Sledding in Radium, BC: Catamount Glacier
Words and photos by Tim Grey
Into Another Dimension: Catamount Glacier near Radium, BC
It’s late spring and the 509 team is looking to finish up shooting for their next film Volume 11. Temps have been sky high and it’s getting harder and harder to find the snow conditions they need to get things done.
“What is this place?” Jay Mentaberry exclaimed when we gathered on top of the Catamount glacier. We’d been wide open on the throttles for a while when we finally decided to re-group. The stoke was high for this youthful contingent of the 509 team that also included Riley Suhan and filmer Dave McKinney, all of who were here for the first time. Moments before, we had crested onto the ice and left the hot spring of the lower valley for cooler temps and alpine bliss. After a week fighting slushy snow in valleys far away, it was a refreshing change to get up high and see some new sights.
We were a world away from the ultra-featured terrain of Eagle Pass, which we had been working for the last ten days. Here the sprawling glacier has carved a flat, spacious surface that roams and wanders and is only interrupted by jagged peaks sticking straight out of the ice. Attached to the flanks of those peaks are mounds of ice and snow. It’s big terrain and it takes awhile to absorb it all. Really it’s a place that takes years to try to understand. The kind of features that our young and progressive crew are looking for aren’t exactly obvious here but slowly throughout the trip the truth would be revealed.
Open for business
What the crew doesn’t know is that it used to be illegal to be here. Only until recently did the Windermere Valley Snowmobile Society successfully lobby to get sanctioned sledding up on the glacier. In a leading example of multiple user groups combining on a workable compromise, the parties and ministries involved have approved mountain snowmobiling on the Catamount glacier after Feb 15th for the past couple of years. It’s a solution that seems to be working. The pre-February closure is admirably observed by the vast majority of sledders and that does well to placate the anti-sledding community. From Feb 15 – June 1 the Catamount opens up for snowmobile use and it at least doubles the size of the amazing Forester Creek drainage. Sledding user groups of all stripes and colors have operated in this drainage for years, and because of good management, the valley stands to support years more of positive recreation experiences for many.
When Eric Oddy and his buddy Shag show up things go from good to even better. These are some special locals, who know the land like they’ve been sledding here for decades. Shag is somewhat new to the area but he doesn’t sled like it, and Eric, well let’s just elevate Eric to legend status, in case there was ever any doubt. Today, Eric is hell bent on flying his snowmobile from his paraglider wing and none of us try to talk him out of it. As crazy as it sounds, we all want to see it happen.
The sport of parasledding has a very unique population of one and as Eric starts lining his flight up, our goal for the day is to keep things that way. Sure as shit, in not too much time there’s a snowmobile flying through the air logging the longest airtime ever for a sled. It’s a bizarre thing to see but something you can’t help but watch every moment of.
After a couple of successful flights it’s becoming obvious to Jay that he should also try parasledding. What could possibly go wrong? This is where shit starts getting a bit more serious. Of course Jay wants to try it. Jay is Jay. But also, we kinda need Jay. He’s pretty much the brightest light in mountain sledding and it’d be good to keep him around for a bit to see where he leads us. So how about we try to not drop him out of the sky?
It’s not surprising that any rational conversation is lost in engine noise. Together with Eric, the two tandem around practicing short take offs and landings. Luckily the Catamount is huge. Really, it’s the perfect place for such antics.
Eric’s in his element. It’s true what they say that the only difference between men and the boys is the size of their toys. Nothing to see here folks. Just a couple of nutty, young at heart wildmen being themselves. And really, if you close your eyes, they are just like young kids, lost in imagination and playtime.
Time to move on
Thank goodness the episode ends without incident. As it turns out, the patience to untangle lines on failed attempts would cure many from parasledding alone. It’s not exactly a turn-key sport. As we sit around it becomes apparent that it’s probably time to see if we can bag some shots. Being as today is the last day of a long and successful season of shooting, the desire to pull the cameras out for anything but pure magic is low.
We explore a bit and do some set ups but the features aren’t exactly working. Unfortunately the hot spring has also had its way up high here and the athletes struggle to make speed for big takeoffs. Riley, being his creative self, starts wall jibbing a big slab of granite and that definitely lifts the cameras out of the packs. Mentaberry responds with a couple of wild attempts at a 360 elevator drop, a move where you slide down a slope sideways and also spin around in the snow. His closest attempt to success sets a lot of snow moving and he manages to break a part on his sled in the process. Breaking his sled is something Jay claims he’s very good at and he laments that his day is done.
We’ll head home soon but not before we take the sunset in, which is incredible. Sitting above 3000 meters, we chill out and watch the sky go from yellow to orange to pink. We session some fancy sunset turns and again the cameras come out. It’s impossible to not take a picture. Moments like these are the reason we live. It feels like we’re in another dimension and we never want to leave.