By Jesse Huffman

For days I wrestled with our bad luck–why were we coming up against such opposition? Was there a reason behind the mindless terrorism nature was unleashing on us? What would it take for us to have a productive day of filming and snowboarding? Often questions such as these can’t be answered. But in an effort to make order out of chaos, I’ll attempt to explain the mathematics of the seize-up.

Setting Up The Equation

Things start off simply enough on Tuesday. We could’ve had a crash course in probability right from the start, but we manage to get all three trucks, five snowmobiles, and eight people onto the ferry in time–an amazing act of calculation, considering our 5:00 a.m. wake up and the libations we’d been drinking three hours earlier. Once aboard, we nurse our hangovers with a spectacular view of the sun rising and Vancouver trailing off in the distance. We arrive in Nanaimo two hours later and hit the road, driving from the south end of Vancouver Island to Port Hardy on the north.

Once we reach the Port, we catch another ferry that takes us overnight through the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert, where we disembark and drive the last two hours north to Terrace. I spend the night talking to Dexter the bartender. After exhausting his supply of inebriated boating stories, I bunk up for the night.

The Inside Passage

I awake to the sea rushing by the window, with land not far off. Meeting Jon Cartwright, Justin Mooney, Lukas Huffman, Jeff Corbett, and Gary Pendygrasse on the deck, I see that we’re in the calm waters of the Inside Passage. Flanking us on both sides are hills of evergreens and white-capped mountains. Clouds rest on the treetops, seeming to emanate from the hills. The panoramic view is animated by our movement, nature’s grand show easing by like a slow-motion movie shot. As we sail on, the view to the rear expands as the channel widens, lending us the feeling of slowly zooming out of the horizon. The passage narrows to a pinpoint in the center, as our immediate horizon expands to the sides. The views are massive, raw, and full.

Arriving in Prince Rupert, we head off to our final destination–Terrace, B.C. Our drive takes us west up the Skeena River. The road is lined on one side by sheer cliffs, and across the river you can see the wind blowing snow off the mountaintops. Finally in Terrace, we head straight for the house of our hosts, Rui Salema and Tara Valk, happy to unpack after our 34-hour journey. The crew is starving, so we light out for the closest eating establishment: the Splashdown Lounge. It’s Valentine’s Day. Heart-shaped balloons with red and pink streamers hang from the ceiling, and the windows are plastered with other romantic cutouts. Splashdown’s offering a two-for-one hen special and pitchers of beer. Some of our posse couple up to share, and we eat our meals while digesting the local flavor.

Positives Turn Negative

The next day, Thursday, we drive a half hour west to Shame’s Mountain, Terrace’s local ski hill. A family-owned resort, it reminds me of Sugarbush way back in the day–no corporate sponsors or consumer escapism. All the advertisements are for local businesses, and the inside of the lodge has shag carpeting. Outside, things aren’t so friendly. Shame’s is in the thrall of an arctic outflow, with powerful winds and cold-ass temperatures. We bundle up and out to a rickety two-person chairlift, take a T-bar to the edge of the resort, and unstrap for a short hike into the backcountry.

The boot pack is a hardened staircase, and the nearby snow has a thick, icy crust on it. Luke and Justin hike off to the top to check for snow and terrain, and as they ride back down to us we can hear the boards zippering along. It rained top to bottom a couple days back, and then the front came in and froze a thick crustver everything. The snow is petrified.

A Multitude Of Variables

After our failed mission to Shame’s, we decide to search for snow. Snowmobiling can provide access to some of the best terrain and snow without a helicopter, but it also invites problems. The math is evil and simple: the number of factors involved in coordinating all the people, trucks, and sleds can quickly add up to a nasty conclusion. This day starts with the logistics of renting sleds, then getting them to the mountain without transportation. Calls are made, then waiting, and more calls, then waiting, as “Meet you at 8:30 a.m.” turns into 11:30 a.m.

When all is said and done, we acquire a local guide who has extra trucks to haul our sleds. We’ve talked to almost everyone in Terrace by now, and when we get to Mt. Robson, it seems like the whole town is there. By the time we unload all the sleds, we’re seventeen deep. Things are already complicated, and multiplying the inherent difficulties of snowmobiling by large amounts of people is bound to equal something bad.

This equation blows out halfway up the mountain. As we wind through the trees on a single track, our seventeen-man train quickly derails. A particularly steep section of compact snow has turned to ice, creating an impasse for the several amateur snowmobilers in the group, myself included. Amidst our struggle, a saint appears, gloveless and garbed in a Ski-Doo jacket. At first, we’re curious about why he’s wearing his avalanche transceiver over his coat, but then the answer becomes clear–he has no shirt on underneath. He navigates our sleds up the icy slope for us, then disappears in a black cloud of exhaust.

