In Print: Backcountry Magazine by Strain

I had a couple images run in Backcountry Magazine last winter - one in the Photo Annual of Johnny Collinson in the Blackcomb backcountry, the other in the 'Sidecountry Lies' issue of Jake Cohn in the Alta, UT backcountry. Always great to see my images on the pages of my favourite magazines - even better to see so many friends, both behind the lens and in the action, sharing those pages with me.
 (Andrew Strain)
 (Andrew Strain)

Deep Winter 2013 by Strain

I'm writing this from the muggy confines of a rental house in a gated community in Tapachula, Mexico - please forgive me for not giving the subject a proper run-down. I wanted to get a few words out before I forget what snow even looks like. More on why I'm in Mexico to follow, if I have time. It's a bit of a crazy story.

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Birthday Heli by Strain

I don't think there is a better way to turn 28 than to heli into a zone dubbed "Chuter McGavin", shoot photos from the bird of your best friends shredding badass couloirs, then drop into a line named "I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!" Toss on the skins and go for as many laps as your legs can handle.

Happy (Gilmore) birthday to me!

For some words by Jeff Slack, head over to Unofficial Networks. Some photos from the day below.

Deep Winter 2011 Slideshow by Strain  

It's been almost a year since I managed to steal third prize in Whistler Blackcomb's Deep Winter Photo Challenge. Today, I was out on the mountain scouting some stuff with Jussi Grznar, who is making his own run for the title of "King of Storms" next week, bringing back all kinds of wonderful memories like shooting in such heavy snowfall that my camera completely iced over. Or, sitting in the Glacier Creek bathroom for an hour trying to de-fog my lenses with a hand dryer (a more detailed re-cap here).


Would I do it again? Hell yes. I live for Whistler's storm season. In the meantime, enjoy my 2011 slideshow, and get your tickets for this year's event before it sells out. January 14 @ the Fairmont. See you there.

Off and On by Strain

Winter arrived early and strong in southwest BC: I got my first pow turns on October 3rd, got chased out of camp by two feet in the valley bottom on November 17th, and could barely breathe nor see on Blackcomb's opening day, the snow was so deep. And then, as fast as winter arrived, the jet turned off and the sky stayed blue for almost a month.

While my friends in Utah are still suffering from the early season doldrums, winter is back in full force in the Whistler area, providing badly needed powder for the Christmas vacation crowd and snow-starved locals. A combination of factors has led to the establishment of an uncharacteristically unstable coastal snowpack, making the new snowfall a maddening exercise in patience and restraint, as everyone is chomping at the bit to get out and into the gnar. Two BC skiers succumbed to injuries sustained after being caught in avalanches this week, a sobering reminder of the dangers that exist within our mountains.

Wanting to escape the holiday crowds at Whistler, but leery of the heightened avalanche risk, I headed out to a pillow zone off the Duffey Lake Road with the Surface Skis crew on a greybird photo / video mission. The lack of snowfall has left me with very little to shoot over the last month, and I was eager to get out for the first 'work' day of the season. The light was flat, but the snow was excellent and pillows well-developed, with plenty of protected stashes hiding in the forested shoulder of Joffre Mountain. Just another day in paradise...

Condolences to the friends and families of the two skiers that died doing what they love. May the powder be plentiful in the afterlife.

Tremor by Strain

I'm not feeling particularly wordy but wanted to post a couple photos I shot last week from the summit of Tremor Mountain, the highest point in the Spearhead Range. There are few things as humbling as travelling on skis through big terrain - note the two skiers tackling the spearhead traverse (bottom left) for scale. Tremor was one hell of an adventure and I'm stoked we made it out there - the hourglass is a line I won't be forgetting any time soon. I was quite pleased with how easy the trip was on my splitboard - I can't imagine doing a day trip out to Tremor on snowshoes. Speaking of, anyone want to buy a pair of MSR Denali Evos? I won't be using mine again... ever.

Splitboarding is the answer.


