The Race To Freeskiing

Words and Photos: Mattias Fredriksson

Christina Lustenberger made it all the way to the Olympics, but the toll it took on the young ski racer’s body was high. When she was 25 years old, she blew her knee for the 5th time and decided to quit racing. This was the turning point from a career in the race gates to a life as a free skier, ski guide and mountaineer.

“Lusti” grew up in Invermere, a small ski town in the interior of British Columbia, and started skiing as soon as she could walk. Her dad Peter runs the local ski shop, Lusti’s, at the base of the Panorama, and her mom, Jane, owns the coffee shop in the same building.”Our family has been running Lusti’s for 38 years now. My sister Andrea and I basically grew up in the shop and on the ski hill. Once we were old enough to be in the ski program, we were skiing all day, then would roam around in the shop and toboggan until it was time to go home.”

Lusti’s quest to become the fastest ski racer in the world started early in her life. She loved skiing and ski racing quickly became the natural environment for the competitive Kootenay girl. It didn’t hurt that she was good, really good.

In her teens, she started to race on the Nor-Am circuit and became one of the best female racers in Canada. At the age of 21 she won several of the Nor-Am events in giant slalom and caught the eye of the national team with a 10thplace finish at a World Cup race in Austria. Lusti was a part of the Canadian alpine race team for six years and competed in giant slalom at the Olympics in Torino, Italy in 2006. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. When Lusti tore her ACL for the 5th time a few years after the Olympics, her dreams and desire to pursue a career in racing began to fade.

“I was becoming more curious about skiiing powder and learning about mountain travel, and after working through so many injuries, I wanted – and needed – to step back a bit. I realized there had to be another way to live my life, it was not sustainable to continue to destroy my body the way I was as a racer.”

Ski racing was the only path skiing had provided for Lusti at this point, but new doors quickly opened after she accepted an invitation to go touring in Jumbo Pass in the Purcells. Shortly after, Lusti was learning new skills in AST courses and passing people on skin tracks on her days off.

Things then began moving quickly. Lusti quit ski racing in 2008, moved to Revelstoke and caught the ski touring bug. The following year she went to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops for their adventure guide program, and then became an assistant ski guide. Only one year later, Lusti passed her exam to become a fully certified ski guide.

“I knew I wanted the rest of my life to revolve around skiing so the choice to quit ski racing and then go into guiding was pretty simple. Now I can combine guiding and free-skiing, which is really the dream balance.”

Now 33 years old, Lusti is a Revelstoke local with almost ten years under her belt in the little mountain town by the Columbia River; right where the Selkirks meet the Monashee Mountains.

“The community in Revelstoke is amazing. I have learned so much from my friends and ski partners there, all of whom have played a huge role in my progression as a skier and guide.”

Since hanging up her race skis, Lusti has made a serious name for herself in the world of big mountain skiing in a short time. She has climbed and skied the south couloir of the 10,974-foot Adamant Mountain in 2011 and the steep, gnarly Black Friar Northwest Couloir last spring… to name just a few of her accomplishments.

When she is not bagging massive peaks or pointing it through gnarly couloirs, Lusti guides for WhiteCap Alpine Adventures in both BC and Japan, and leads local ski touring missions in the Revelstoke area.

“Guiding is such a humbling job for me, and has made me a stronger skier and mountaineer. Without the ACMG ski program I would never been able to ski some of the objectives I have done over the years. To feel confident to be out there and travel safe through the mountains and pass that knowledge to others…it’s a pretty special experience.”

Watch Lusti in the latest film by Sherpas Cinema, Children of the Columbia: