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Winterstoke celebrates the backcountry

Annual festival returns from Jan. 23 to 26 with art, film, conversation and clinics
The Winterstoke Backcountry Festival returns with clinics, art events and films. Photo by Guy Fattal/ @guyfattalphotography

Ross Berg is no stranger to guiding groups of backcountry skiers.

As the founder, director, and one of the head guides at Altus Mountain Guides, he's led plenty of newbies on winter adventures. But later this month, he's set to take a unique group out for an overnight trip.

"I'm going to take five artists to the Kees and Claire Hut for the night," he says. "I thought it'd be cool to bring [them] up to the new space to find inspiration and see [their] take on that area."

The artists—all Sea to Sky locals—will take in the area and then, on Friday, Jan. 24, they will live paint their interpretation at the Mountain Art event, running as part of the sixth annual Winterstoke Backcountry Festival, put on by Altus and supported by Arc'teryx.

The resulting art will be posted online for a week and auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Spearhead Huts Project (the Kees and Claire Hut is the first of three huts built as part of that project).

"For most of them, it's their first time ski touring, but they all ski," Berg says. "That's really cool. I'm excited to take them into this totally different environment."

The art event—which will also include music, food, and drinks at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre—is just one part of the festival, which also features backcountry clinics for beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers and splitboarders.

Now heading into its sixth year, the festival draws a mostly local crowd with the aim of celebrating backcountry skiing and snowboarding and connecting the community.

"I think the biggest thing is how can we do something different to engage the backcountry ski community and how can we use our community to benefit something else as well?" Berg says. "I want to engage the community. Backcountry skiing can be a pretty isolated activity. You're going to the middle of nowhere with a couple of friends. [If we] create a hub, people can see who the other backcountry users are."

To that end, on top of the clinics, there are also evening events throughout the festival from Jan. 23 to 26.

The first evening on Thursday, Jan. 23, will feature a panel of avalanche and ski professionals discussing how the community impacts climate change and what it can do to help.

On Jan. 25, catch Local Lines, a film night with local athletes and backcountry experts. And on Sunday, Jan. 26, it all wraps up with an après.

"I'd love to encourage everyone to [buy tickets] asap. In Whistler, everyone is so last minute and it's easy to miss the boat," Berg says.

Already, some of the backcountry clinics have sold out. It's been telling to watch locals flock to beginner classes when the festival first started six years ago and then move onto to more advanced clinics—like navigation and route planning or crevasse travel.

"This year, it's a little wider spread, which is interesting to see," Berg says. "We have a more diverse user base, from introductory to advanced people."

For more information on the events and clinics, and to buy tickets, visit