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Opening the Mountain Flood Gates

Winter's official start marked by lift line reunions

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holly walker

revving into stardom

In the last 10 years Holly Walker, 32, has skied on most continents, has attempted to summit North America's highest peak Denali (6,168m/ 20,237ft), and is currently preparing to cross the world's largest non-polar glacier in Tajikistan. Working many jobs over the summer and spending her winters skiing and working as a ski patroller on Blackcomb, Walker has dedicated her life to skiing as many different mountains in the world as possible.

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

HW: I learned to ski when I was two on Blackcomb Mountain. My parents were both members of the Blackcomb Ski Club, my dad was the president one year and I ended up doing the Nancy Greene Ski League and we would have races against Whistler Mountain. When I was 10 years old my family moved to Australia, but I stopped racing because it was too expensive there. I didn't really start skiing again until I joined the ski team at the University of Washington in Seattle. I relearned how to ski race there and rediscovered my love of being in the mountains.

Pique: You tend to travel a lot these days for your ski trips, how did that start?

HW: During a summer break at university in 2002 I worked an internship at the U.S. embassy in Santiago de Chile. I sat at my desk every day and would scope out ski areas in Argentina and Chile and I found one resort with lots of double black diamonds called Las Leñas. After booking a trip I showed up to an apartment there and met a whole gang of Whistler dudes, and we skied together and became great friends. After I graduated I moved back up to Whistler and had friends there again. Chile was the first time I had travelled abroad for skiing and I got hooked. I started doing trips to Europe, and went to Gulmarg solo and partnered up with people I met there. I'd always had the travel bug because my family travelled around the world a bit, but that season in Chile combined the two loves of travel and skiing.

Pique: When did you start looking towards backcountry? What was your motivation for getting out there?

HW: I started heading out of bounds when I was in Las Leñas and I started realizing I needed to know what it means to be travelling in avalanche terrain. Whether I was going backcountry here at home out to Decker Mountain or to remote peaks in Gulmarg, I needed to have that knowledge should something happen. I also have a tendency to be around some sketchy scenarios sometimes. In Gulmarg there was a speed flyer that crashed whom I helped to evacuate to a hospital. I did the same for a base jumper in Las Leñas. This was all before my ski patrol days, but seeing that happen around me made me aware of the exposure you can have in the backcountry.

Pique: You just returned from Mexico, but not from the usual vacation that Whistler folk travel there for. What were you doing there?

HW: It was a pretty ridiculous trip. I went down for a ski expedition and hooked up with a couple of buddies. We were going to ski Pico de Orizaba, but with the 5,636m (18,491ft) peak elevation we had to acclimatize. We ended up hiking three other volcanoes first — Nevado de Toluca, La Malinche, and Iztaccihuatl — to get used to the altitude gain before attempting our goal of summiting Orizaba. A few days later we climbed Orizaba with skis on our backpacks, and at the top we ran into two Mexicans who had climbed up the south face. We took some photos with them and they laughed at the fact that we had skis with us.

Pique: How was the skiing?

HW: The snow was firm. We started later than mountaineers normally would so the snow would soften in the sun a bit. There were some patches where you could carve some turns but I didn't expect powder in Mexico, that's for sure.

Pique: What does Opening Day mean for you every year?

HW: For me it's the official switch of seasons, I just spent the summer working my butt off and I'm pretty excited winter is here. But the biggest thing for me is that I have so many friends that I just don't see unless it's in a lift line or on the mountain. It's like a party. Everyone is catching up on each other's lives over the summer and shredding lines together. There's a huge part of the Whistler community I only see five or six months of the year.

Pique: Where's your go to zone on opening day?

HW: If patrol allows it I like to hike Pika's Traverse. I'll bring my backpack with avalanche gear just in case, if you can get to the top that's where the best snow will be. When Blackcomb alpine opens I like to hit up Diamond Bowl in Spanky's, it's got so many great options.

Pique: Any plans for this winter yet?

HW: I'm heading back to ski patrol on Blackcomb but in a week I'm going to Sol Mountain lodge in the Monashees. In the spring I'm heading to Tajikistan for a month to cross the Fedchenko Glacier, skiing in the volcanoes in Mexico was a part of preparing for that. Otherwise I'll be out ski touring whenever I can.

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