Author: Tyson Newell
“Nothing bonds your family together like your kid warming his cold toes on your belly in a backcountry hut after a long ski tour,” Stan Metcalfe, the owner of a physiotherapy practice and a ski guide in Golden, British Columbia, tells me. This kind of statement doesn’t make sense in most places in the world, but in this small town at the bottom of Canada’s Rocky Mountain Trench, its logic is apparent.
Golden is a small mountain town with industrial roots, born as a basecamp when the Canadian Pacific Railway looked to extend its cross-country network of rails further into the western part of British Columbia. These roots run deeper than rail ties and remain visible today. Two railways still run right through town, including a line that crosses the road up to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. “Golden rush hour” is the sardonic name for sitting in your vehicle before the crossing as the trains rumble by, 10 inches of dry powder having fallen overnight. There’s no posturing here. Golden comes by its blue-collar veneer honestly, and its people are salt-of-the-earth types. Humble, hard-working, and reserved. And they love to ski. Hell, they live to ski.
Amy Barrett, Stan’s wife, moved to Golden from Fernie in 1999 to fight wildfires. Barrett had been skiing in Fernie the previous season and planned to go back. She met some local ski patrollers in Golden on the wildfire team who convinced her to spend the winter in Golden working on the patrol team
“They told me I couldn’t miss out on spending at least a season skiing here. When I factored in Golden’s proximity to Rogers Pass and the prospect of the ski hill expanding, the decision to stay in Golden was an easy one.”
After living out of her truck for a summer, Barrett found a place in town with two local girls as roommates. Both girls ended up leaving town to pursue post-secondary education, only to return to Golden afterwards because they felt such a deep attachment to the town that had raised them. Barrett was shocked. “It was crazy to me that such a small town was keeping some of its kids, even after they left for school in the big cities. It made me take a closer look at this place.”
Evolution unfolds slowly, especially in the humble town of Golden. But somewhere along the line, ski bums like Metcalfe and Barrett, who moved here to shred The Horse, ended up with mortgages and families. But the love of skiing still burns bright, even as the seasons of life change and kids enter the picture. Naturally, once these kids were old enough to stand (or even earlier in many cases), their parents were taking turns riding the Jelly Bean Express carpet lift and snowplowing down with their kids between their legs, again and again. And again.
Morgan Metcalfe, Amy and Stan’s youngest son, is 13 years old and has inherited the ski stoke from his parents and ran with it, or skied with it, as it were. “I like skiing here because the terrain is steep—it’s a difficult mountain. There are lots of cliffs to hit, and you gotta go full-blast.” Going full-blast down laps that run 4,300 feet from the resort’s highest point is a lung and leg-busting idea for most skiers, but here it’s a bit blasé. The local kids have made Kicking Horse Mountain Resort their playground. It’s all they’ve ever known.
Since Kicking Horse Mountain Resort opened in 2000, the complexion of the town has shifted. A generation of ski bums are now the proud parents of a new generation of skiers, like Morgan. And so the town is evolving. “We’re lucky because so many people in town are united by this love for the mountains, this shared passion. And you see it in the kids,” Metcalfe says. “It is so normal for kids to be excellent skiers and bikers here. The 12-inch rule is accepted by the schools and the local businesses. It’s just a way of life. And it’s been a privilege to share that with our kids.”
Listening to Barrett and Metcalfe talk about parenting in the mountains, it’s clear that they feel a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to build a life and a family here. “I remember a time when Morgan had crashed on his bike at the pump track, and one of our neighbours was biking by at the time, and they saw that Morgan got home safe. They even came by later to check in on how he was doing. It’s a real caring community,” Barrett tells me.
When asked about what excites them about the future, the focus on family continues to run deep.
“I’m looking forward to being a grandpa one day,” Stan says with a chuckle. “I’m excited to teach my grandkids how to ski. How great will that be? I fully intend on lining up for the gondola to open each morning, even as an old-timer. “ Amy thinks of her boys. “It’s exciting for me to think about how Morgan and Sawyer will integrate skiing into their lives as adults. Sawyer is 19 now, but he’s managed to keep skiing part of his life by coaching the freeride team at the hill, including his little brother. Both of them want to stay here, playing in these mountains. Wherever they end up, they’ll be skiing. It’s in their blood.”
And so, as the railway did in the last century, a love of skiing and mountains is shaping Golden’s future now. Skiers will forever be drawn to its access to some of Canada’s best terrain, just as Metcalfe and Barrett were decades ago. But now, it’s a generation of skiers like their son Morgan, born here, born into a place where skipping school on a powder day is expected, that will be the vanguard of change. And while it’s not clear where exactly this new path leads, I know there’s one thing we can bank on: They’ll leave ski tracks in their wake.