Pemberton’s Peter “Peru” Chrzanowski has squeezed enough life into his decades on Earth to last him multiple lifetimes. Thankfully, the local daredevil has captured his extraordinary life in a new memoir, I Survived Myself, first published in his native Polish.
The book illustrates the life of a rebel, a ski bum and a vagabond. Chrzanowski was always determined to do life his way, whether that meant wrangling a racoon into a classroom for show-and-tell, throwing chestnuts at a priest or simply posing as a journalist to gain a press pass.
Chrzanowski’s life in the wild has been far from smooth sailing, leaving him with more insight on what it means to be alive than most. He’s crashed his paraglider into power lines in Mexico. He watched helplessly as his friend Gerhard Singler fell to his death from the West Couloir on Wedge Mountain near Whistler.
The 66-year-old has no intention of slowing down anytime soon, either. “I just naturally kept going. I felt that I had a bit of a lucky streak,” he says. “It never held me back. It just went from one to another.”
Death has come knocking on Chrzanowski’s door more times than he can count. “When I first fell during my big accident in Peru, that was really scary. When my paraglider collapsed, that was really scary. I didn’t know if I would come out of it. I had to crawl out of the jungle a few years ago. That was scary,” he recalls.
Chrzanowski details travelling to the “land of blue lights,” a place he did not want to leave when the veil between life and death grew thin. “A lot of people have had out-of-body experiences and go through the tunnel,” he says. “You’re part of the universe. There is no past, present or future. You’re there. You feel like you’re talking to souls or maybe people that you know from the past, but you can’t quite find who they are. You’re very comfortable.”
The Poland native is not scared of what comes next, acknowledging he still has plenty of adventures on his mind. “There is still so much that I would like to do in the material world. I’ve slowed it down and I’m a lot more careful. I’ve learned a lot. I want to enjoy what the Earth has to offer. I don’t want death to be painful, that’s for sure. I’m not really scared of it,” he says.
Sometimes, Chrzanowski wonders if there was something out there looking out for him, or a reason why he has made it through six decades living on the edge. “There is something out there. Sometimes, I wonder why was I special. Others didn’t make it. Maybe I was doing something right,” he says.
Chrzanowski has been criticized around Whistler for his natural draw towards mountains untouched by men. “We were young,” he says. “We were full of piss and vinegar. It was different. The gear just wasn’t there for the touring. I guess we were just skiing a lot of stuff that regular people weren’t. The patrol was worried. All of those runs were permanently closed, like Friday the 13th.”
The extreme sport pioneer thinks skiing has changed over the years—and not necessarily for the better. “I think in general skiing was more harmonious,” he says. “It was more for the joy of skiing, not all about the equipment or the clothes. It was way more down to Earth. Whistler was smaller. Things grow out of their boundaries. We were poor. We were making films and films were so expensive to make at that time. The process was just so expensive. You had to cut corners everywhere. You had to find cheap gear.”
Chrzanowski chose a different life to friends who eventually settled into the 9-to-5 groove: the life of an adventurer. “I think we chose a different path,” he says. “We were rebels in that way. We travelled a lot. We didn’t have families. It was a different way of doing life. People always look at that as rebellious.”
Chrzanowski is currently on a book tour around B.C. Stay tuned via his website.