words: Brendan Hart
A few winters ago I discovered that cached in our attic, encased in spiderwebs, was a pair of snowshoes. Although their decrepit appearance leads me to believe that they were payed for with whatever currency was used in the interim between wampum and the American dollar, they've gotten me and my snowboard to the top of the less accessible peaks of the White Mountains. Those choppy rides down the narrow veins of Appalachian trail have been the most enjoyable runs of my life. My jaunts could not be considered gnarly. They involve more core shots than cliff drops, but even being on the fringe of big mountain riding, in more-or-less remote areas, away from lift lines and crowds, has made me realize that I've never shown due regard to areas of snowboarding that should command my full attention.
The backcountry, for most of us, whether from economic or geographic constraints, is an area of foreboding mystique. It takes training, years of experience, and uncommon common sense to gain a competency in the out-of-bounds, and even with such faculties there are always variables to make risk inevitable. Nevertheless, we will continue to be seduced by the rugged charms of Mother Nature and wander into perilous precipices. There are certain riders who have uncanny success in the wilderness, We posed a set of these backcountry buffs questions to hear about how they see, handle, and appreciate life in the greatest areas of the great outdoors.
Despite your ability to handle all types of features, you are now almost exclusively a big mountain rider. Was there one certain moment, one specific pow slash or trip in particular, when you knew that you wanted your snowboarding career to be rooted solely in the backcountry?
I think it all kind of happened naturally as an evolution. I love pretty much all types of snowboarding and I loved competing and riding handrails for a while but I feel like life is about keeping challenging yourself and evolving and exploring the backcountry just seems like one of the best places to do so. There is so much to learn, so much room for creativity and it is so humbling. As cheesy as it sounds, I also love to be out there in the mountains with pretty much no one around and surrounded by pristine nature. So yeah, I need new challenges in order to stay motivated and what the backcountry had to offer is endless.
Morgan “Coonhead” Rose
You've ridden into and away from cliff drops that most people would never dream of hitting. How do you deal with fear when stepping up to something so burly?
Well, it's really about evaluating the whole situation. You've got to make sure you're going to be able to make it to your landing. And if you don't make it, see what you could hit. It's a lot of variables. Getting your speed dialed. Calculating it the right way. I don't know man I get pretty scared. I start shaking a little. I take some deep breaths and just hope I'll be OK. It's just about evaluating and visualizing, too. I visualize a lot.
The backcountry snowboard scene in Whistler is famous for its proliferation of powder hounds, who aren’t just gurus of snowboarding, but also wise and knowledgable individuals. When you first made the move to B.C. who helped introduce you to the backcountry? What sort of things did they teach you?
The first time I ever spent a couple weeks is the backcountry in Whistler was when we still made the 8 mile movie. I believe that year it was called Moose with Hat. I was out in Whistler for two weeks to go sledding and had the privilege of going out with Kale Stephens. Kale, being one of the biggest Whistler OG’s, made it fairly easy for us to get stuff done. We would just drive around and look at stuff and ask Kale, “Hey is that a jump?” and he would look at it and be like “Oh yeah, I think I hit that back with Mack Dawg,” almost as if it was a distant memory he was trying to piece together. With the backcountry I feel like it takes time to learn things everyday you spend out there you learn something new and I think thats why it seems backcountry riders only get better with age. I remember going out those two weeks and just being mind blown at how many jumps there where how steep all the landings are and just how amazing the snow seemed to be the whole time. I moved to squamish that next season and filmed for the first Capita Defenders of Awesome flick!
You've only recently begun to traipse the backcountry, yet you seem to have mastered it with maximum speed and minimal tomahawks. How does progression in the backcountry differ from progression in the park and pipe? Is it all about the riding aspect, landing and learning tricks, or are more factors involved?
Well for starters I have definitely taken my fair share of tomahawks on most things I hit, but as long as I get my trick I’m usually the happiest man alive. As for mastering the backcountry as fast as you say I did I am far from being anywhere near master. There’s still so much more I can learn in the backcountry, it’s a lot more than just being able to build a jump and land a trick. It’s more about being able to find the right spot to build a jump and knowing how safe the area is and what the weather will do. As for the difference between park and pipe riding and the backcountry, park and pipe usually take try after try after try until you master your run or your trick or ever you want to get done where as in the backcountry there are many more factors that come into play. It’s not like you can just go to the lodge to warm up an buy lunch. You have to know the terrain, or at least be able to read it, and also having the right equipment (sled, food, beacon, probe, water, extra goggles an gloves, ext). You go out there knowing you may not get more than a handful of tries on one jump (that take you hours to build) for two seconds footage, but that’s the name of the game.
As a photographer, part of your job is to convey a perspective to the public. What role does the photographer play in making the backcountry relatable, or at least understandable, to the layman?
Honestly, I don't really think about making action photos relatable. My main goal when shooting snowboarding is to make the subject look good. Outside of that, I think making backcountry relatable through lifestyles is maybe a more realistic goal. Showing the human aspect of being out there is a good way to showcase what goes on. Most times a backcountry mission is similar to a camping trip, minus the camping. You bring your own food, sunblock, tools, and everyone has a different setup to make a day out in nature a more comfortable and enjoyable time.
As a reputed practitioner of the earn-your-turn philosophy, which almost seems like a protest against modern laziness, do you think these devices—chair lifts, gondolas, rope tows, and even snowmobiles—are actually maximizing the amount of enjoyment that can be had snowboarding? or are they simply declawing fun?
Before I had ever used a snowmobile I was sold on the idea that it was easy and would get me up mountains I had only dreamed of riding. Fast forward several years and I now have two broken snowmobiles in my driveway and a new understanding that 70 percent of the time snowmobiling is anything but comfort ensuring and it sure ain’t easy. But that remaining 30 percent of awesome days is what will get those snowmachines fixed! Riding chairlifts and gondolas definitely provides an easier approach to maximizing your time riding a snowboard, but does it maximize my enjoyment, no. The enjoyment I get out of snowboarding is multi-faceted, how many runs I can take is merely a part of the experience, I find a lot of enjoyment through the serenity of simply being in the mountains, away from crowds, and away from noise. Sometimes that’s hard to get at a resort riding lifts and gondolas. Ultimately it comes down to what factors into your enjoyment, because no matter which avenue you choose, snowboarding is anything but lazy!