Joffre touring by Strain

I went on an exploratory day tour on tuesday up to Joffre Lakes with Unofficial Whistler's Jake Cohn. Neither of us had been before but wanted to scope the area because of its excellent and easy access from the Duffey Lake road. A short climb and a couple lake crossings and we at treeline in a riding paradise - steep couloirs and chutes, 1000m glacier descents, massive pillow fields and mature forest presented up and downhill options for any conditions.

We tried to gain access to a great looking couloir but short of booting up the gut, couldn't find an ascent option we were comfortable with and decided to back off to a different line. We were again shut down trying to get on top of the Heartstrings zone when the weather socked in, eliminating our ability to navigate above treeline, in an area with more than enough death-gnar to do around... not the kind of place you want to be moving blind. Entering the line further down the ridge, we were rewarded with a playful and pillowy 600m descent to the valley bottom.

Of note: I was able to ride my split all the way back to the lower lake with ease, making Joffre the most splitboard friendly tour I've done off the Duffey to date. A quick transition to put skins back on, and I was first back to the car - doesn't happen often when touring with skiers! Despite being turned back of our two objectives, our exploratory mission was a great success, and you can bet we'll be back soon...

Deep Winter 2011 Recap by Strain

Wow, where to start? Last week, I was one of 6 photographers chasing the title of "King of Storms" in the 5th Annual Deep Winter Photo Challenge at Whistler-Blackcomb. Leading up to the contest, it was looking like it might end up being the "Deep Freeze" Photo Challenge: high pressure had settled over the area and the long range forecast was not looking promising. Thankfully, Ullr smiled upon the mountains and conjured up a beast of a storm that hit with impeccable timing: each day of the challenge brought a fresh, deep canvas for the photographers to work with.

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Deep Winter Photo Challenge - Pregame discussion by Strain

For a couple years now, my friends have been pushing me to throw my hat into the ring for the annual Deep Winter Photo Challenge, a photography competition that has a reputation for being a fiercely competitive 4 day grind. 2011 marks the fifth round of a contest that has been won 3 years straight by Vancouver-based photographer Jordan Manley. I was shooting in Whistler during last year's contest and mentioned that I'd be interested in competing someday, provided Jordan got tired of winning. [singlepic id=461 w=550 h= float=]

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Whats in the Fridge? teaser by Strain

Whats  in the Fridge? is the 2010 release from Jah Raven Creations. I spent some time causing all kinds of trouble in jah kootenays with jah raven this winter and if this teaser is any indication, this movie is going to be all kinds of awesome. "Get ready to get that gold sticker blown off your new era hat and that check ripped right off you new unscuffed nike sneaks because here comes a teaser of biblical proportion. Displaying the talent of the raddest most real shredders, sledders, and fresh soy cheddar in jah kootenays mon. So turn up jah volume to max and hold onto you keyboard because your about to get slapped. Right in the face."

Whats in the Fridge? A Teaser. from Jah Raven Creation on Vimeo.

Spring Touring - Cerise Creek by Strain

I went on a touring mission up Cerise Creek / Mt Joffre with a couple friends last week. Conditions were... interesting over the first half of the approach, where for the first time since I bought them I wasn't cursing the uselessness of my snowshoes. The crampons bit into the choppy ice of the forest floor far more effectively than climbing skins, but I'm still buying a splitboard this fall. Snowshoes suck. We thought the snow might be a little sloppy up high, but avoiding sun-baked aspects led to a late April powder harvest. Gotta love that spring crop!

Surface Tour - The End? by Strain

Our extra day in Whitewater used up most, if not all, of the energy I had left. Moving on to Red Mountain, which I've heard so many good things about, was something that my body was not ready to do. I took one lap to say I was there, then retreated to the demo tent to let my body recover from 3 weeks of constant travel and riding. The mountain was socked in anyways, so I didn't feel too bad about not even bothering to shoot.

The plan was to demo at Red, then drive through the night back to Whistler and set up the final demo of the tour at TMC (where you can buy Surface Skis in Whistler) the next day... but the Kootenays struck again, wedging a rock into Eliel's tire and keeping us in Ymir for an extra night.


