Adventure, cat skiing and big lines: In the run-up to the 2015 Freeride World Tour stage at Haines, Alaska, FWT riders Sam Smoothy, Wille Lindberg, and Jérémie Heitz did a memorable road trip through Canada and Alaska. Sam Smoothy about the quest for powder, burned moustaches, and the beginning in an end …
A road trip is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a long trip in a car, truck etc. or a trip taken by a sports team to play one or more away games.”
While an apt description this definition barely conveys the rollercoaster that is stepping out your door and venturing forth into the wild. To seek adventures that you cannot even begin to imagine until they arrive, staring all the way in to your core, shining a light on what lurks in your traveler’s heart. And all it takes sometimes is just picking up the phone. Within 24 hours I was halfway to Vancouver, Canada, meeting fellow Freeride World Tour (FWT) competitors Wille Lindberg and Jérémie Heitz. Ours was a simple plan. Head north, ski powder and discover the freeride Mecca at the edge of the earth, Haines, Alaska, all before contesting the first ever Alaskan FWT event.
Sadly, mother nature had been mean with her bounty, leaving large swaths of Canada without its customary powder. Thus we spend days driving, hunting down rumors of soft snow but a sorry week passes before we find ourselves finally seeing the soft stuff fly at Skeena Cat Skiing, deep in British Columbia.
The only people for miles around, here there are no rules, no distractions, just us, snowcats and snowmobiles, dogs and bonfires, moonshine and fireworks. Man Paradise. Our host Jevon Zip has kept his best area free of other skiers for us to plunder and we oblige most graciously. Mini spine lines are cut to shreds as we slash, spin and flip our way through the afternoon, finally finding exactly what you would expect on this holy powder highway. The hoots and hollers echo around the hills as we push each others riding further, competitive spirit rekindled anew. The Skeena boys drag us to the top with their snowmobiles again and again until we can’t ride any more. Later, we celebrate in appropriate style around a raging bonfire with flaming moonshine shots that burn Wille’s moustache and we rip the sky apart, fireworks screaming out into the winter darkness.
Sipping dirty water masquerading as coffee at yet another toilet break the decision to push all the way north is agreed on. Canada is prohibition era dry and Alaska is sitting there, waiting for us to try and best her. We fire out the remainder of our long drive over two mind bending days, taking shifts to keep our convoy of Audi’s always rolling north.
We have come so far but now it seems like just the start and the big question looms, is Alaska as big and badass as everyone says? Oddly for Alaska we don’t have long to wait as our first morning in town we are on. We survive the first day, getting used to the sluff management, the blindness of skiing this steep, and all the other little variables. Our team is strong now, bonded in the fire of the road.
Run Two of Day Two flying I find myself on top of a line I previously considered too big and too exposed for this early. But I am here now. Alone. And as I drop in I know there is only one good way out of this line and many, many bad ways.
Mark our guide comes over the radio as I regain my breath, the best line of my life still pouring with sluff over its cheese grater cliffs.
“Smoothy you son of a bitch, I thought this was your first time!!”
First proper big line in AK yes but not the last, not by a long stretch.
The Infamous Alaskan Waiting Game arrives just in time for the FWT competition. We sit, we wait and then, just as our last hopes fade, it is on. Dropping in I flow my line but my aggression has faded and I don’t push hard enough, taking 4th position. Something Wille and Jérémie don’t repeat, but with varying results. Wille breaks my heart with an unlucky fall on a big cliff, going for the win that I know he will get but Jérémie, always in a massive hurry, doesn’t even pause once as he flashes the face like a simple Super G race course, skiing even faster than he drove those long Canadian roads. He is our champion, the best of the boys from the road, and easily takes 2nd place in the competition.
Our trip is over but I leave unwillingly as this place is inside me now, a wondrous virus coursing my veins begging me to sell the house and stay. Putting an end to such a saga as ours seems redundant, as I know this is no end, but the beginning of the rest of my life. Alaska is every thing the clichés claim and so much more. I cannot wait to ask her to dance again and hope my brothers from that winding road are right there with me, often out of time but always in sharp focus.