Sports » Upcoming

Winterstoke brings backcountry glee

Festival's second year slated for March 18 to 20



The Winterstoke backcountry festival is looking very much like it's going to avoid any sophomore slump.

This year's second edition, from March 18 to 20, will offer 11 separate clinics over the course of the weekend. As of March 15, all but one was completely sold out.

This time around, the festival is focused on catering a little more to women, bringing sisters Izzy and Zoya Lynch from the province's interior as special guest speakers and instructors.

Izzy, a former Freeride World Tour competitor who is now settled near Revelstoke, is thrilled to have the opportunity to help instruct festival attendees in the Whistler backcountry. In particular, she's keen to grow the sport among women, as she'll run intro skiing and couloir-hunting workshops for them. As press time, spaces were still available in the intro skiing class, which costs $155 for an eight-hour course.

"I hope that the women who join us will see progression in their backcountry safety and ski skills that will help them enjoy the backcountry more confidently," Lynch wrote in an email. "Camps for women are definitely gaining in popularity these days. I have participated in many, from the resort to the backcountry, and they are an awesome way for women to connect and learn new skills in a safe and encouraging environment.

"I think women are just as keen as men to get involved with backcountry skiing, but they tend to not to be decision makers or take a leadership role in the backcountry unless they have had thorough training, whereas many men are more willing to learn through their own experiences.

"It is great to be able to provide an arena for learning and mentorship that is fun, safe and geared specifically to the ladies so that they can work towards making safe and independent decisions in the backcountry."

The sisters have been ski touring for years, having grown up exploring with her family near Golden.

"It was definitely not love at first tour for me, I remember complaining about how hard it was to my parents and wondering why we didn't just go to the ski resort where there were lifts that would take us to the top," Izzy noted. "Over the years I learned to appreciate the slower pace, quiet, and connection you gain with the mountains when propelling yourself through them. Now ski touring is my favourite way to move through the mountains. I love the autonomy of deciding exactly where you want to go, and the challenge of figuring out how to get there. 

"Oh, and the powder is pretty sweet too."

In a separate email, Zoya said she is eager to run her photography workshop, ideally hoping to pass along not only how to take great shots, but how to be safe while doing so.

"The backcountry is the perfect setting for an outdoor photographer. I love being out in remote ski touring areas, far away from the noise pollution of snowmobiles, cars, helicopters, and crowds. I want to help the class participants with the technical and creative aspects of photography. But I will also be putting a large emphasis on backcountry safety and decision-making as a photographer. It's easy to get caught up trying to get a specific shot and not realize that you are putting yourself in danger/avalanche terrain," she explained.

Festival founder and Altus Mountain Guides owner Ross Berg said interest, especially among experienced backcountry athletes looking to sharpen their skills, reached a fever pitch. In addition to intro courses, training in big mountain riding, ski mountaineering, steep skiing, split boarding, crevasse rescue, alpine objectives and backcountry photography will also be offered.

"It's definitely stronger than last year, which is good to see. All the advanced courses were sold out before we could even put them on the website. The intro ones took a little longer to fill up, but they still did," he said. "The women's camps were also really popular, so that's really neat to see."

After debuting the festival in a year with conditions that proved to be hit or miss, Berg feels the steadier streams of snow probably helped boost participation. He added backcountry skiing seems to be getting more and more popular each year, and that has continued in the 2015-16 winter.

"That probably was a factor. It was a better year. Backcountry skiing in general has been a lot busier this year and the guiding industry has been a lot busier," he said. "People have been more excited about stepping their game up whereas last year, they were like 'Sweet, let's go mountain biking.'

"I think every year, despite what the weather is going to do, we're going to see an increase in popularity. That's the way that the industry seems to be going."

However, despite the success, Berg said there isn't necessarily much room to expand the festival beyond its current capacity unless he was able to create a partnership with Whistler Blackcomb and host some of the intro skills classes on some of its sections of the mountains.

"It would be tough to (expand), because honestly, there isn't that many guides in Whistler. I've got the majority of them working that weekend," he said. "It's a supply issue as well. The demand is almost exceeding the supply this year."

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