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Opening the Mountain Flood Gates

Winter's official start marked by lift line reunions



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Eric Hjorleifson

professional shredder and mad ski scientist

Popularly referred to as "Hoji" by friends and fans, Eric Hjorleifson has evolved over his career as a freeskier. With roots in the Canadian Rockies, Hjorleifson had a timely introduction to ski movie juggernaut Matchstick Productions in the early 2000s and was soon travelling and skiing all over the world for film segments. He has his own line of skis with Salt Lake City-based company 4FRNT and has helped design boots and bindings for European ski mountaineering company Dynafit. While still catching the occasional heli or cat for film shoots, the majority of his backcountry skiing is now self-propelled.

Pique: Where and when did you learn how to ski?

EH: I was born in Banff and my parents lived in Canmore my whole childhood, so they got me into skiing when I was very young. They put me on skis for the first time since before I was two years old, I don't even remember the first time. I've been coming out to Whistler for almost 12 years primarily with summer camps work and I've been living here in the winter full time for about seven years.

Pique: You tend to ski a lot before the lifts turn, where have you been in the last few weeks?

EH: I did some skiing in early October when we got that nice snow. That was actually the earliest powder skiing I think I've ever done early season. I was on the Whistler Blackcomb heli skiing day on Oct. 1, but I had already gone up on my own power a few days earlier. I actually went up (again) that morning and had some really good turns... The morning was actually the much better skiing but the helicopter was already booked. You gotta be early!

About a week and a half ago I went up to the summit of Wedge (Mountain), that's a good early-season mission. We also did a day on the Duffey and a couple days in the Rockies when I was there last week. It's a good way to get the season rolling if you can get up high enough It's just a little punishing on the body. I like to do the missions with a bike if possible.

Pique: You've got this image of yourself with skis strapped to your bike. How effective is that set up for getting up the mountain? Do you bike in your ski boots?

EH: The ski boots I use for that style of thing are pretty lightweight so I can throw them in my backpack for the way up. Most of the time I'll bike down with my ski boots on, it's just easier. I got a nice mountain bike last year so this summer I built a new bike rack for it. It's incredible to be able to go on those styles of mission and not have to walk the whole way and carry skis and boots on your back.

Pique: With all the early season skiing you get to do, what does opening day mean to you?

EH: Obviously it's super fun to get back up there, see everyone again and just cruise. Some of the years I've been here it's been instantly game on, which is pretty incredible to have some of the best skiing on the coast in November. When it's kind of all right, like I predict it to be this year, I get a bit nervous because everyone is so amped and they're sending it on not much (snow). I try to remove myself a bit mentally from that full-on, giving'er attitude because I really don't want to break my leg on a stump or something on the first day. But it's contagious; it's like a double-edged sword. The energy of all our friends pinning it, you end up getting caught up in it sometimes. It's interesting, but always exciting.

Pique: What is your favourite run or favourite zone?

EH: For years I was super-focused on Blackcomb just because of all the alpine options up there, but last year I started skiing Whistler a bit more and certainly had a lot of fun. I think it's hilarious how people get focused on one mountain or the other when there's two really good options and (with the Peak2Peak Gondola) you get double powder days. It's condition dependent where I really like to go skiing, but as far as alpine access to glaciated terrain and expansive alpine skiing I don't think you can beat Blackcomb anywhere in North America. Obviously Europe is a whole other different level, but that's one of the things I like about this area is from the ski hill you have so much access. From the top of Glacier Chair, Spanky's is the go-to zone because you're getting the most variety, the most fall line. I'm usually racing for Ruby Bowl high entrance.