Freeskier, Snowmobiler, mountain enthusiast and producer of "Love at First Turn" series.

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Pemberton 4×4 Rally

This past weekend was the annual Birken-Pemberton 4×4 Rally, which included a road rally, hill climb, mud bog and off road course. My friend and fellow snowmobiler Stephanie competes every year driving her infamous truck, the “Pussywagon”.

Here are some photos I shot over the weekend:

Steph driving in the Mud-Bog.

Driver Stephanie, moral support Pearl, and co-pilot Shanna.

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Whistler Freewheel Camp with the “Live it! Love it!” foundation, Labour day camping.

I had a chance to help out and see some amazing paraplegic athletes have some laughs, screams and adrenalin pumping fun times that wouldn’t have been possible without the aid of my friend, Izzy Lynch’s new foundation “Live it! Love it!”. She started the foundation up this past spring, and has had some overwhelming support. They had their inaugural “Whistler Freewheel Camp” a week ago here in Whistler, and she took 12+ athletes bungee jumping, rock climbing, zip-trecking through the trees and ATV’ing. I’m so proud of her and stoked to see this progress from a concept to full fledged camp that is currently helping injured athletes enjoy a little on the edge fun again and get empowered through adventure.

Way to go Izzy! So stoked for you and this foundation!

Here is a video her sister Zoya shot and edited.

For more on “Live it! Love it!” check out their website at:

http://www.liveitloveit.org/

Last weekend I went camping with some friends to a little canoe accessed piece of Island paradise behind Garibaldi Park. If I told you any more I’d have to kill you. Here are some photos from the trip!

Canoe Cuddles

Playing fetch.

What a gorgeous view and not another soul in sight!

Packing up on the last day.

Bridge pit-stop.

Roger and Toby packed up and stoked!

Beautiful BC.


On dealing with Loss.

It would seem that there is healing is in talking, and given the lack of those to listen, writing seemed like that appropriate way to go about it.

Nothing in life is certain, as much as we try to tell ourselves things are concrete and asstertained they’re not. People, health, security, friendship can all be taken or withdrawn without your consent or desire.

These past two to three months have certainly been a long lesson in dealing with loss. Some may have noticed that I’ve more or less fallen off the face of the planet. This has been for various reasons, and as everyone knows… when it rains it pours. Simple events that we may have been able to deal with on their own suddenly become heavy burdens when compounded with other losses or events.

Take the loss of a life, a friend, a family member, a love one, a human being. Death cannot be rationalized, especially in situations where it is an accident, or tragedy. I had my grandfather pass away last spring, his health was failing slowly, and he had lived a long fulfilled life. He had seen his children grow up and live to have their own children and grandchildren. He had time to say goodbye to those he loved. When people are taken from you by accident, you do not have time to say one last good bye, or “I love you”. Or even how much they mean to you. This winter, due to amazing snow conditions I chose to stay home rather than attend the Kirkwood World Tour stop. It was here that Ryan Hawks would ski his last day, and end up hospitalized with injuries that would claim his life. This is not the first time I’ve had friends on circuit pass away.

In Alaska for World Tour Finals back in 2009 John Nicoletta passed away on Day 1 on the venue skiing a relatively mellow line that many of us had inspected to ski. It devastated the riders, and left many of us unable to comprehend what had happened. But we had each other to go through the grieving process with, and celebrate his life, together. I had seen Ryan stomp bigger backflips before, and had just skied/hung out with him at the Revelstoke tour stop in January. He was one of those people who brightened everyones day, he was always smiling and positive regardless of conditions or circumstances. Ryan was a beautiful human being and an extremely talented skier. I was editing footage for my webseries I was doing while watching the live feed on my computer. I saw Ryan’s run, and saw him send his final backflip, only to have patrol arrive once again, and get him to hospital.

Seeing someone pass away live is different, at times it is more painful, but in some ways it makes it easier to rationalize and deal with. Being estranged from fellow competitors and friends who knew Ryan made dealing with his death hard to cope with. I knew Ryan had been hospitalized and put in a medically induced coma, but upon finding about his passing, it felt like I got punched in the gut and keeled over crying. I didn’t know who to talk to, so I phoned my friend Julie who knew Ryan as well. I wish I was with friends who knew him, so we could have shared stories, grieved together, cried on each others shoulders and hugged. People tried to relate, or comfort me but it wasn’t the same. In Alaska I was staying with Jen Ashton and Jackie Paaso who were able to discuss, talk, and grieve along with me. It almost made it easier to deal with. I’m not sure if this is selfish but, I wish I could have visited Ryan in hospital to say good bye one last time, and say how much you meant to me as a friend. The guy I was seeing at the time had a hard time understanding why I had a hard time getting up in the morning, or would burst out crying while out sledding after just staring off into the distance. It probably sowed the seeds of the end in our relationships, my inability to cope with death.