We arrived in Whistler a day late, but the extra night in the koots let El and I make the windy drive back to the coast at a leisurely pace, and in daylight.

Note I say El and I. We left Shayne in Ymir, promising to return in a week or so to take him to Denver for SIA and then home to SLC. More on that later...

We returned to Whistler after 15 days on the road, and right on schedule the first major storm since we left rolled in. Low visibility, deep pow and alpine closures - to the trees! Exploring new hills was a blast but theres a lot to be said for knowing your favorite line like the back of your hand...

So thats that. Demo tour done... end of the line! But my adventures with Surface are far from over. A week later, I'd get back in the truck with Eliel and head back to Ymir, Whitewater and destinations south...

Dendrite Studios - Perspectives by Strain

Just a quick little plug for the boys at Dendrite Studios, a new film company out of Whistler currently working on their first full length video for release in fall 2010.  Two of my good friends and favorite photo subjects, Jake Cohn and Eliel Hindert, have been filming with them all season and I can't wait to see the finished product. Eliel and Chris Turpin go big in the Pemberton backcountry:

Perspectives #6 - Ten Years from Dendrite Studios on Vimeo.

Jake Cohn and Athan Merrick getting creative with camera placement on and around Whistler:

Perspectives #4 - Point of View from Dendrite Studios on Vimeo.

Check the Dendrite site for more 'Perspectives' clips, a full length teaser (soon), athlete profiles and other goodness.

Surface Tour - Whitewater, Day 2 by Strain

I'm willing to bet you have absolutely no idea where Ymir is. Neither did I, until I rolled into town in the Surface truck, looking for the house of a friend of a friend who had offered up their floor for us to crash on for a couple nights. Amazing how that works in the shred world; share a lift, ride, lap or beer and a complete stranger becomes a good friend. Cruising back up to Whitewater from Ymir, it was pretty obvious that we made the right choice sticking around for an extra day: the storm had let up overnight, and by the time we got to the parking lot there wasn't a cloud in the sky. For the first time, we were able to take in the incredible setting surrounding Ymir peak that makes Whitewater a no-brainer destination for anyone willing to get a little sweaty accessing a line: trees, pillows, bowls, chutes, spines, cliffs... the Whitewater slackcountry has it all and then some. I was giddy with excitement, both to shred and shoot - when was the last time you saw a photo from a bluebird day on my blog?

After spending the morning in the same zone as my all-time lap the previous day, Eliel and I rallied at the truck, kitted up with our touring gear, and headed off into the alpine in search of cliffs basking in the late afternoon light. Mission accomplished - although I know El wishes he found some stupid big triple stager to send off of. Watch him go for the glory in the Whistler backcountry in the Dendrite Studios video, dropping this fall.

We spent 2 days at Whitewater, but it only took one lap for me to be sold on this undeveloped powder gem. It isn't for everyone - you can count the park features on one hand, and many of the good lines lie beyond the resort boundary. Don't show up unprepared for backcountry travel.

For my friends: picture shredding with me on a whis pow day. Take away everything that sucks about where we're riding, and you have Whitewater. Yeah, I figured you'd be stoked.

Where the Log Driver Learns to Step Lightly by Strain

Partying the night away in Fernie presented us with an interesting problem: Shayne and I had done some serious damage to our bar tab (and livers) and while driver Eliel stuck to water, we still had to be at Whitewater the next day to run another demo. We were still drunk when El managed to wake Shayne and I at 5am, setting us up for my favourite past time - being drunk in a car travelling through the dark, windy mountain roads of southern BC. Fortunately Eliel was still paranoid of black ice and had mercy on his half inebriated, half hungover passengers, taking it easy on the potentially treacherous road. His suspicions proved accurate when we tried to get gas in Cranbrook: a right off the highway turned into a straight slide. We powered through to daylight and filled up in Creston. A quick check of the road report in Creston showed that the Kootenay Pass was closed for avalanche control (a promising sign for the conditions at Whitewater) so we made the snap decision to take the sneak attack route on the ferry across Kootenay Lake and through Nelson. El took advantage of the downtime to catch up on his sleep - I took advantage of Nelson to buy more PBR and hot dogs.

