I take a deep breath in as I scan the terrain beneath me. Well, what I can see of the terrain before it sharply drops off into a bowl I’m positive is almost vertically steep. It’s minus 25 degrees celcius at the top of the mountain and the four layers I’m wearing are doing little to help stop the howling, icy wind chilling my bones. My feet are numb, I gave up on them long ago but I can’t ignore my face which is burning as the wind whips up snow and hurls it unforgivingly through the air. One last deep breath and I put my weight on my downhill ski, launching myself down the steep and having the feeling of heart-wavering fear turn to elation.
When you get tired of skiing Whistler’s 8,000 acres of terrain, a new adventure in the backcountry beckons. The out-of-bounds steep, powdery slopes don’t come without risks, namely avalanches and an unfamiliarity with the terrain. That’s why I decided to give Whistler’s Extremely Canadian camp a go. The two-day program is guided by an insanely experienced and keen backcountry skier to give technical instruction, local guidance and a hell of a good time.
The first day started with a few warm-up runs down Ratfink and Chunky’s Choice on Whistler Mountain before we were separated into groups of like abilities. Today was focused on tree runs and moguls. Once I got into the hang of things to turn and slide between trees and not let speed freak me out I realised all the fun you miss out on by sticking to groomers. The hardest part about today wasn’t the unfamiliar terrain, or the heart-stopping moments when you look at an almost vertical drop and realise that’s the path you’re taking. The temperature fluctuated between -25 and -30 degrees celcius. It was pretty hard to do more than two runs without having to rush into inside to prevent frostbite.
Day two of two we hit Blackcomb Mountain. This is saved for the second day as it’s home to the more challenging terrain like the bowls off Spanky’s Ladder. With a few warm up runs under our belts we found some moguls on which we’d be filmed skiing. My confidence was already up after just a day practicing and let’s be honest, I didn’t want to look like a lanky, uncoordinated giraffe on skis so that was extra motivation to get out of my head and bounce down the run. The video analysis run is really helpful as it gives the coach a chance to dissect your style and offer advice while you can see exactly what he’s talking about. I was in Gavin’s group and being only two of us he was so attentive. I’d told him my goals at the beginning of the first day and we worked really closely to improve my confidence and steep skiing style.
The day’s highlight (possibly even the best part of the week) was hiking up an untouched Spanky’s Ladder and skiing down an untouched Sapphire Bowl. The freezing temperatures had closed Glacier Express so having to hike around the Mountain from 7th Heaven was clearly a pretty big deterrent to the crowds. A very close second in the highlight stakes was enjoying nachos and cider as we nursed our aching bodies at Merlin’s at the base of Blackcomb afterwards.