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Backcountry Picnic bucks trends

Sled-access freeride festival returns to Bralorne March 14-17



For most competitions and events in the action sports industry, the formula for success tends to revolve around big names, big sponsors and most of all, big crowds. Accessibility for pedestrian spectators has been key to success for Whistler's flagship festivals such as Crankworx and the World Ski and Snowboard Festival and the most popular competitions are always at the base of Whistler Mountain. This allows tens of thousands of spectators to witness the action live, as well as cater to the various media broadcasting live all over the world.

It's a formula that the team behind the Sennheiser Backcountry Picnic have completely thrown out the window.

"It's an event that's for riders by riders," said Paget Williams, one of the organizers of the event.

"We want everyone to enjoy themselves. It's not so much about the competition as it is about the event — spending time in the mountains, doing what we love to do and doing it all together."

The venue is the remote mountain community of Bralorne, B.C., a town populated by 60 full-time residents and 29 dogs. Direct winter access from Pemberton is over the 74-kilometre Hurley Pass on snowmobile, though driving a sturdy vehicle is possible on roads via Lillooet and Goldbridge.

So unless you own a sled or know someone who does, you are pretty much excluded from participating in this competition, or even spectating. But for those who have invested the thousands of dollars into purchasing, maintaining and transporting their snowmobiles, the Backcountry Picnic is — as organizer Free Spirit Quinn puts it — "all for fun and fun for all."

The result is a tight-knit group of riders — skiers, snowboarders and sledders — heading into Bralorne's surrounding terrain with film equipment and sending it down big lines. There's no judging panel on site, just the hoots and hollers of riders cheering each other on. The videos are then edited and put online with the winner garnering the most votes. The winning video from last year's inaugural Backountry Picnic, edited by Tavis "Meatsaw" Mezies, features everything from skiers jumping over two-storey chain-link fences and throwing Lincoln loops off cliffs, to streaking through Bralorne with a snowmobiler wearing nothing but his full face and goggles. The movie aired at the International Freeski Film Festival (IF3) last fall.

The whole event might sound like a bunch of reckless slednecks getting rowdy in Bralorne and the surrounding backcountry, but the vibe of the festival is actually quite friendly.

"We were super happy with the responses that we got from the local residents and businesses," said Williams of the 2012 Backcountry Picnic.

"Everybody was super happy with the fact that 100 people rolled through their little town that weekend. Sometimes that's not always looked upon as a good thing. Everyone was on their best behaviour and there was nothing but respect paid to everybody."

With just 42 pre-registered riders so far for the 2013 Backcountry Picnic — many of whom attended last year — Williams hopes to maintain the camaraderie and remote, intimate setting that made last year's event so special, all while keeping everyone safe.

"Everyone was like a big family up there, it was amazing," said Williams.

"If anyone got stuck there were five people there ready to dig them out. Everybody respected the backcountry in a big way, which was really nice to see. And people listened. There were a couple times where riders managed to get out to places where they probably hadn't made the best decision, but they listened to us when we said 'Hey, back off'.' Last year was a bit of a learning experience. We've worked out some of the bumps, structured it a little better to give people better guidelines of what they can and can't do."

The event is coordinated by a core staff about a dozen people including the organizers and a hand full of Whistler Blackcomb ski patrollers. All riders are required to sign in when they enter the backcountry and have to show they are prepared with all necessary safety equipment. A helicopter will be on standby for the whole weekend in case of an emergency evacuation, and the Bridge River Valley Snowmobile Association is assisting by grooming sections of the trail and flattening the "whoops" that form from heavy snowmobile traffic.

"The community is behind the event and for us that's really important," said Williams.

"Bralorne is a really special place with a lot of special people. They have to feel as though they're a part of this, that we're not a bunch of outsiders coming in to take what's theirs. We're not, we want to share what they have with the rest of the world."

For more information or to register for the 2013 Sennheiser Backcountry Picnic go to

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