As soon as we rolled into the Whitewater parking lot, we could instantly tell we were going to like this hill. One day lodge, no accommodation, 2 double lifts, total whiteout conditions, the muffled THUD of avy bombs... right up my alley. My first thought was, this is just like Baker, but more low-key. Theres something magic about these small, relatively unknown powder enclaves. Everyone is there for the same reason - theres no park scene, no big egos, no multi million dollar slopeside condos - just straight up, no frills no bullshit pow shred.

If you're in the business of demoing fat, rockered skis, a hill that gets 40 feet of snowfall a season is a damn good spot to set up shop. Even without our fancy Surface tent - theres no way we could set it up in the howling wind - we were down to just park skis in mere minutes, which meant it was time to spin a lap. Local guidance took us to a spot that I'm not likely to forget any time soon. Easily the best run I've had all season, it was a good 400m of sustained drop through a zone of perfectly spaced trees, with endless pillows, chest deep pow, and no tracks in sight. I quickly lost everyone and tragically had to shred the line in one straight shot without stopping for photos.

The line popped us out onto the access road, a couple kms away from the resort. Board off, thumb out... within minutes we had a ride back up in the box of a pickup - a ride of doom that was significantly more thrilling than the shred down. I'm not sure how we made it up alive (or without taking out other cars), but our ear-to-ear grins of satisfaction were a clear sign that the risk was worth it. We kept lapping through the day, rotating off one guy to keep tabs on the demos.

Eliel was so amped on Whitewater that he never wanted to leave - even going to extremes like sinking the truck into a ditch full of quicksand snow. Strike 2 - the Kootenays really wanted that truck to stick around. We didn't really want to leave, either, so we set up camp in the metropolis of Ymir for the night and postponed our Red Mtn demo a day. Little did we know, Ymir was about to become our home away from home... more on that next post.

For those of you still scratching your head over my post title, peep this extraordinary piece of Canadiana. The log drivers waltz pleases girls completely...

Surface tour - Fernie by Strain

Knot Chutes: EXTREME
Knot Chutes: EXTREME

We limped into Fernie in the wee hours of the morning following our ditch detour on the crowsnest pass, and woke around noon to a light drizzle at the base - not exactly a warm welcome for our return to BC. But, the hill at Fernie has a Grouse Grind worth of vert and the view across the valley suggested that it was snowing up top, so Eliel, Rob and I saddled up and rode through the rain towards the snow line. Conditions were mostly mashed pow-tatoes, but a short boot pack to the top of Knot Chutes  rewarded us with fresh tracks and fun lines above the mank. After a couple laps of sloppy pow we relocated over to the rail park - no jumps at Fernie - where El and I spent more time oogling lines beyond the ropes , wishing the weather was better, than actually riding. Our second day was more of the same - shot a couple photos, but the light was blah and the pow was sloppy. There be lines in them thar hills, though... a return trip when the snow is better is definitely on my to-do list.

Joel threw together another edit, starring Rob Heule killing the rail park and yours truly killing a bag of hot dogs:

Quick Cut - Surface Demo Tour Does Fernie from Jah Raven Creation on Vimeo.

The ski scene in Fernie was stoked on the demo tour - Grand Central, a local bar, even threw us a mustache party, complete with a schwag giveaway for the hombre rockin' the best 'stache. A pair of fancy, limited edition 10/11 Surface poles went to the gnarliest trucker 'stache I've ever laid eyes on. Mad props. Apologies if my details on the night are sparse - Grand Central also hooked us up with a bar tab.  Big thanks to Paul for a fun (and hazy) night.

