Nov. 19, 2008 - Issue #683: Never Mind the Bollocks… Let’s Dance!
Legends of the fall line
That morning, my friend Patrice and I had waited anxiously for his call. It was 7 am and I was on my second double cappuccino. I had hardly slept the night before as the list of what I would need on my inaugural trip into the backwoods of Kimberley nagged the fringes of my brain. Beacon, shovel, probe, poles, skins, screwdriver, toilet paper, puffy coat, extra toque and mitts ... not to mention food, water and gumption. I was going out with seven men who lived and breathed stoke; I was just beginning to get a whiff of it. Finally the phone rang. “We’ll get there around 8:45,” Patrice said. “Get your stuff, girl!”
I burst into action. I had no choice as jitters, both caffeine and nerve-induced, coursed through my veins. Within 10 minutes we had hitched the sled trailer to the Jeep and were bouncing down St Mary’s Lake Road toward Meacham.
As we sped around a corner, an old Dodge pick-up came into view. “There’s Monte!” beamed Patrice. “You can tell a real mountain man by his truck.”
Two sleds sat in the box of Monte’s beat-up 1988 Dodge, the truck sagging lopsided under their weight. We pulled beside the pick-up and Patrice jumped out. I rolled down my window and looked at the driver. He had crystalline eyes and tanned, rugged skin. It was the face of a legend.
“Hi, I’m Bobbi,” I said simply. He paused, arm draped casually over his steering wheel and smiled. “Good to meet you. I’m Monte,” he replied and rolled up his window.
Patrice came back to the Jeep and threw it into first. “These boys breathe these mountains,” he said. I had no doubt the extent to which he meant those words. Couloirs were written in the lines of Monte’s face.
We were the last to arrive at our meeting place. Four other well-weathered mountain trucks were unloading sleds. Several of their drivers were emptying the contents of their bladders into the bushes. I jumped over the snow bank and searched for some privacy to do the same. I listened to the ol’ boys slap each others’ backs and heard their ski-jackets rustle as they shook hands.
The air reeked of sled exhaust. I jumped on the back of Patrice’s yellow Ski Doo (bearing a Calgary 1988 Olympics sticker) with hardly a moment to decide where to hang on. Everyone else was already screaming down the logging road on their duct-taped machines.
For the first five kilometres I fought against my body’s alarm system, convincing myself it was fun as my tailbone crushed into the wooden seat with every bump on the abandoned excuse for a road. Shocks were no longer part of the sled’s machinery. Eventually, I realized I’d have to resign myself to the risk that at any second I could go flying over the cliff. Once I accepted this, I was able to hang on to the rear bars of the sled, contract my abs to keep my ass mostly off the seat and hold on for dear life. My triceps screamed—a welcome distraction as we ripped along the brink of bedlam.
After nearly capsizing for the umpteenth time, Patrice slowed for a moment to say, “How’re you doing? I have to keep up with them!” before gunning it again.
Thirty kilometres into the bush, we came to a ravine. Sensing this was man’s work, I got off the sled and let the boys build a “sled bridge” under Monte’s direction. Two sleds were parked in the water and their drivers walked across the seats and hoods, then pulled them up the other side. Monte appraised the necessity of the manoeuvre, changed his mind and directed everyone else to just drive across. Everyone listened.
By the time we reached the spot to start skinning, Monte was already a distant figure. He was breaking trail before I even got off the sled. I rushed to set up my board and ended up forgetting my coat. If they hadn’t stopped for a toke, I’m sure I would have been left behind as I went back to retrieve it.
The eight of us switchbacked through thick, steep trees into the sub-alpine. After 90 minutes, we had ascended above the tree line. Someone shouted through the fog, asking whether we should do a Rutschblock test. Monte had already finished a shovel shear. “It’s moderate. I’m OK with that.” And thus, so were we. He charged up the slope.
We reached the ridge overlooking where we had just skinned up. I knew better than to keep these dudes waiting so I started putting my board together immediately. By the time I was ratcheting myself into my bindings, I was the second last person on the ridge. Monte stood a short distance away, quietly waiting.
I looked at the fresh tracks disappearing into the trees below me and slipped into the foreign territory. I had no idea where I was but I didn’t really want to follow the tracks. That’s why one goes into the backcountry—to not have to go where others have tread. Being that it was my first time however, I found some comfort in finding Patrice’s line, the only other boarder, and staying close. Within a few moments I had descended deep into the trees and found the group waiting. They had already put their skins back on and were ready to head up again.
The only similarity I found between riding in the backcountry and on the hill is the fact that both could involve snowboarding. At the resort, no matter how deserted a weekday morning may be, there is always evidence of others. But in the backcountry, there is no one except your chosen companions. At times, you’re completely alone in untouched powder with no sound but your wake falling in on itself. It’s a respectful solitude unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I think that was what I saw in Monte’s gaze.
Monte and two others did five runs to our three, and eventually I found myself riding through familiar territory near where we’d left the sleds. It was already past five o’clock. Time had simply disintegrated, completely unimportant until thirst and hunger made me aware of its passing. Monte sat on his ancient Bravo sled eating chocolate, that secret smile settled on his face. A painful 45-minute sled ride later, we were back at the trucks.
As we pulled away, I commented on the powerful quietude that surrounded the obvious leader of our pack. Patrice finally explained more of his mystery. Monte Paynter had won his first Canadian National Telemark Championship, his second telemark race ever, in a pair of jeans. He had reasoned the jeans were tighter than Gore-tex, so he would go faster. Having grown up jumping off the chicken coop as a means of training, Monte was a Canadian champion for seven years and finished numerous World Cups in the top 20. He’s also the first to descend an unprecedented number of couloirs in the Kootenays, alongside long-time friend Russ Peebles.
I thought I knew something about riding. But watching someone like Monte charge the slope made me realize there is far more to skiing and snowboarding than you can ever obtain in-bounds. Losing my virginity made a far more monumental impression on me the second time. And it didn’t even hurt. V
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