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At the moment, however, we're just past the ropes off Whistler Mountain.
Extremely Canadian's client is an affable Brit, whom we'll call Simon. He's been to the outer reaches of chair-assisted skiing in Gulmarg, India, but this trek up and over Flute and down into Oboe Creek — an introductory skills tour, indeed — has him breathless and dripping. Read is a patient teacher, throwing down tidbits of useful information on everything from folding skins to pointing out terrain traps. Down in the quiet drainage over a huddled lunch, Simon keeps glancing back up at the powder football fields we have just descended. Finally, he asks: "Do we have to go back up there?" Yes indeed, indeed we do. Such is the way of the backcountry: what goes down must go back up. Earlier, on the down, the thigh-deep powder had him nearly defeated, but he's nonetheless mind-boggled by every turn, as the rest of us revel in what has been one of the deepest Decembers on record. Read led the descent, directing us where and how he'd like us to ski. "One of the primary safety tools that we have, to manage people in terrain," says Read, "is coaching and controlling how they move — that's how you keep them safe."
Simon is Extremely Canadian's first client in the Whistler backcountry.
A leap beyond boundary steeps
The infamous steeps camp in Whistler founded by Peter Smart, Greg Dobbin, and Jill Dunnigan has been around since 1994, surviving the dual mountain merger and various owners, expanding worldwide to teach the steeps, powder, and what the neon-attired ski media used to call "extreme skiing" in locations such as La Grave, France and Niseko, Japan. But ever since being inspired by Trevor Peterson and Peter Mattsson's No Wimp Tours in the early 1990s — which was "hardcore," says Dunnigan, pushing first descents in the Coast Range — Smart and Dunnigan's vision has included backcountry guiding the steeps, couloirs, and long tours around Whistler. It is finally with the 2012/13 seasons that the approvals, paperwork, and politics have been resolved.
With every step, Read is redefining the nature of Whistler Blackcomb as a resort. As a Whistler Blackcomb affiliated program, Extremely Canadian is the first such service to go beyond the ropes. True, while Whistler Heli has been dropping off powder-seekers for some 30 years, and guide associations such as Canada West Mountain Guides and the Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau have provided private guiding services throughout the region, this is the first official foray of Whistler Blackcomb into the non-mechanized backcountry. As such, it redefines the very idea of resort skiing in North America.
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