe. It was so quiet, so peaceful. We sat there for a moment together, observing the clouds moving through the trees. It was beauty like I had never seen before.
Freeskiing is a word used to describe the form of skiing where the rider uses natural features and the raw landscape to enhance and diversify their run. I was introduced to the word back in 2006 when my home mountain Fernie Alpine Resort hosted its first junior freeski event. An event that changed and shaped my life into what it is now. Back then the word to me was focused on the competitive side of the sport. Now, ten years later and having attended close to fifty freeride events the word means a lot more then being a competitive big mountain skier. After all these years where competitions have dominated my winters, I came to appreciate the true meaning of freeskiing this past week in Revelstoke, who was hosting the first big mountain competition of the season.
It was the night before the first day of the competition and as I entered Guest Services at Revelstoke Mountain Resort I could feel the energy in the room. With over one hundred athletes gathered to sign in for the event, the vibe was hard to ignore; I sensed that everyone was eager, excited and nervous for the days to come. I walked to the registration table and gave them my name.
“I’m Caleb Brown, here to sign in.”
“Brown?” Asked the event staff member as he ran his finger down the long list of names then back to the top where the B’s were. “You’re not on the list man.” Strange I thought, but I wasn’t worried, “I’m sure it’s a computer glitch. You’ll sort it out.”
“Yeah, you’re going to have to talk to Ben.” I waited as the event director Ben tried to figure out what was wrong, I was confident that I was in the system but as time went on something did not feel right.
“What’s wrong?” Asked a girl at my side. Jess is a Kiwi living in Fernie for the season and we had only met the day before. She is competing in Canada this year and was looking to jump into a car with another competitor. In these high stress situations of travelling and competing even close friends can get tired of each other. It was a bit of a gamble letting someone I had never met into my space for the week but I do find it important to travel with other competitors so you can share the weight on the competition. You can also express your line choices and bounce ideas off of each other. When Jess pushed me over in the parking lot as I was doing up my boots I knew we were going to get along.
“I am not on their list, but I received a confirmation email. Head up to the meeting, I will see you there.” Jess was registered and given a pass so she could load the gondola that would bring her to the Revelation Lodge where there was a welcome dinner and a mandatory athlete meeting. As I waited, I decided to look for the email that I glanced over after I registered for the event over a month ago. When I found it I couldn’t believe the mistake I made. It was a confirmation that the IFSA had accepted my request to be in the event…and that I was on the wait list until further notice. I was reading this when Ben pulled up the wait list and broke the news to me. I was 19th on the list and there were four others in front of me. Chances are I would not be competing. I was “gutted” as my Kiwi companion would say, but I hadn’t given up hope yet.
Jeff Holden is the head judge of this event and has been judging me since that first competition in 2006. All these years he has been a friend and mentor to me. If anyone could pull some strings for me it would be Jeff.
Without being registered I didn’t have ticket to ride the gondola but it was dark at this point and I had an idea. I snuck around the line and slid into an open gondola just as the door was closing, surprising the others on board. As we sat in the darkness of the night ride gondola I tried imagine what I would have to tell everyone back home, and what would my sponsors think? I couldn’t believe I had come all this way and I may not even be competing! When I only have enough money to do a few events and trips like this my thought process at this point was, “No comp? Waist of a trip.”
I listened to the other athletes speak amongst each other. They were talking about the venues and cold temperatures. My inner voice was busy yelling at myself so I sat in what appeared to be silence. When we reached the mid station I bolted out the door and headed down to the glowing lights that illuminated from the Revelation Lodge. I welcomed the warmth of the building and the smell of the food. Revelstoke is the only event I’ve been to where they have dinner for the athletes, and being a travelling ski bum, a free meal almost beats a couch to sleep on. I walked past the buffet, looked around the room and finally spotted Jeff. I ran over and explained the mess I had created. He said he would see what he could do. It was not his call to make so I hung around, and yes, I ate some food even though it was technically for the athletes, which I was not, but I’m still a ski bum after all.
During the classic Jeff Holden athlete meeting with Jeff beatboxing and rallying the crowd Ben announced that the start list would be ready shortly. At this point I knew I would not be competing. I sat there thinking about the three bald eagles we saw the day before wondering why I was supposed to be there. I knew there was a reason, but this one was just not apparent to me yet. The eagles were a sure sign of good things to come so I stayed positive and patient. After the meeting they confirmed that there were too many athletes to let me in so I suggested I could be the fore-runner and they accepted my offer. The fore-runner is the first one to ski the venue allowing the judges to put their pens to paper before the first competitor. Jeff reminded me the main job of the fore-runner and we stood around and laughed at the ridiculous mistake I had made. It felt good to laugh even though I was choked. I awoke that night wondering if the grief I felt was the feelings of a bad dream, but no the feelings were real. I needed to find a way to make the most of this trip.