Later this season, Adam Dennis passed away in an avalanche in Aspen. I had met Adam while competing at the Colorado Freeride series over the years. He was super passionate about skiing, and making the best of every day. An avid backcountry enthusiast, he was the last person I’d expect to pass away in the mountains. He died in an avalanche, his skiing partners had him dug out in under fifteen minutes which is the general timeframe given for survival, but sadly he had succumb to injuries sustain during the slide and wasn’t able to be revived. I’ve been in avalanches, and seen friends set of slides, this is another reminder about how fragile life is, and no matter how prepared, trained,  or skilled you are.. life can be taken away in the blink of an eye. The mountain can give you the time of your life, or take in from you in a heartbeat.

I met Chris Brown through Ashleigh McIvor, who I was racing SX with at the time. When she found out I had recently purchased a snowmobile she suggested I go ride with Chris, who was riding and staring in the Slednecks movies. While I was down in Aspen at the Colorado Freeride series I got in contact with him, and he said to come out riding at Rabbit Ears pass. I was blown away, here I am, a complete hack of a beginner sledder and Chris Brown is offering to take me riding on a bluebird pow day in his backyard? He ended up taking me waaaay back to this “secret spot” he had been scoping some gnarly double drops. We ended up getting stuck and couldn’t climb out of the bottom of the valley. He casually mentioned that Chris Burandt had to come get him out the week before. It took us an hour plus to finally pull the top of the hill, exhausted and sitting at the top, suddenly we hear the sound of a turbo. Chris Burandt pops out of nowhere, from a thick forest in 3 ft of pow. Unbelievable. So then Browner figures this is a good time to go scope some of the drops for tomorrow. We wind our way along the top of the ridge, then he stops and tries to look over the edge and figure out his line/take off. He can’t lean over enough to see the landing pad of the first stage, so he asks me to hold on to a tree and then grab his hand while he leans over the edge of a 100ft+ total drop. Very trusting… I don’t even trust myself holding on to this tiny tree. Later we ended up back in the main area, and he coached me off some small drops and cornices. I probably hit it 10+ times and ate shit 8 of them. He was baffled that I kept trying, and getting mowed over by the sled. I ended up getting my back and pants torn open by the carbides and track after getting pitched over the front of the sled from gassing it too much on take off. It just went to show how infinitely patient, and supportive Chris is. He had no problem taking out a rookie sledder on what could have been a sick film day, into his favourite area, and then spending time coaching someone who just keeps wrecking.

Chris ended up in crashing this winter on a double drop, and he’s lucky to be alive. He’s lucky he’s not paralyzed, and that he got evacuated that quickly. It happened in my “backyard” more or less, Brandywine bowl, an area that receives lots of traffic. Chris is probably the most experienced, calculated sledder I know. He will look at a drop or feature for days, scoping it, propping landings, before attempting it. Something went wrong and he miss-aligned the 2nd drop. He hit a tree at 30-40ft up and hit every branch on the way down. This could have gone so horribly worse than it did, but Chris is a strong person, both physically and mentally. He escaped via heli to hospital where it was assessed that he had a plethora on injuries, ranging from a shattered heel, tailbone, broken tib/fib, fractured spine, ruptured bladder, torn, abdominal muscles, and so on. Many received photos of his balls that were large black and swollen to the size of basketballs from hitting every branch on the way down. It was mind boggling seeing this happen to someone so professional and calculated, it almost seemed unfathomable that it could have happened to him. He had been through a lot this past year, and how could he have deserved this? And yet, through his recovery Chris has stayed Strong and is out of his wheelchair already, crutching around and standing on two feet. After coming that close to losing his life, it was an eye opener to a lot of those who sledded with Chris regularly, or witnessed the accident. No matter how much to try to reduce risk, or variables that increase the danger there is a certain rate of unpredictability and unknown that plays into events. You can’t remove all the risk, nobody is beyond the reach of it.

