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Life from a different angle

Steep skier Trevor Hunt solos down Atwell Peak's front face with its 55-degree slopes

Trevor Hunt spent last weekend with three friends in Pemberton. Actually they spent it above Pemberton, waaay above Pemberton, skiing the most ridiculous slopes they could find.

Hunt is a steep skier, and this means spending hours climbing to the summit of some of the more treacherous peaks in the Coast Mountains that surround the Sea to Sky region, and skiing down routes or "lines" with angles considerably more hair-raising than 45 degrees.

First known as ski extreme, steep skiing came out of Alps hotspots like Chamonix, and remains more popular in Europe. Hunt says that to steep ski is to not attack the mountains in a free-for-all manner; it can take a few years for conditions to be right. It's all about mitigating risk.

The Squamish-based 34-year-old outdoor goods product developer and designer started calling his sport steep skiing because, of course, extreme skiing is something completely different in these parts. "Others call it ski-mountaineering. I used to call it 'big mountain' but then free skiers took the term."

He, Chris Christie, Tobin Seagel, Jon Johnston knocked back a few first descents around Pemberton while there; Hunt described the two-day adventure on his blog Coast Steep Skier, but exactly where they were he couldn't tell you. What he will say is that the words "ski sickness" kept popping into his head.

"It's hard to describe. There are no names. On a map there might be, I just don't know them," he said, laughing. "It was more that the ski lines were interesting. Even if I knew what valley we were in I probably wouldn't say... not to keep it a secret, but I tend to think people are too obsessed with guidebooks. They don't want to be on the adventure themselves and find things out."

Hunt said there is a small community of "super active," steep skiers with the same degree of skill and intensity, with the core being based in Pemberton.

"There are some great steep skiers up there, snowboarders, too," he said.

As for Pemberton's iconic Mount Currie, Hunt says there is already too much activity there.

"Some people consider Mount Currie one of the classics, but people are skiing that all the time. For me, I don't even consider it steep, but I guess there are some things on there that are steep. It's all relative," he said.

What he will say is that the Coast Mountains, despite the popularity of Whistler and backcountry extreme skiing opportunities, still provide the chance for new routes for his sport.

"In a day or so you can go to a place where nobody's skied ever, possibly, with amazing snow, and we have it right here," he said, explaining the appeal.

Then there is Atwell Peak, with its sharp-pointed apex. It has become Hunt's particular project.

Rising 2,655-metres above the Sea to Sky Highway, Atwell is one of three peaks of Mount Garibaldi, located between Whistler and Squamish in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Though not the highest peak in the Garibaldi Massif, it is certainly the most visually dramatic.

Hunt has skied lines from the top of Atwell "five or six" times since 2003. Solo. On each attempt he has tackled different routes. The most recent attempt was on Dec. 30, 2012.

"It's such a steep mountain that even in the world of steep skiing it's unique to be able to get onto stuff that steep," Hunt said.

When asked to be more specific, he said he skis at "up to a 60-degree angle, definitely over 55-degree."

He added: "There's a bunch of ski lines on it, but as far as the west face of it, it was skied twice in the early 90s... There's only two other groups that have skied it, other than myself."

As well as in December, Hunt skied Atwell three times in 2011 in order to find new routes, new ski lines, first ascents and descents.

"It's fun. The last line I did, the snow was so good, and, yet, sometimes it gets a bit scary," he said.

But it is the climbing he finds the hardest, Atwell being part of a scrappy dormant volcano, which makes winter climbing actually easier than summer climbing. He needs to take two ice axes, and wear crampons on the way up, and acknowledges the kinship between climbing and steep skiing.

"You climb what you ski and as you climb you check the ice and the rock and make sure it's all skiable," he said.

Hunt describes himself as a much better skier than climber, having first put on skis at the age of three. Getting to the top of Atwell has taken as long as 24 hours, these days he will snowmobile to the top of Brohm Ridge, adjacent to the mountain, to cut the time down to eight hours.

"It was a little bit scary climbing it because I was above a bunch of cliffs the whole time, but on the way down I got very comfortable on my skis," he said. "The snow was perfect and stable, so I got to play around on some very steep terrain and have full confidence that it was skiable and nothing was going to slide on me."

Hunt had hoped to go to Pakistan this year, a country he has long ties with, in order to steep ski there, but that is currently on hold. Instead, he will wait for his next opportunity in his beloved Coast Mountains.