The next day Jess and I woke to an incredible sunrise, the pink and orange sky was glowing above the Gold Range of the Monashees and I stood and observed the famous Mt. Begbie from our balcony at the Sutton Place Hotel. It was a new day, already beautiful, and I was eager to see what else it would bring…
Read the full article here:
Part 1: Don’t Forget The Pickles
It was still dark at 7:30 when I arrived at Malcolm’s new home in Kimberley, it was cooler there than it was in Fernie where my journey always begins, and with warm temperatures spreading all across BC the cold temp was a good sign. I met his elderly neighbour in the street and as I exited my car and he said to me,
“What the hell are you doing up so early?”
“Going skiing” I said proudly, “We’re heading to Kootenay Pass.”
“Right on!” said the old-timer, “I hope to see you back safe, stay clear of those avalanches you hear?”
I chucked and agreed then headed inside where I was greeted by the smell of coffee and Malcolm’s dog Mac, or Mac Daddy as we call him.
Before we left, Malcolm and I prepped our food for the two day adventure; tuna salad with pickles, shrimp with cheese and tomato sauce, noodles, six buns, one avocado, a few strips of ham, one pack of local bacon, a few eggs, a giant bag of trail mix, one bag of wine gums and a bag of mini eggs, man were those mini eggs the hit of the trip. We sure didn’t skimp on food, that was going to be a decent amount for the two of us but after a big day of hauling in gear to camp you never know how much you will need, best to be prepared. Once we were ready to go we bid our fair well to Wiz, Malcolm’s lady and set off on our adventure. First stop Creston to get Malcolm a nine dollar headlamp which we thought about returning on our way back through.
Part 2: Kootenay Pass
Kootenay Pass is a mountain pass on the Crownest Highway between the towns of Creston and Salmo, BC, in the Selkirk Mountain Range known as the Kootenay Skyway. Elevation 1,775m. We parked the car at the top of the pass, booted up, threw our heavy packs on for the first time and headed south on our skis. The skin track began as a super highway but soon after two hours of skinning we reached a summit where we could see some true alpine skiing, the kind of terrain we were seeking. One couloir called out to us more than anything and we wanted to ski it. From that peak we planned our base camp and started our own skin track.
Part 3: Base Camp: Camp Campground
It didn’t take us long to reach Camp Camground, it was an amazing place slightly below Ripple Peak and another sub peak filled with rowdy mini golf lines right back to camp. The warm temperatures had gotten to that face so we ended up skiing a mellower line lower down that ridge we called the Campground Couloir.
We were back at camp no later than 4:30, our kitchen was set up, Malcolm’s snow cave was dug out and my tent was ready to go, all we had to do was cook the noodles and watch the sunset. For roughing it in the backcountry our dinner was delicious and after realizing my new snow pants were fully capable of wicking mayonnaise we watched the stars then crawled into our designated locations.
Part 4: Crack in the Mountain
Neither of us slept well that night, we would like to say it was because of anticipation but between Malcolm’s faulty thermarest and my sweats during the night we maybe got a few hours of sleep between the two of us, but the warm sun and the thought of that couloir made it easy to rise. Before we knew it we were on top of Ripple Peak looking way down on our camp and even further down into the bowl we were going to be skiing into. The sun was already heating up the snow of the backside of Ripple Peak as we made out way through cliffs and trees down the ridge towards the entrance of our line of choice. There was no other option but to come below the entrance so we un-clicked our bindings and boot packed ten meters into a crack in the mountain behind what we later learned was known as The Devils Couloir. As I creeped my way to the edge of the chute I noticed an anchor for rappelling, something we didn’t expect because from what we could see the day before the line looked like it went, but after I broke the cornice away I could see it was very technical; fifteen meters of fifty degree slope to a mandatory forty footer. Manageable with the right snow and knowledge of what’s below but from our angle and the remoteness of our location it was a no-go without rope and the proper gear. What a line though, we are going back for that one.
Part 5: Plan B and the Mystery Couloir
After being forced to opt out of our line of choice we made our way down the ridge, knowing there was more goodness to come, Plan B. On our traverse over we sidestepped up to another crack in the mountain feature, another chute that was very narrow and very inviting looking but we hadn’t seen it from our lookout the day before and knowing the gnarlyness of the face we were on we moved on to our second line of choice. Plan B Chute had the best snow we had found all trip, some really fun steep spine features on the side and a few airs at the bottom then it turned into wicked tree skiing down to the bottom of the basin where we looked up at the few lines we stood on top of. All I can say is it is a good thing we didn’t ski the skinny, inviting looking couloir. We agreed that we didn’t think anyone has ever skied that one.
