words and photos: Mary Walsh
Landing at the Calgary airport, it's just under two hours from runway to rental car to arrival in Banff National Park. Driving west on the Trans-Canada Highway, mountains on the horizon become craggy, white-capped peaks that jut out against the snaking road all the way to Sunshine Village, an enormous resort on the Continental Divide known for its sprawling terrain and favorable snowpack, not to mention insane views of the surrounding mountain range. Sunshine has long been a hub for powder hounds as well as park rats, but this year, beginning on April 17th, it would be the homebase for the fifth edition of Snowboy Productions' Holy Bowly, one of the most celebrated and beloved weeks of snowboarding in the calendar year.
Krush Kulesza, the mastermind behind the Holy Bowly and head honcho of Snowboy Productions, spent the better part of the season working with the crew at Sunshine, brainstorming the set up of this year's Bowl-Eh and the entire past week putting rake to snow alongside Arena Snowparks and a crew of volunteers in order to turn aspiration into absolute in the form of half a kilometer (or one third of a mile) stretch of banks, berms, bumps, and bowls. Each of the four iterations of this hallowed end-of-season event has expanded in breadth and this year, the fifth Holy Bowly ever, is the most massive yet.
Holy Bowly is "an international gathering of transition and flow." Its acreage is loaded with low-impact mounds of snow. Skatepark-inspired bowls and corners. Waves, berms, and hips. Enough snow boobs to populate a small town, or a city, in this case. It's made for the rhythm of going from toe-to-heel and back again in routes that make themselves apparent the more they're ridden. It's antithetical to a contest by nature; a late season reunion of like-minded carving connoisseurs. For five days each winter, proficient pros descend on the Holy Bowly in order to etch their own lines in one of the most creative courses, bar none, each season.
From its first two years in Japan, to residencies at Park City, Utah and Mammoth Mountain, California, this year's Holy Bowly is the first time the event has made its home in Canada. An ample snow year and plenty of Canadian Rockies vertical, along with a penchant for park builds, made Sunshine Village the perfect place for Holy to stake its flag in 2017. And the riders came out in droves. Crews from Vancouver and Seattle, Japan, Vermont, Salt Lake City, and more arrived at the top of the gondola on Monday and boarded the Strawberry Express quad. Halfway up, the Bowly course came into view on looker's right, an extensive playground, raked and ready for the ropes to drop. Krush gathered all the invited riders at the top of the course and welcomed the three individuals who have ridden every Holy Bowly thus far, Jesse Burtner, Austin Hironaka and Sean Lucey (Jamie Lynn and Wes Makepeace are also annual attendees, but generally show up at their own pace). The three, along with Krush, opened up the session by making the first turns into the bermy course. Holy Bowly 2017 was on.
April in Alberta is technically springtime, but the weather forecast is about as reliable as the wifi in a mountain town motel. The first day of the 2017 Holy Bowl-Eh was testament to the fickle winter whims of Mother Nature as clouds drifted in and out (well, mostly in) and errant snowflakes swirled overhead. A few rays of sun illuminated shadows on the set up intermittently, but for the most part, it was a gray day on hill. The point of bringing this up is not to explain the high contrast shots in the above gallery but to call attention to the fact that the low light conditions deterred no one. Every year, there is so much anticipation for this week of snowboarding–a relatively young event to have such a devoted following–that there is no stopping the crowd of boarders once the course is opened. The crew was hyped. A heavy Mervin squadron had banded up in RVs and SUVs and skated and camped their way across Western Canada on the #roadtoholybowly: Max and Gus Warbington, Zebbe Landmark, Max Tokunaga, Ted Borland, Krugmire, Brandon Reis, and of course, Dave Marx, who notably was already going off axis on day one. Sean Genovese and Jeff Keenan arrived with their pack of Dinos in tow, including Darrah Reid-McClean, Andrew Geeves, Ian Keay, Timmy Sullivan, Luke Mathison, and more. A heavy crew of turners rolled in from Japan, including Tatsuya Nagumo, Eiko Matsui, and more. Jamie Anderson, Leanne Pelosi and Marie-France Roy made the trek from Whistler. Nirvana Ortanez, Alexa McCarty, Amanda Hankison, and Danika Duffy headed up from Utah. Out-of-towners Phil Jacques, Jake Kuzyk, Chris Beresford, Andrew Burns, Oliver Dixon, and Kyle Kennedy, dropped in alongside Sunshine locals Finn and JJ Westbury, all sussing out lines throughout the bevy of berms and feeling out the course with ample time to set tracks over the next four days.