The haute route 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MATTIAS FREDRIKSSON - Outworking her teammates Christina 'Lusti' Lustenberger gets ready for a descent in B.C.
  • PHOTO by Mattias Fredriksson
  • Outworking her teammates Christina 'Lusti' Lustenberger gets ready for a descent in B.C.

Much of what you need to know about Revelstoke-based guide Christina "Lusti" Lustenberger can be found on her Facebook page and Instagram feed. Sure, there are a few happy-faced selfies at iconic locations — at least iconic in the rarified worlds of climbing and ski mountaineering — but it's the rest that truly tell the tale: a catalogue of peaks, rock faces, ice and snow that form a bit-map of Western Canada and a de facto geology course — spires in the Rockies, the unmistakable granite of the Bugaboos, a massive chute near Adamant Glacier rimmed by sinister black rock. From her visual parade, you also get a sense of constant motion. Lusti, in fact, is such an energetic outdoorist that even monitoring what she's up to digitally can be exhausting — though a better way to describe it is inspiring.

Lauded as one of the best young guides in the industry, with abundant physical ability and a good head for the mountains, her comfort among the peaks goes almost back to the cradle.

Born and raised in Invermere, B.C., Lusti's parents inculcated in her a strong passion for the mountains. By age two she was already shredding the local pistes of Panorama Resort. Her father Peter, a Swiss immigrant, ran Panorama's ski shop — appropriately named "Lusti's" — while her mother hectored Christina and her older sister around the slopes. She eventually joined the ski-racing program, excelled, and competed on the Canadian Alpine Ski Team for six years, achieving top-10 World Cup results and representing Canada in Giant Slalom at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Though racing was her life, Lusti always felt there was more for her in the sport of skiing. After a decade of bashing gates, wearying travel, and five knee surgeries, she went looking for it. Retiring from the Alpine Team was a bittersweet choice, but ultimately steered her in the direction of her true passion — ski mountaineering. Switching focus from racing to backcountry didn't surprise her parents; skiing uphill had been part of her "unofficial" training for years, and she always carried touring skis when she travelled to races.

Following the cue of a friend, she enrolled in the Canadian Mountain and Ski Guide Program at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., then spent an additional couple of years learning the backcountry ropes on several continents. Since then, she has quietly become one of the most accomplished ski mountaineers in North America, climbing and skiing numerous impressive lines, including a solo first descent of the south couloir of 3,345-metre Adamant Mountain in 2011 — a historic accomplishment that drew plaudits from both peers and sponsors. These days she works as an ACMG assistant ski guide for CMH Heli-skiing and Whitecap Alpine Adventures, creates her own adventures as a member of the Arc'teryx athlete team, and is known for her work ethic on expeditions.

"My partner Mike once told me 'always outwork your teammates' and it really stuck. When you're on big trips, it's important. It's not a competition, but more like trying to be that helping step ahead for your partners. It starts at camp — boiling water, shovelling snow, meal preparation, being five minutes early so your teammates don't wait outside in the cold. Big objectives take a lot of hard work and if everyone is contributing, it goes a long way." 

If it seems from her social feeds that Lusti is incredibly busy, it's because she is. Between guiding, sponsor obligations, film work, and her own projects, it's a manic schedule. "To be able to complement my work with personal objectives has helped me in the long run," she notes. "When I'm skiing with friends or filming, I get to push myself and explore new and challenging terrain, while guiding slows down the pace and lets me focus on different aspects of being in the mountains. Both are rewarding, but one without the other might go underappreciated." 

Soloing the south couloir of Mt. Adamant was a big deal, and though she's unsure what her biggest accomplishment has been since, last spring Lusti was able to return to the Adamants for some unfinished business. "Weather and conditions pushed us around a bit, but after playing the waiting game and some good reconnaissance, we managed the first ski descent on Black Friar, a line that has been on my mind since 2011. That felt pretty darn good."

Most winter days at home in Revelstoke, she meets ski buddies at a coffee shop for an early start up to Rogers Pass or some other objective. Though often lauded as a vanguard for a women's ski-mountaineering renaissance, Lusti herself is content to simply portray strength in the mountains. "I don't need to be labelled as a female trying to lead a movement. I just want to hold my own and be part of whatever team I'm working with," she says. "My love for the mountains has opened up a life of opportunity and incredible experiences — living new adventures with great friends through skiing. It's something I hope to be able to do the rest of my life."

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