Words By Lisa Richardson. Photos by Mattias Fredriksson.
The spinal cord of a catskiing operation is its roads. Without a road, there’s no network, no nervous system, no blood flow. No moves to make, nowhere to go. No fun, full stop.
That makes the road builder, who first pushes in that critical path of access, a kind of orthopoedic surgeon – all finesse and guts and unflinching toolcraft.
Jevon Zyp has pushed roads in for catskiing operations all through British Columbia – one of half a dozen people in the province with a real knack for the rough and delicate craft. Born and raised in the foothills of the Monashees, Zyp walked out of school and into a job at Monashee Powder Adventures, leaving a handful of snowboarding sponsorships behind, to build the young operation’s roads each winter.
Zyp has a way with machinery – commanded his first skidder for his logger dad at the age of seven. He later put in the roads for Chatter Creek Snowcats, before swinging north on the hunt for a tenure of his own.
In 2009, still in his twenties, Zyp created Skeena Cat Skiing, the only cat skiing outfit in Northern BC, and the second largest cat skiing tenure in North America. 600 square kilometers in prime snowbelt country, shared amongst 24 skiers a day, who overnight in quonsets at the Base Camp at 1200 metres, a few steps from the cat, and dine on salmon from the nearby river and desserts made from huckleberries gleaned from the cutbloack at the base of the road.
It’s an operation that Zyp has carved out of the wild, like an old time prospector would, turning it, day by day, with sweat, grease and passion, into a million dollar company. Now finally in the black, he spent his share of time dodging angry phone calls from the bank, working summers in the bush to pour every cent of his earnings back into the business, wearing his gear ragged. He’s determined to keep the experience real for the snow-fiends from Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France, the eastern US, Canada who fly in for a taste of bottomless snow and pristine wilderness.
“I bet where you live every mountain has a name and has been claimed by someone,” Zyp says. “There are hundreds of mountains here, but only about ten even have names. People ask me all the time – what’s that peak called?” Zyp shrugs. He knows his tenure like the back of his hand. But beyond, it’s mystery. Unclaimed and unnamed.
In summer, the mountains are full of bears, wolves, even wolverines. Famously re-interpreted by Hugh Jackman, a real wolverine is the kind of mutant you’d get if you cross-bred a bear and a weasel – not something you want to encounter. “They’re crazy,” says Zyp. “Those things can go 65, 70 kilometres an hour. I had one attack my snowmobile years ago, at Chatter Creek.” Driving a workhorse sled, towing a toboggan behind him, Zyp tried to pass the wolverine with his machine. “It went from full run, to barreling at me through the air sideways, showing its teeth, claws, everything.” It was a close encounter, one he won’t seek out again. But the lingering awe remains. “They’re f*ckin’ crazy. They’re wild animals. But super neat.”
Zyp has never been gun-shy of a challenge. “Building a cat-skiing road is not easy. If you’re a chickenshit, you can’t do it. You’re in avalanche terrain. You’re smashing up a mountain, smashing down trees. You need more stupidity than smarts a lot of the time.” He built all of Skeena Catskiing’s 40 kilometre network of roads single-handedly. “I didn’t have any money to pay someone to watch me.”
Embracing your wild side, though, isn’t as noisy as you’d expect. “I’ve spent thousands of hours running a machine. You have to be okay with just your thoughts to keep you company. Not everybody is. If you’re not, you’ll go squirly. All those people you see constantly on their phones are just trying to keep their minds occupied, distracting themselves. I got shingles once. It was brutal. The doctor said, I can give you this anti-viral which might or might not work, but there’s no real cure. You just have to chill the fuck out. Well, that teaches you something.”
“When we found this place, there wasn’t Google Earth,” says Zyp. “We looked over topographic maps. Ski toured it. Eventually, I got two snowmobiles in to take a look. We smashed through two kilometers of super tight trees – the gnarliest tree riding I’ve ever done. Nobody had ever been in there. It was untouched. To find places that have never been explored? That’s pretty rare.“
When they came out of the trees and looked down onto the place where Skeena Catskiing’s Base Camp now sits, Jevon Zyp knew he was home. And then he shredded it.
Read more about Skeena Catskiing.
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