GOOD-BYE, WINTER... | Mountain Sledder
William Chitty | On 04, May 2016
For those of you who don’t know Will Chitty, you might want to check out his article on guiding in Valemount. However, there are three things your should know about Will: he’s a super nice guy, he’s a kick-ass guide and he single-handedly digs out more sledders per season than anyone else in the mountains. -ed.
As the sun sets on another perfect bluebird spring day I know it’s time to start making my way home. Pulling my helmet on over a freshly sunburned face I start my decent back to the reality of the world at low elevation. Rounding the last sunny corner into the failing evening light in the parking lot I smile and think over the seasons 3300+ miles and the hundreds of clients I had the pleasure of spending time with in 2015/2016
December started off with a delivery from Spectra Power Sports in Williams Lake. Barely able to contain my excitement as I loaded the new Polaris AXYS into my truck I headed out to teach for the first AST (Avalanche Skills Training) course of the 15/16 season. Heading up the trail I was having a very difficult time focusing on anything other than the new sled, and it wasn’t long before my lack of focus caught up to me. As we started to head for the alpine I did a quick head count back down the line of students and sleds. My first mistake was holding on with only one hand while standing on the right running board and looking back at the following riders, and it’s also when it all went wrong. I hit a bump, not a rock or a log but a bump, more of a ripple in the trail and apparently when you’re facing backwards that’s all it takes. My hand slid forward and bumped the eject button (kill switch) and sent me flying off the side of my sled. Laying on the ground eating my scoop of humble pie, behind me as I stare up at the blue sky I can hear cheers and someone shouting “I give that dismount an 8.5” and I smiled knowing it was going to be a good year.
January started with a cold snap and a two week drought in the Robson Valley, which wouldn’t have hurt so bad, but the Christmas break riders had trampled every fresh piece of snow that could be found within our maintained areas. With guiding booking up for the month I was feeling the pressure of the never ending request for fresh. I met the my first guiding group of 2016 at Clemina Creek and when the green plated enclosed trailer lowered the back door I heaved a sigh of relief. Tucked in their enclosed trailer were three 146 short tracks and I knew even with no deep fresh to play in we were still going to have a blast. This started three days of jumping exploring and more 12 o’clock wheelies than I think I had seen thru the entire previous season. It was also a great reminder that you don’t need a big sled to have a fun in the mountains.
February marked the return of my next group, the half-cocked and hair-brained crew from Saskatoon. These boys knew how to have a good time and I think it was almost as much fun to watch the gong show as it was to ride. Greg (airbag inflator) his brother Russ along with the rest of the group seemed to feed off each other and the end result was nothing short of amazing. I saw more sleds upside down and stuck than any other group of the year, but every time I would pull up to help dig a sled out I was met with high fives and laughter.
On the last of the three day ride while I was resting at the bottom of a cut block, one of the boys pulled up and stated that he had one more bad decision to make. Little did I know how true that statement was, Tanner attacked the slope in a style that I had only previously seen at the Canoe Mountain Rodeo. He was so tired that his XM tossed him from side to side like an angry bull for approximately 50 feet then hammered him into a group of trees so large that we had to apply for a logging permit to get him out.
March break this year I had the pleasure of riding with the Lea family- Grant and Kathleen along with their sons Ryan and Riley. They have been sledding with us several times over the last two years and it’s awesome to see how they all have progressed. Although with progression there are always a few speed bumps, and this trip was no different. There were plenty of stucks on the highlight reel, but the award for most and worst stucks goes to Riley. His 174 saw just as many miles upside down as it did right side up. Watching Riley play in the trees on day two it was only seconds before the first tree top started shaking. Smiling, I moved up to his last point seen I spotted the yellow 174 upside down in a tree well and Riley shrugging his shoulders laughing. Twenty min of digging and pulling and we had the sled out of the hole and track side down again. With a high five Riley was off, he fired out of one tree line and charged towards another and less than a minute later my radio crackled, Riley wasn’t stuck but needed my saw. Following his track down into the trees I found him wrapped around a 100 ft pine and knew my saw was of no help. After a few pulls and some adjusting the sled was freed and Riley was off again to find a new hole to get stuck in. As he rode away I couldn’t help smiling knowing full well I would be digging him out in again but also impressed by his determination and willingness to try something outside his comfort zone.
April had spring in full effect with bluebird skies and temperatures rising daily. Most sledders were packing up gear and storing sleds for the summer while I was headed out for a fresh sunburn and a few more turns. Grabbing my coffee and reading the Avalanche Forecast as I headed out the door I reached down to grab my boots and poured half my coffee directly into the liner. Strike One. Laughing at my foolishness I poured out the boot and climbed into the truck continuing my way out to the staging area. After a quick check of all my gear and tying a soggy boot we started up the trail. Temperatures had dropped overnight and the trail was icy so by 4km my sled was running hot and I pulled to the side cool down. Now stopped, I jumped off the sled and heard a bang followed by a hiss and knew I had just become the victim of a premature inflation. In my haste to leave the parking lot I had forgotten rule number one, airbag handles out truck to truck.
Embarrassed and a little frustrated I quickly repacked my bag the whole time thinking, this is Strike Two. I should just go home nothing good can come from today, but sunshine and blue skies were just too tempting. Climbing into the first bowl of the day my mood started to improve. Playing around I lined myself up for a climb, the AXYS Assault screamed under me as I made my first assent of the day. The forward motion was gone halted 300ft later and by the sound of twisting metal I knew that my day was over. The left spindle had been sheared off and the ski was laying in the snow ten feet behind me still hooked on the rock that had been just covered by snow. It just goes to show that eventually everyone gets caught, it’s just a matter of when.
There are so many stories after riding, guiding and teaching every season that I could go on for days, these were just a few that stood out more than the rest and makes me realize how lucky I am to have this as my job. Sharing these memories and experiences with all riders from beginners to advanced, as well as these mountains I am so lucky to call home. Until next year……