Words and photos by Chris Burkard
Truth be told, I can count the amount of times I have skied on one hand. It’s something I have managed to keep quiet for a long time, despite being labeled as an adventure photographer. I knew there was no way to keep it under wraps much longer and that my heinous pizza slow-down was about to emerge as I spent 10 days traveling BC’s powder highway.
Growing up in central California gave me ample opportunity to learn to surf at a young age. Equipment could always be borrowed or passed down from friends or siblings. Even though we wore thick wetsuits and the water hovered around the high 40’s out there, it always seemed to be a mellow sport compared to skiing. Skiing was something that never even seemed like an option for me. I equated it with five-hour drives to lackluster snow, rented gear and a lift ticket for sore legs and wrists; it seemed expensive and not my idea of a good time. But here I was, driving along one of the best stretches of skiable mountains in North America with access to any lift we wanted…I was terrified.
This February, Arc’teryx athlete Austin Ross and I spent endless hours in the car chasing rumors of powder conditions but mostly found rain in the valleys we traveled through. The base of the mountain felt almost tropical and I questioned why I had ever left California during the hottest February we have had in years…with the pumping swell and offshore conditions that make for perfect surf. But as we went up the lift, knees knocking, I started to feel something different. As we neared the top of Fernie Alpine Resort, cold air rushed across us and gave way to heavy snowfall. A couple thousand feet of elevation had made all the difference. The instant I pushed off the lift into 10” of wet pow might have been the best feeling ever. Despite the fact that this was a low to average day on the mountain at best, it might as well have been all-time to me. We glided into a steep bowl past some trees and literally floated down the mtn. A run that rivaled all but the best waves I had ever ridden, except 100 times the length. On my way down I had plenty of time to contemplate why I had spent so much time at the coast, why I despised winter storms and why the hell I hadn’t experienced this sooner in my life.
The awkwardness was still apparent – I was pole-dragging to slow down…every time I was going too fast. Miniature mental breakdowns were taking place when I got too close to a tree or another person and the best part was (for sure) any time the skis actually came off and I tried to walk in boots. I was convinced I was always on the verge of falling over and breaking my legs.
I wasn’t sure if it made things easier or worse watching BC native Austin rip down the mountain hucking cliffs, and slashing turns while going mach speed for my camera. A large part of me wanted to enter the same flow that he was in and in a way steal some of his grace as he made it look so effortless. I was quickly reminded against that as I face planted off a small embankment to avoid a tree. Falling was just a part of the journey and when i got up with a face full of snow, I was brought back to that childlike curiosity that had pushed me in my career to seek out some of the most remote waves in the planet in some of the harshest conditions. I had constantly surrounded myself by mountains but had always been at the bottom looking up… and In that moment I realized i had only reached the tip of the iceberg…there was so much more to experience, and all it took was a short trip outside my comfort zone.
For more information about these mountains and the best places to Ski in Canada – visit Ski Canada.
Chris Burkard is a self-taught photographer and artist, based in Central Coast California, whose work is layered by surf, outdoor, lifestyle and travel subjects. Burkard’s images are punctuated by energized landscapes and moments of bliss, by adventure seeking and the lifestyle that ensues, by movement and intuitive light-working capabilities. With the ocean as his main muse, Burkard has consistently captured this subject in timeless and expansive photographic impressions, utilizing the tool of surfing to approach the ocean’s intricate personality and then extending out to include the human personalities that draw meaning from this same source.
We will be posting images of Chris throughout the coming months. Keep an eye on @arcteryx on Instagram and on Chris’ channels to keep up to date with Chris’ travels and imagery.