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Breathing new life and a sense of adventure into an industry that has spent that past two decades creating a standardized and sanitized experience might explain the new wave of backcountry popularity. "We’re definitely seeing more people out there," said Sulkers.
Stuart Rempel is seeing the data to back this up. "I absolutely do feel a resurgence in the backcountry scene. We see it in the industry figures on what’s being sold. A lot of experienced alpine skiers are putting touring bindings on their skis, and you see them in the lift line with a pack and a shovel. We think it’s great to have both experiences here, with the lift access into the alpine."
Jayson Faulkner, of Recreation Outfitters Inc, is the force behind the Backcountry Freeride Jam, the granola, sweat and skins component of this spring’s Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival. Twenty-three-thousand skiers went through the backcountry gate at Jackson Hole this winter, and Faulkner is seeing the same revitalization in the scene here, and the way it’s recharging the stoke of long-time expert skiers.
Last April, the winter we’d given up on arrived with mischief, sunshine, and 20 cm fresh. Faulkner played guide to a group of guys, old buddies, all good skiers, probing out the best powder stashes until the mountain was skied out. "And then we said, ‘Let’s go hike Flute,’" he recalled. "Only three out of eight had ever ski-toured, and there was bitching and whining about the hike, but we got to the top, passed around the water, and there was a dawning of ‘amazing’s. It was beautiful mid-calf pow in the sun, and these guys were skiing and hollering and proclaiming it their best day ever. It was like emerging from Plato’s cave."
The Flute "sidecountry" experience allows this tasting. Before a skier or rider commits to buying the gear and taking the avalanche courses, they can get a sense of the sweating, the earning of turns, the solitude. The whole package, unpacked.
Faulkner’s Backcountry Freeride Jam will take that tasting experience and turn it into a smorgasboard April 21-23 on Whistler Mountain, with a snowcave village, free clinics for telemarkers, backcountry snowboarders, and kite-boarders, slide-shows and movie nights, and a veritable outdoors expo of demos.
Faulkner is frank about wanting to reach into the alpine skier market and turn them on to the backcountry. But his real agenda is more left-field. As the Development Coordinator for the International Ski Mountaineering Council, the governing body for ski mountaineering racing, Faulkner wants to use Whistler and the Backcountry Freeride Jam to raise the profile of ski mountaineering racing to have it included in the 2014 Olympics.
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