Big-mountain life

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamt about flying or falling anyway (in a sky-diving sort of way). I also regularly dream about skiing, but the scenario quickly morphs into a lot of flying above treetops, lift towers, mountain peaks and so on. Frustratingly, only occasionally are my skis touching powder, never under it, and in those dreams I’m on slopes so steep and at speeds so fast I’m only skimming.

Writer, Sunshine Village pro-patroller, former pro-skier and new dad Kevin Hjertaas doesn’t need to dream about skiing, he just thinks back to yesterday or last week. Kevin’s list of some of the country’s best off-piste runs starts on page 46 this issue. It may not be the definitive register in your books, but it’s a great cross-section of what skiing beyond the ropes is all about for a lot of Canadians.

I’ve only done two on the list and even though it’s been several years, I vividly remember the hike and skin up, conversations at the top, the vistas, the powder, the pitch. Memories of skiing the same somebody-shoot- me-now runs that I’ve been doing at home for more than 40 years have long since turned into heavy spring slop.

Kevin Hjertaas, Photo by Ryan Creary
Photo by Ryan Creary

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and raised in Red Deer, Alberta, Hjertaas called local ski bump Canyon home until he was 18. Ten years ago he won a big-mountain comp at Sunshine and used the money to head to Alaska for the World Extreme Skiing Championships and to take over the world. It didn’t entirely work out, but the Rossignol skier has since been in every North American ski magazine and countless ski flicks, working for videographers from Warren Miller to Ride Guide TV to Europeans of unpronounceable names.

Hjertaas now describes himself as a rapidly aging ski bum with a new knee, new job and new baby. Although Sunshine is technically his home hill, his favourite ski area is simply the backcountry of Banff National Park. With a 2010 winter slate of backcountry camps and courses, as well as studying to become a mountain guide, Hjertaas’s season sounds a little serene given his reputation, but when I pushed him on one trip planned with fellow pro-skier Chris Rubens, I didn’t get very far. “It’s kind of a secret,” he told me in November. “It’s in Canada, but I don’t want to say where because I think it’s a first descent.”

Stories that come out of adventures like first descents are what his new website is all about. Developed with several hard-core colleagues, and with the support of the Canadian Avalanche Association, Behind the Lines is filling up with video clips and interviews with pros and amateurs about all the planning and education that went into the making of the video or magazine cover shot.

“This website is about saving your life,” he advocates, “so you can ride the gnarliest lines, huck the hugest air and be blissfully stoked as you drop into the deepest pow till the far off end of your days.” Designed for the younger demographic to appear more entertaining than instructional, Hjertaas et al hope to leave the user with better snow skills and a new or renewed interest in gaining more knowledge on avalanche preparedness, as well as supply current snow news feeds to be consulted regularly. Says Hjertaas, “The best riders aren’t the best because of what their bodies can do, but because of what their minds can do.”

Iain MacMillan
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