Health is something that you take for granted until you lose it. Only then do you have an appreciation for what you had, but it’s too late now to fully take advantage of it. It’s always been there, my sister has had cancer three times now, and survived each round with a positive outlook that would put motivational speakers to shame. She had leukaemia at 5 when the treatment was still experimental in the 80’s and being put through trials and being tested. She went through a year of chemotherapy and radiation, and emerged healthy. Later, at 19-20 she would suffer from a brain tumour, and once again have to lose her hair for surgery this time, not radiation. She casually joked about having a piece of her skull removed like it was no big deal. Later on she would suffer from cancer of the cervix, and skin cancer and undergo treatment for both of these successfully.

I’ve had my share of injuries, from compression fractures last season in my spine to knee surgeries from racing. It was all part of the game, I knew the risks going in, or at least thought I did. Getting news/diagnosis of something not trauma related devastated me. I thought I would’ve been prepared, having seen my sister deal with it so strongly and gracefully. I guess the events from earlier this season wore me down. Compounded with this news was the breakup with the guy I had been seeing all winter. Now I would be dealing with it alone. I had a hard time rationalizing it all. It didn’t make sense to me. If I was worth being with during the good times, wasn’t I worth sticking it out through the bad times? Then again, there is a limit to what people can cope with. I felt like damaged goods tossed to the side of the road. Now I was no longer just a fun time in the mountains, I came with grieving and crying and illness. “You’re not the confident, cocky, laughing person I first met anymore…you never smile and you’re always down.”

My dad always told me that there were reasons why we endure tragedy, or “bad things”. Without the bad, you cannot experience or measure the good. The extreme “bads” make the smallest of the “goods” that much better. You learn to take pleasure in the smallest things in life, whether it’s a sunset, or simply being out in the mountains with friends. I guess it’s all relative, and small things never seem to get to me, because I had endured so much worse. I was baffled at others inability to move beyond events or conflicts I deemed insignificant in the broad scheme of things. Then again, I had friends always laughing at me when I’d go overkill talking about how epic that sunset was, or how I had a constant shit eating grin on my face on what others considered a “weather day”. I’d just be stoked to be out there, regardless of conditions. Every day was a gift that could be taken away… but slowly, things started to wear throughout the season and the losses piled up.

My dad, the one person who has been there throughout everything suffered a heart attack 2 weeks ago. I’ve had nightmares in the past about losing him. I know this is an inevitability and eventually I would have to deal with it, but never did I think it would be coming so soon. How do you prepare for such events and inevitabilities when they arise? Initially I lashed out in anger, and denial. My dad is the strongest person I know, and never speaks about anything that is troubling him. He hasn’t had a sick day in god knows how long… his rheumatoid arthritis masks the early onset symptoms of a myocardial infarction. He had his first heart attack in Vancouver, where I’ve been sleeping on the floor of his studio condo while going to school at SFU. I have over 400+ hours of first training under my belt, and I’m in school for Health Sciences and yet I failed him when he needed me. He suffered his heart attack not 15ft from me in the bathroom, where he went unconscious standing, hit his head on the counter and knocked teeth out and gave himself a head injury as well and was puking on the floor. I failed him when he needed me, and even now it is near impossible to diagnose/realize when an episode is going on due to the medications/symptoms of his RA. Fathers day made it even worse, how do you comfort someone who is dealing with their own comprehension/denial that their health is failing, and tell them you wish you could give them a new heart for fathers day?

People seem to distance themselves from you when you’re down or depressed. Friends tell you they’d be there for you in a heartbeat, but when things come down to the wire, its a heavy burden to deal with and most can’t cope with listening, let alone experiencing it. I’ve spent my fair share of time playing relationship counsellor to friends going through breakups, or helping others through injuries, depressions. Most of the time people just want someone to listen, and give them unconditional positive regard. When I reached out, I found doors slamming in my face, and it just compounded things making it harder to deal with events at hand. I withdrew to my studies and workouts. Going to crossfit at 7 in the morning before class, then trying to put on a happy face during lectures when topics close at heart would arise. It would seem that repetition adhering to a schedule is the slow fix, even if it just feels like going through the motions at first. My area of studies (Health Science & International Studies) are setting me up for a career with an NGO, working logistics or liaising between governments during conflicts or crisis. It helped to put in perspective that what I was suffering was minuscule compared the the horrors and pain that others were enduring. It gives purpose to my studies, and hope that in some way I can eventually give back to this world that has given me so much.

