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Meanwhile, the steeps camp flourished. By 1997, Extremely Canadian had dropped Banff, added Whistler Mountain, and were undertaking 36 camps a year, with world tours to the big line Meccas of Chamonix, La Grave, and the resorts of Les Portes du Soleil that straddle Switzerland and the French Alps, adding Japan and South America as the seasons rolled along. They had not only demonstrated that Canadian coaches could teach the steeps in Whistler, but they had proven their technical skill and coaching acumen worldwide, by undertaking travel camps to the globe's most adventurous, resort-based ski locations for steep-and-deep skiing.
Fast forward to 2009, and one year before Whistler became dotted with the RCMP tents known affectionately as pigloos and stormed by the celebratory hordes here for the Winter Olympiad, the hard-working gnomes at Whistler Blackcomb gave the greenlight to Dunnigan and Smart's backcountry guiding concept — some 12 years after its initial pitch. Extremely Canadian had proven itself capable of exporting and undertaking steeps clinics worldwide, in challenging terrain from the Alps to South America. Now, the market had proven itself ready for backcountry guiding, with increasing numbers of visitors heading beyond the resort boundary.
For the past three years, Dunnigan, Smart, and Read have been getting their logistical ducks in a row. "The stars had to be aligned," says Dunnigan. "We needed Keith Read. . . we needed the market as it is, and the desire of the general public looking for education and guided tours into the backcountry."
As Dunnigan explains, the biggest part of such approval is achieving the official go-ahead from BC Parks, which requires a thorough analysis of operational infrastructure including rescue plans, logistics, tenure, and community approval. Unlike independent Guides that operate in the Sea-to-Sky, Extremely Canadian as a guiding organization requires a tenure license to operate within Garibaldi Park. This means providing detailed information on the environmental, social, and commercial impact of the service. The process took three years.
Smart, today a Level III CSIA instructor and Level I Coach is, in a signifier of the times, stoked on the backcountry program.
"It's also about the first-timer," says Smart, "who is skiing more and more challenging terrain, who has always been inspired to (ski the backcountry), but doesn't want to make that jump into being a full-time alpine touring (AT) skier."
Are you going to die?
It was the fluorescent yellow flyer that caught my attention. Deep into my third pint while lounging on a leather couch at Merlin's, I was not particularly given to meditate upon the inevitable demise of all mortals. Indeed, I was rather focused on recovering from a day spent out balancing on edge among Whistler Blackcomb's chalky and spooky steeps. This recovery operation included devouring vast amounts of nachos and hot wings while matching each bite with the delights of fermented barley. Little did I know that death was staring me in the face.
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