Off the road with Surface skis by Strain

The Kootenays are a special place. The forested slopes of southeastern British Columbia offer a quiet seclusion from the outside world, a quality that has led to an influx of exiles over the years. Whether fleeing religious or political persecution, or being forcefully segregated from the general population, many people found their way to the Kootenays in search of refuge from another life. The qualities that attract people to the Kootenays in the first place hold considerable influence over the decision to leave. It wasn't just the vibe or atmosphere of Kootenay culture that drew us in - southeast BC is a snowsport paradise. Pillow fields, big, steep mountains, deep snow, great sledding and touring and an abundance of access options from logging roads to helicopters put winter activities front and centre almost everywhere you look.  If we didn't have an obligation to return to Whistler, we probably never would have left - hell, Shayne stayed behind on the promise that we would pick him up on our way to SIA in Denver.

It took mere minutes for the powerful pull of the Kootenays to exert its force on the Surface crew: not 5 km across the Alberta border our truck fell victim to a black ice sneak attack and plowed straight through a large yellow corner sign into the ditch. If you can't Dodge it, Ram it... right? Thankfully, our low speed and some slick (haaaa!) driving by Eliel kept all 4 tires on the ground and limited the damage to a bent license plate. After extricating the Surfacemobile from a snowdrift, we attempted to get ourselves back on the road - despite being able to drive around just fine in the wide, flat ditch, the steep embankment proved too much for the truck to handle and we were forced to call a tow. Big props to the Sparwood RCMP detachment for hooking us up with some flares to prevent a loaded logging truck from landing itself ontop of us. Standing on the side of a road as a semi trailer barrels straight downhill toward you, knowing that all that stands between you and fifty tonnes of of truck and timber is a corner that has more in common with a curling rink than a highway... it's terrifying, to say the least, especially when you're sharing a ditch with a collection of crosses - a chilling reminder that our situation could be a lot worse.

In the end, we got the truck out without further incident and continued - slowly - onward to Fernie. Nothing says "photo op" like the bright flashing lights of a police cruiser, so once the flares were lit I pulled out the camera bag and documented our near disaster. This would prove to be only the first of several incidents while in the Kootenays that seemed to serve as an omen that we weren't meant to leave. That, or Eliel needs new tires for his truck.

On the road with Surface Skis by Strain

I've been living a fantastic ski-bum nomad lifestyle since I left my "traditional" job - a temp position as a carpenters helper - in early November. Luckily, as soon as I entered the world of unemployment, Whistler got hit with the snowiest month in their history, and I found myself caught up in a whirlwind of travel, shooting, and shredding that hasn't shown any sign of letting up any time soon.  Since the first week of November, I've been living out of 4 bags - camera, laptop, board and duffel, have slept in no less than 20 different beds/floors/couches/cars, and have traveled over 10000km - all by car - to ride 12 different resorts. The majority of that travel can be accounted for in two trips - my journey to Vail with the Katal Innovations crew to help set up The Landing Pad (which I still need to write about... ), and my most recent gongshow loop through interior BC with Eliel Hindert and Shayne Metos of Surface Skis, demoing their sticks and shooting photos/filming with their team. Over the course of 14 days we hit Grouse, Apex, Big White, Silver Star, Revlestoke, Kicking Horse (sort of), COP, Fernie, Whitewater, Red and ended back 'home' in Whistler.

The first leg of the trip pushed through the Okanagan - Apex, Big White, and Silver Star. Eliel seems to be keen on writing in depth on each tour stop, so instead of repeating his stories - we were within an arms reach of eachother for most of the trip - I'll direct you to his blog for his take on things. I'll warn you though: he mumbles when he talks...

Some photos from the ski hills of the Okanagan:

The next segment of our tour was supposed to be Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, and Louise... but technical difficulties turned that into 2 great days at RMR, an urban session in Golden, and a park slayer at COP in Calgary. I'll explain in the next post... I'm taking off to Colorado again in the morning, but with some website issues sorted (read: I suck at wordpress), updates should come more frequently. I think.

Cypress Sessions (pt 1) by Strain

I did some shooting up at Cypress Mountain late last season, and was pleasantly surprised to sneak in a pow day shortly before the lifts came to a halt for the year. Another surprise was the quality of the tree shredding in the Cypress sidecountry - reminded me of my favorite zones off Whistler's peak.

Eliel Hindert (now complete with poles!) gets a taste of Cypress spring pow:


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