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Living Large

The culture of extreme skiers

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Page 7 of 10

What about on the road?

"Well let me put it this way: whatever happens on the road stays on the road."

She passes the phone to her roommate Jen Ashton. Jen is noticeably more subdued than Heather. At 28 she is four years older than Heather. I ask if she would consider herself more mature.

"No I wouldn’t say I’m more mature."

Jen is also from Ontario, but as she says, "I was an army brat, so I basically grew up all over."

On moving to Whistler her experiences were also much the same as Jen’s.

"I became a lifty, met some wicked people, they showed me the mountain and talked me into doing jumps. Then (former world champion) Jeff Holden talked me into doing my first contest."

She has now won a few contests, has a sponsor and also skis for the cameras, last appearing in Warren Miller’s Ride. But still she works in a ski shop – with time off to compete – to pay the bills. Jen does the things she does, "because I love it."

One of the things extreme skiers have all done is ski in front of a camera. Some love it, some hate it, some can take it or leave it, but they all do it. The reason for this is it is the most effective way to ski and make a living skiing. If they have a sponsor then they need to be photographed or filmed wearing their sponsor’s skis or clothing. And if they want a sponsor then one of the best ways to get noticed is to be photographed doing something spectacular and have that image published in one of the many ski or snowboard magazines out there.

Blake Jorgenson is one of the people who supplies those images. He is a Whistler-based photographer, but has photographed extreme skiers from Alaska to Verbier, Switzerland. Jorgenson also takes exception to the label extreme.

"It’s extreme for someone who doesn’t have the experience. If you want to keep doing this there has to be a certain level of professionalism. Nobody is crazy or stupid," he says. "You get the good stuff when you’re with a crew who you know have it dialled in."

He thinks that extreme skiing is more of a mass media term and, as others have told me, several different types of activities have been lumped together under the banner extreme.

"Ski mountaineering is completely different from the free skiing circuit or the guys who just ski for the movies. Mostly it’s just a group of people who do it more than anyone else, it ceases to be extreme for them."