Healing has to come from within first and foremost. Nobody can do it for you, and there are ups and downs, two steps forward, one step back. I was awestruck the other day after a 2nd date, having thought myself stupid (and probably written this guy off) for mentioning the deaths and illness and other “baggage” I came with, this guy still wanted to hang out and pursue things. Maybe there are people out there who are willing to listen, and maybe I am worthy after all.. I have no doubt that the next few months will present me with more challenges to overcome, but hopefully they lead to a stronger, more resilient being. Given the nature of the sports I have chosen to participate in, it would be naive to say that I wont lose more friends to accidents, injury or illness. We can only learn to deal with it, and take time to heal. Death isn’t rational, it can’t always be explained, or justified. We can only try to listen, or provide a shoulder to cry on. Even if that means sacrificing a small piece of personal happiness to be there for someone, it is worth it and means more than you will ever know. Despite all appearances of confidence, and staying strong.. a phone call or visit can sometimes mean the world to someone dealing with loss. Given that our community recently lost another young life this week, now is the time to be there for a friend who may not be able to reach out for the help they need. Rest in Peace Corey.


Never Forget.

Rememberance day means different things to different people. Some have felt the loss of a loved one due to conflict, whereas others only read about war as a thing of the past in text books, or see updates on the evening news with an ever rising death toll and it is a superficial intangeable concept. Regardless, it is a day to consider and pay respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and given their lives in the pursuit of peace.

 Even with televised updates and “wartime” footage it is hard to fully grasp what it means to offer up your life to save others, or end conflict without actually being involved on the ground, or  having a family member overseas, or having your country amidst a crisis that you cant escape. Many of our World War 1 and 2 veterans are ageing, and their stories dying with them unless carried on.

When my parents were separating I spent a year living with my Opa in Victoria. I pleaded with him to tell me stories of his internment in concentration camps, as I had overhead “adult” conversation previously and wanted to know more. “When you’re older” he’d tell me, despite my nagging. This day never came as he passed away early in his mid sixties of a rare disease that occurs in maybe only 2-3 people in Canada each year. I remember sitting there, crying uncontrollably at his funeral that I’d lost him forever, and that he’d never be able to tell me these precious memories to pass down as a reminder of the atrocities of war, and his personal account lost to me forever.

Texts are biased, no matter how objective they try to be, and usually written by the victor who is sometimes as guilty as the conquered. First hand accounts of the true horror of war serve as a reminder to future generations that war must be avoided at all costs, and that life is precious. It saddens me to see society becoming desensitized to imagery of civillians blown apart, or starving and wasting away in concentration camps on the evening news, think “how sad!” to themselves and move on to their next bite. Or read events in the headlines, but turn the page thinking “its not my problem”. A life is a life no matter how you look at it.

I had the chance to go to Cambodia, and I was blown away by the disrespect and lack of impact that sites such as the  Choueng Ek memorial had on tourists and visitors, or the prison torture facility of Toul Sleng, where 20,000 innocent souls lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge regeime in 75-79. People were laughing, snapping photos and running around poking at torture devices and taking photos with them.  I was appalled. It didn’t make sense to take photos.. a picture wouldn’t do justice to what it feels like emotionally to look down at the ground at the killing fields of Choueng Ek, and realize you’re walking on clothing and bone scraps because the rains have washed away the top layer of soil. These bones were someones mother, or daughter, someone who loved, laughed and breathed. Due to a lack of intervention and excess of cruelty this poor soul was hacked to death with a machete and toss in a mass grave with thousands of others. What could bring a person to commit such an act? Are we that naieve to think it was just “following orders”?

 After being in the room with the list of mass grave sites, and photos of faces of all the murdered I was tearing up as it was overwhelming when I lady tapped me on the back. “You’re Canadian? You ok?” (I had a canadian flag on my pack) The woman introduced herself as a survivor of the genocide. She was 8 when it started in 75 and lost her entire family. Luckily she was able to get a refugee status in Canada, and has been living in Toronto ever since. She had brought her 13 year old son back to show him where her parents most likely died, and show him her personal experiences, and how she survived hell on earth.  It gave me hope.

 After world war 2, we claimed “Never Again” would acts of genocide occur, and tried to set a precedent with swift War Crimes trials at Nuremburg only 10 months later. Where are we now? Politicians dance and evade using the term Genocide to avoid their obligation to act. We’ve seen it again and again in Rwanda, Bosnia, Serbia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Pakistan, the list goes on and on and yet we turn a blind eye, and move on to our dinner without a second thought.