Part 6: Wine Gums and Bacon Water
After that we skinned back up to base camp, packed up, drank some bacon flavoured water and started climbing back towards the car. The sun was intense as we side-hilled around to Ripple Ridge, but our packs were lighter than when we came in. We had just enough wine gums to make it to the top, then from there it was an easy ski back to the car where we felt the relief of taking our boots and packs off. We both grinned and our high five was loud and crisp. What a mission. That is how I like to spend my days; fully immersed in the mountains exploring by skis.
I was invited to do Career Day at Fernie’s one and only elementary school last week. When approached about it I thought to myself, “I don’t have a career in anything…” I continued reading the message and saw that they wanted me there as a ‘professional athlete’ and I was excited to be able to give back to the community I grew up in, I knew I had a story that would be different than your average profession and I thought it would interest the kids. I had just gotten back from a 10 day ski trip, and had one morning to prep my presentation that I ended up repeating 5 times.
I spoke of how my writing has helped me achieve goals as a skier and how important it is for not only approaching sponsors and companies but also universities, jobs and out of town sports teams. The kids we’re stoked, I even signed autographs which I did not expect to do.
I almost didn’t get this photo, I was walking away after my last presentation and ran back to this class. I am ever so glad I did.
It has not snowed much here in the East Kootenays, but I have finally made it out on my first mission to find snow. There are a couple places to ski around here early season before the rest of the valley is good to go, one zone is Harvey’s Pass up off the Lodgepole Road the other is in the north facing bowls of the 3 Sisters. Behind the Sisters you can actually ski all summer long on a few small pieces of glacier up there so when it snows just a little bit, the skiing can be pretty good although access into the this zone is a bit more “questy” as Sam put it.
I packed my car with a snow bike, and all my touring gear. I drove up Hartley Lake Road and then turned off onto a little single lane access road, This road (I can’t remember the name of it) has a couple massive puddles, wider in width than my car and just as long, in the summer they are deep! Fortunately for me and my Subaru, they were frozen solid, all except one, which I almost couldn’t get out of. My mission was almost cut short and I hadn’t even put my pack on. I rallied out of the rut, which was more or less a ditch then rammed my car into the next bit of woods that I could to get off the road. From there I threw on my pack with my skis and ski boots on it and jumped on a fatbike and rode the rest of the way up the access road, then it turned into singletrack, which was a bit harder to navigate with my skis on my back and a few inches of snow on the trail, I went over the handlebars once into a large hole but managed to keep everything on my pack intact. Before I came out of the trees and into the bottom of the bowls I stashed my bike attempted to put ski boots on, which were so frozen I had to warm them with my hands before I could get them on. The thought of this being just a fatbike ride ride came to mind but as I grunted and said “I came here to go skiing…” I forced myself in. From there I walked the last little bit into the bottom of the bowls and looked up towards the zone with the most snow. I hoped I could summit the ridge in the background on the left side of the photo.
I needed to find a way up to the deeper snowpack but the bowl was full of alders so I followed a trail that I knew from past missions, then branched off and started making my own way. This was my first time accessing this terrain from the bottom and to point out the obvious, the snowpack was shallow. As soon as I left the beaten path the fear of being on my own entered my mind. “It’s big country up here…” “Did I get to late of a start?” “What time does is get dark?” “Wow, what kind of animal tracks are those?” “Climbing down this is going to be gnarlier than climbing up!” Were all thoughts that crossed my mind more than once as I proceeded towards the deeper snow. I could see the ridge and a chute I hoped I could get on, timing was everything.
I hiked up the little avalanche chute then traversed, still on feet below the cliffs over to the little treed ridge, climbed up that then put my skins on and continued below the cliffs all the way until the photo cuts off. Now it was only a pretty long traverse to get below the chute then maybe a half an hour boot pack to the ridge but it was getting late, and slipping on the crust made traversing difficult.
I ended up getting roughly 60 turns, it doesn’t seem like much for the amount of effort to get there but the snow was good and the entire mission was enjoyable. I still had an exciting down climb to look forward to, then a bike ride out!
Just over a month ago my Grannie, my fathers mother passed away. She was 85, born in 1928. To say the least she has seen a lot, and the stories and views she had from all those years is astonishing. And the way she told her stories was a whole other element on its own. Sam and I were very close to her, growing up we spent almost every summer in our young years with her and our Granddad Don at their cottage in Ontario.
Of many things Sheila taught me to laugh and weep with the world; to love all creatures great and small, and to love the trees as I do my friends. She taught me to remember where I come from, and never cause any harm to anyone or anything. One of my earliest memories I have of her was her telling me never to join the army. She was a wonderful woman and I will never forget these lessons.
