Author: Jill Macdonald
Powder snow is the medium that forgives us many sins. We can get away with tumbles, crossed tips, yard sales, poor timing and still come up smiling. And why not? Skiing is about fun. About setting ourselves free.
After years of focusing on improving my skiing, this season, I set out to refocus on finding the fun. My goal: get more joy in more places and conditions. I started my quest in SilverStar Mountain Resort, a natural first choice as few Canadian mountain destinations are defined by play as much as this charming resort in central British Columbia.
True skiers know Chad Sayers as a professional freeride skier. Locals, however, know Chad as one of a long list of kids who parlayed a childhood of playing around SilverStar into a lifelong love of skiing. Chad has a twinkle in his eye and has spent his adult life travelling the world skiing big mountains and surfing big waves, which might have something to do with that twinkle. Some would call that play, he’d call it a career dedicated to perfecting his technique. His style is smooth and steady yet joyful, the goal I have been aiming for my entire life. We agree to meet for a mentoring session.
SilverStar sits on the western edge of the Monashee Range, in rolling hills but with enough elevation to catch its legendary powder snowfalls. Magic is the best word to describe the weightless quiet of these storms, the way snow fills the air with luminous white energy. It is the stuff of imagination and dreams and exemplifies the pure, unadulterated joy of snow.
Powder snow is falling when I arrive. Cars in the parking lot are covered but as I approach the lifts, the frequent whoops and hollers are barely muffled by the storm. A quiet buzz fills my body, a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and nerves. Runs fan out from the delightfully colourful village and appear to dance in the moving air. The vibe is free-spirited and catchy. I know I’ve come to the right place.
Chad is stoked. “What a day, my friend!” I can see ideas running through his mind as we are whisked up to the top of the Des Schumann Express gondola. He’s looking down, scoping lines, revisiting his old stomping grounds, an older version of the same kid. “You are going to love this” and I’m pretty sure he’s right: The terrain is inviting, the conditions are perfect and all I need to do is follow.
He leads out with some flowy turns down Whiskey Jack, catching little bumps and making sweeping turns that eat up the slope but look effortless. The idea is not to stop, to keep the flow going and look ahead at the terrain unfolding, using Chad as a visual cue. We do several runs like this, working our way through the runs accessed by the Comet Express, then head over to the Silver Woods Express for some glades. Chad matches his pace to mine and soon my focus is on him, not the process of skiing. I can’t keep track of anything but the invisible thread that links me to him. It’s like tobogganing, feeling the slope undulate and surprise me, a form of surrender that does not feel out of control or risky.
My eyes are watering when we stop for a short break. My stickiness is melting away, I’m becoming more fluid by following Chad’s lines and emulating his playful use of terrain that picks up what the slope is laying down and makes the most of every contour, bump and suggestion of a good time. It’s freeing. It’s the vibe of SilverStar and all around us are people doing the same thing, enjoying the snow, falling, taking jumps and letting the powder absorb whatever goes wrong.
Chad suggests that we move into some black diamond terrain, and one of his favourite runs, Chute. I’m hesitant to test the staying power of this glow I have going on inside, but it’s intoxicating and I recognize that this is an opportunity that won’t come again anytime soon. I’m in.
We make our way over to Vance Creek summit, swing left off the lift and Chad carries his speed over the first pitch of Chute. We’re in moguls before I have time to even think about getting in my own way. Two or three bumps at a time, he unpeels the textured slope in an effortless dance, with me in tow.
There are no yard sales. I’m breathing hard but pumped. “That’s a beauty, hey?” Chad lifts his goggles and I see that twinkle. Words fail me, I simply grin and relish the moment. “So, I have one more thing I want to show you,” he says and I just nod. Yes. Yes to whatever it is.
Attridge is a tidy cluster of challenging runs named after one of the founders of SilverStar, Bill Attridge. There’s much to be found over here, including Attridge Cliff, for big drop training. I don’t know this as we head over, but I’m getting the idea. Nerves kick in but soon fade as I remind myself that Chad isn’t going to take me anywhere I can’t handle. The storm eases off, and we have amazing visibility, accompanied by pockets of untracked snow that promise soft landings. And if we decide we need even more powder, there is a whole other part of the mountain yet to explore; they call it the Backside, and rumor has it that it’s got even more terrain.
Chad sends it. Backlit, skis tight, he blasts off into space, a free spirit, taking a free ride. I opt for a less committing drop, but for me, it’s still a leap of faith. Hands out front, shoulders relaxed, my few seconds of air time are a sweet victory.
It’s time for Chad to depart. More adventures await him. But first, we must refuel and reward ourselves. Walking through the brightly painted restaurants and shops, the village looks the way I feel, happy, casual, open to invitations. It would be easy to spend several days here, enjoying the pleasures of what feels like home.
Chad takes us to Bugaboos, a favourite coffee shop where the baristas pour a perfect macchiato, that most Italian of espresso drinks. The macchiato, which means marked, came into being out of the desire for an afternoon coffee that is not too strong or rich. It is in essence, an espresso stained by a small amount of foamed milk.
The macchiato arrives, steaming, divine, a work of art next to another work of art, a beautifully flaky and warm chocolate croissant. I’m cured. Newly reborn as a person who enjoys herself, I dig in. It’s the best thing I’ve tasted in way too long.
I’m back on my own. Time to test the new wings. On the last ride up, I spotted a sweet narrow gully with a lip on it. Channelling my inner Chad, I hit it just right. The hill drops away and I am frozen in time and space, hanging on the moment, fully awake, free and alive. Mission accomplished.