 It took 30+ YEARS to bring Duch, the man in charge of Tuol Sleng to justice at the Tribunal, with results announced this July. Is this what justice has become? We have regressed since Nuremburg.. instead of expediting justice! His sentence? 30 years… which he will most likely die before serving. The minimum for first degree murder in Canada is 25 years and this man is responsible for the torture and murder of 20,000 and he gets to live it out in more or less house arrest.

When I was in Cambodia the people were excited for the Tribunal results, and more than anything they just wanted answers from the international community, as to whether it was their fault, Pol Pots fault, what happened and why nobody helped. They want closure to help heal the wounds that were caused by the mass murder of close to 2 million people from a population of 8 million in 5 years. Is this the message we want to send to Genocidaires? Or ongoing victims of conflict? That the punishment for mass murder is a slap on the wrist and that we dont care enough to act? “Its not our problem.”? It seems we do not learn, and history has a way of repeating itself.

So this November the 11th, instead of just doing your 2 minutes of silence in honor of our brave fallen soldiers, seek out a veteran to talk to, or a survivor of a conflict. We need to keep these memories and stories raw, and fresh so that we do not forget. They are not meant to be easy to bear, or hear, or see yet that is what they have become to us. I am thankful to all our brave soldiers who have risked their lives, and continue to uphold peace, and hope that one day it will not be needed to send soldiers to solve conflicts. In a hopeful future maybe we can learn to negotiate with words, and not guns or lives.


Spring is here…

…but in no way does that mean I’ve had my fill of winter! We’ve probably got another solid 4-6 weeks of riding ahead of us, thanks to a ridiculous snow pack this year here in Whistler. I thought I’d share some photos from the past 2 weeks.

Looks like fun to me!

Beautiful day up on Rainbow

Night mission up the Ice-Cap

BBQ’s in the Sun

My friend Julie-Ann was farm-sitting for 2 weeks, so we spent a casual afternoon riding horses, mucking out stalls, playing with our dogs and ripping around on the ATV.  Just another average day in Pemberton, rough life!

The night may have ended in a chocolate fondu fight..

On top of Metal Dome, one of the deepest days of the year!

…where I subsequently put my sled into a VERY large tree well on the descent into Brandywine meadows. Go big or go home, right?

Let me reiterate again, this was one BIIIIIIIG HOLE. On the plus side, I had a lot of one on one time with the tree and my sled.

Miles, shirts and snowmobiling don’t go together. I now have probably 15+ similar photos from this season alone.

One of my favorite sled hits. On the in-run all you can see is the mountains on the distant horizon! Then the landing drops steeply away to the valley between. Not a good place to be chasing runaway sleds.

Some more hits.

I like to leave my mark on the mountain.

Ironically I’ve been skiing more than sledding lately, but unfortunately I’m not able to share the photos. So I leave you with this, for all who doubted: Yes. I do put away the sled and hike for turns.

And it was sooooooooo worth it!


Edit from filming for “Rise”

Here’s a quick edit Dave Norona was kind enough to throw together after a cloudy day up on Face Mountain with Brandy Floyd and Michelle Dumaresq. We made the best of tough conditions and light, and stayed low in the trees where stability was better. It was awesome to meet some ladies from out of town and I can’t wait to see the footage from the rest of the riders across the country.

Michelle

Me again, managing to run out of tranny.

White rooooooom!

Scrounging some of the bombed out side hits

Face Mountain

Thanks again to Dave Norona for taking the day to film, I have NO IDEA how you have that much stamina to go non-stop for 8+ hours.


“Send it session” with the Pemby Posse

Blake and Blake from SnowHunny’s and Premonition Films finally made it up to Whistler, after months of hassling all winter long. They missed the EPIC pow and sun, but Steph Sweezy, Julie-Ann Chapman and myself sent it for them anyways. We were all feeling a little sore, after who knows how many days in a row of riding with all the glorious pow and sun this last week. I had an unfortunate bail the day before that resulted in being steam-rolled by my machine and getting smacked pretty good in the head. Thankfully my helmet took the brunt of the damage. We had a fun afternoon out in Brandywine sessioning  a few of the hits that hadn’t already been bombed out. Here are a few teaser screen captures from yesterday:

Nice Loading Job guys.

BRAAAP!

Props to Steph for sending it HUUUUUUUUUUUGE!

Julie-Ann Gettin’ er done, she’s only been riding for little over a year, who can tell though?

High-fives are in order after beating the boys up the gnarly hill climb.

Super cool lighting with the wind whipping snow over the ridge.

Thank you KJ, Dirty, Al, Todd, Andrew and everyone else for helping scope lines, drops and being so supportive! Yeeehaw.