I have here a letter Sheila wrote to Peter Gzowski a few weeks after “Remembrance Day” 1983. For those who don’t know, Peter Gzowski was a CBC radio host for about 20 years. This letter is a good example of her views and portrays her in many ways. The timing of all this amazes me, with the murder of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the exact Memorial she speaks of and Stephen Harper sending Canadian “troops” into battle.
Today is the day we gather to Remember her, and Celebrate her life, only a few days before “Armistice Day.” I had never heard this story before, and it has changed my view on “Remembrance Day.”
Sheila’s Remembrance Day Fantasy.
I spent the morning of Nov. 11 with you & your guests & felt reflective & thoughtful. At a few minutes to 11, I put on the tely to view the service at the National War Memorial. My family history is British Imperial Army & Anglican Church. I see now how extraordinarily similar these two institutions are, and as a female growing up in this male dominated world, I, like my sisters before me, accommodated my life according to male expectations. My secret existence, and the way things really worked, were two separate realities. As a child I was puzzled by this but as a woman, I have two states of being; one Rage & the other NUMBNESS. The only alternative to unexpressed rage is, for me, numbness.
Anyway, back to “Lest We Forget”. We don’t forget the face & the life of a son, a friend, or a lover when they are wrenched from us so violently & so soon. We don’t need bands, flags & parades for that. Those, in fact, help us to remember how to make war, “lest we forget”.
I used to mark Armistice Day, as it was then (perhaps more accurately) called, with my Mother, the daughter of the professional soldier. She had served in France in the W.A.C.’s, 1914-1918. On Nov. 11 she simply buried her face in her hands & sat quietly for 2 minutes. She told me she was remembering her friends. I went to many a parade as a child & teenager. Our church was the garrison church & I used to watch the often shabby old men stepping out as smartly as their age & infirmities would allow. I used to worry the bugler would sound a bum note. Always I felt sad, which was both the natural response & the required response. I also always felt uneasy, alarmed, puzzled.
Now in my fifties, I too have had friends killed, felt pain, seen evidence of war’s atrocities & seen man’s cruelty to man. I’ve also seen these same cruelties encouraged by cheering crowds, music, flags & prayers. I’ve borne sons & know how very precious they are.
Having been put in a thoughtful frame by your program, I slipped my sleeping grandson into his bed & watched the service in Ottawa. There was the Silver Cross Mother. Her 20 year old had been killed in Korea. The Silver Cross Mother is always the same. She is old. She wears a dark coat & hat. The Prime Minister or the Governor General always steers her by her elbow to the monument. She is always surrounded by the military, ecclesiastical, political members of the Boy’s Club. She is always dutiful, quiet, respectful. One year, I actually knew the Silver Cross Mother & her four dead sons whose sacrifice brought her to Ottawa. She too looked quiet, dutiful, respectful. Surely what these women are is numb.
I always watch & I always wonder why they are not screaming. I know why they are not screaming. It would not do to make a fuss. We learn that so very early & we learn it well, and the atrocities go on & we are quiet. What would happen if we whirled & screamed & shrieked in our grief & our pain. What if we demanded it STOP.
I have a fantasy about a possible replay of Remembrance Day 1983.
The Silver Cross Mother is late. The officials are nervous, edgy. “Where is she? Who was responsible for getting her here? Find some other old woman in the crowd to stand in for her. The clergy are nearly finished their prayers. Where is she?”
We hear the sound of pounding hooves. A sleek, excited horse, its tail & mane flying out behind it comes galloping into view. It has neither bit nor saddle. It runs with, all the energy & strength of all the horses of all the cavalry horses in history in its limbs. Its eyes are triumphant & clear, the nostrils flaring, in vengeance & pride.
Riding as one with the beast is the Silver Cross Mother, her gray hair loose & long. Her eyes are like fire & she is brandishing a sword around & around & around her head like an athlete about to hurl a discus. She is summoning energy from the very sky. The crowd parts, scatters; her rough crimson wool cape streams out behind her, leaving sparks in her wake. The Boy Scouts flee, The Girl Guides gape, the old soldiers see a vision. She mounts the steps of the Cenotaph & comes to a stop. She utters one high pitched scream. First there is silence & then the monument crumbles to dust. The men all fall into a deep ,deep sleep. The women begin to weep & to dance; they twirl, & spin & scream. All the women all over the world begin to weep & whirl & dance, dance, dance. They cry & they dance & they cry & they dance. They dance until their dance becomes a song & their song becomes a croon & their croon becomes a lullabye. It is time to wake the children. Along the lines of their eyes & their cheeks the crooning women stroke the men & the boys. They open their eyes & they have forgotten how to make war. All their lives they have been told “not to forget”, but they have forgotten how to make war.
Two days later the first American Cruise Missiles were delivered to the Air Base at Greenham Common in England. The women have been camping & protesting there for two years. I love those screaming, protesting, unseemly women at that camp.