What’s in your pack?

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‘‘Is there something in here you want to show me? ’’

The bored face at airport security in Kelowna suddenly brightened as my backpack went through the X-ray machine. As the only person in the queue, I thought it was obvious that the offending bag was mine but I guess I was asked out of routine.

“Is this your bag?”

After I nodded innocently, the unexpected smile inquired slowly and with a rising voice that one might use on a naughty child, “Is there something in here you want to show me?”

Thinking about the litany of items now on my To-Do list as I began the sojourn home to Ontario from the B.C. Interior, I was caught off guard about my now-questionable pack.

“I—don’t—think—so…” I said hesitantly. Trying to recall what crap was floating around in all the pockets of my man-purse.

I was drawing blanks.

“Something sharp? Something pointy?” he prodded, his smile getting larger.

Camera…transceiver…apricots…pens? “Pens!” I blurted out.

“Here,” he said, giving up on the game and pointing at his screen behind the X-ray machine. His smile had become a chuckle. “Come have a look.”

As soon as I saw the picture, I recognized everything, of course. “D’oh!” was all that came out of me. Among other bits and bobs, I’d tried to board a plane with a pruning saw, Swiss military knife, three-metre avalanche probe, shovel, water bottle, a suspicious pen-light, waterproof matches, rope and an emergency blanket.

Buddy at security was more than nice and, as it turns out, a backcountry skier, so he realized my honest mistake faster than I did of not transferring my emergency kit into my checked bag. Shaking his head and still smiling, he muttered something about making a screen capture to show his workmates and then sent me back to check-in where WestJet kindly offered to box it and put it in the plane’s belly, free. If it had happened in Vancouver or Toronto, I wonder how long it would have been before I came to after the Taser or was given my trousers back.

I usually ski with a backpack, or “haversack” as my family, who often seems to have its own bizarre nomenclature, still calls it. It’s an older smaller-volume Black Diamond model with a built-in Avalung that offers me a few points of security in the event of a slide. (It’s also useful as a choking-preventer snorkel in life’s rare occasions when every turn at a heli- or cat-ski operation is a full-on faceshot.) Not too big for my diminutive frame, not too small to hold everything one “needs” to ski. Just right.

I’ve been stuck on chairlifts as dangling straps have been caught, both while wearing it but more often while it sat in my lap after being told to remove it by liftees resigned to enforce ski area rules. I’ve been a bull in a china shop in stores or airplane aisles when I’ve forgotten how much bigger I am when I’m fully loaded.

It’s been a good seat at many powdery lunch spots. I feel safer with it attached to me, and it keeps me warm as another layer of insulation. And it can hold lots of surprises. Last year’s sesame snaps, or salty almonds from past Porter flights. Airplane sleeping pills and Advil. Spilled sunscreen or mustard. And sometimes actual useful stuff like extra gloves, extra goggles, duct tape, a half-eaten tunafish sandwich or a bathing suit…just in case.

Invariably, no matter what the age of my non-pack-wearing ski buddies, I always seem to be carrying other people’s stuff, too—after their jackets fill up with crap that makes them look all roly-poly. Mountain guides, on the other hand, carry the world in their packs and question mark-shaped backs are sometimes the result. More than once, helpful colleagues of infamous ski industry guy Norm Crerar, a one-time Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing tail guide, ensured he had everything he needed by hiding bricks in the bottom of his.

It’s rare for us to have a cover shot of a skier without a pack. It’s not only practical, it’s necessary to get into the environment where so much good ski photography is shot; but it can also help with the visuals. Sometimes it shows action or movement with straps dangling in the direction of travel. Sometimes it’s simply colour contrasting a skier’s shell or helmet.

All three of my kids were introduced to our sport on my wife’s or my back in one of those “looks dangerous, therefore it must be” scenarios. One of us with a squealing child on a quiet slope, the other playing tail gunner just in case someone else wanted to ski too close. Thinking back, our kids spent their first few years living, and sleeping, in a knapsack.

When I graduated from university, my dad told me I would soon be switching to a briefcase. “Soon,” I guess, is a relative term.

by Iain MacMillan in the Winter 2015 issue

Iain MacMillan
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