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Living Large

The culture of extreme skiers



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"Well he sussed it out for 10 months, and he thought he had it. You know, you gotta have that 100 per cent dialled in thing if you’re going to do something like that. I saw Brett do some crazy jumps, so you kinda think he must have known what he was getting into."

However, the loss of a friend did give Chris some pause for thought.

"It was an instant perspective on the risk, just to have him suddenly dead like that," Winter says.

But a pause is all that it was, as Chris has no intentions of slowing down or taking it easy.

It should be remembered that extreme skiing is not strictly a male pursuit. While some may write off taking insane risks as out of control machismo, they would be hard pressed to explain the likes of Heather Roberts and Jen Ashton who both compete on the International Free Skiers Association tour.

The first time I talk with Heather she is driving through the desert, the passenger in a car driven by Ashton. Both have just been to the Ski Industries America SnowSport convention in Las Vegas and are now on their way to Kirkwood, California to compete in an IFSA event. Heather has the same infectious enthusiasm for living dangerously as Chris Winter. She also knew Brett Carlson and says that when he died she had to re-evaluate her life and asked herself if what she was doing was worth the risks involved. She decided that if she wasn’t pushing the envelope then she wasn’t fulfilled. And so she continues to compete on the IFSA tour and to ski the big bowls of Whistler-Blackcomb when at home.

Heather grew up in Ontario, where she ski raced. But when she came out west she "didn’t even know what free skiing was." But in Whistler if you’re a local and any kind of a skier, it’s only matter of time until you hook up with someone who will show you the ropes out of bounds. Hopefully they will be experienced and know what they are doing. And as every skier who I interviewed for this article told me, "once you start you just want to go further and further."

I ask Heather if she feels like she is one of the boys? Emphatically, no.

"In Whistler there are six or seven girls that totally rip!" she says. "People are stoked on girls that rip."

Like the men, she admits the lifestyle can be hard on relationships.

"The whole travelling thing is hard. I can only date guys that ski."