Once at the top, we still can’t seem to add things up. After hours of construction on a mammoth bank hit, we realize we don’t have enough speed to make it worthwhile. Defeated, we limp back down the bumpy trail to our trucks.

Arctic Weather, Fossilized Snow, And Fractures

On Saturday we opt for Copper Mountain, which is five minutes outside Terrace and an easy fifteen minutes up. Transportation was arranged the night before, and our crew is only seven. After the previous day’s drama, we’re happy about the easy trail and simple organization. The snowmobile factor is on our side today, and we make it to the top quickly and easily. Once at the peak, we’re greeted with frigid temperatures and 40 kph wind.

The snow here has the same wind-affected conditions as Shame’s. We spend most of the day gawking at terrain we can’t ride while fending off the weather. By the end of the day, we’ve worked our way over to a cliff spotted early in the morning. It looks over of a small pitch that seems to contain some windblown snow. Lukas and I make our way up to check things out, and things on top of the cliff look pretty sketchy. We squirrel around the edge the best we can, and Luke gets into position. He calls down to the crew, scrapes up to the edge, and leaps off the precipice. It’s an easy twenty feet, and when he hits the snow, he doesn’t sink in an inch.

Instead, he flips forward and slides down the length of the pitch on his back.

The cliff is out of the question, so I drop down and cut across the slope to jump a smaller rock below. I land the drop and start riding away when I hear the crew yelling, “Avalanche!” I cut out and over to them, looking back to see a four-foot fracture from the point where I landed across to the other side of the pitch. The slope has collapsed, and ten-foot chunks are rumbling slowly to within inches of where Gary had been filming.

Taking a deep breath, I realize that any other line would’ve put me right in the middle of the slide. The avalanche was slow moving, but it did some damage, leaving the trees in its path bent and broken. We’d failed to recognize the danger of this wind-loaded slope and were lucky to have avoided any injury. I ride down the trail with a numb, hollow feeling in my gut, sobered by that reminder of how dangerous the mountains can be.

Stuffed Crust

The following day we return to Copper to check a potential hip. Constructing a reentry jump requires statistical precision, because you have to calculate for speed and trajectory, all while erecting a jump that will land you in the right spot. This is a very complicated matter, and everyone has a different idea of how it should be done. Opinions are regarded and either ignored or implemented, and the dictatorship changes hands several times.

When all the different factions are reconciled, we build quite the carcass catapult. We shred this kicker until the crew gets tired of bouncing off the petrified transition. Moving on, we work a smaller jump for the sunset, then head down the mountain, pausing for Jon to jump over the snowmobile road. Reaching the bottom, I feel satiated and consoled that we are finally getting something done.

That night we’re invited to a dinner at one of our host’s parents’ house. The Critchleys own the local Pizza Hut, so the pie is piled eight boxes high. We eat until it hurts and then entertain ourselves with the Critchleys’ two dogs. One of them is on Valium, and the other, which resembles a piece of lint, is a Yorkshire Terrier with stunted growth.

Stagnant Snowmobiles And Postponed Powder

On Monday we elect for a day off the snow at the prestigious Terrace Lanes, a local bowling alley housed in what looks like a small airplane hangar. Wondering aloud about how you could fit a bowling alley inside such a small structure, we walk inside and discover the shocking reason–bowling balls the size of grapefruits and only five pins. We quickly adapt to this new sport and bowl our worries away.

Rested and energized, the next day we set out once more to go snowboarding. This time our destination is Green Mountain, and the rendezvous is a gas station in Kittimat, a half hour west of Terrace. Corbett’s truck won’t start for a bit, and we ponder the laws of probability–a broken truck at this point doesn’t seem surprising. Old Nelly finally coughs and turns over, and we’re off to meet the crew.

Again, however, we have too many factors in our equation, and the figures add up to trouble. We end up waiting on the side of the road for the rest of our crew, who are tied up with the business of renting sleds and finding transportation. My exasperation commingles with exhaustion and finds a happy medium with indifference.

We finally get underway at around noon. On the way up, we notice the snow possesses an unusual quality–it’s light and fluffy, reminiscent of something called powder! Nearing the top, we see our patience will be rewarded–Green Mountain yields us fresh snow.

The mountain’s terrain is lumpy and hilly, full of seemingly endless possibilities. Justin, Jon, and I drop a cliff band, then Jon and Luke session a gap. Rui mans the digital camera as the snowmobilers cheer, impressed regardless of landings. Satisfied, we move to a different zone to film a sunset jump. Our newfound friends make things easy for us with their snowmobiles, giving us shuttles from the landing to the top of the run-in.

The snowmobile runs make short work of the landing, and with the light starting to fade, we retreat to catch the sunset. We have a view of the Douglas Channel bordered on all sides by the Coast Mountains. The sky explodes with stratified bands of color, the sun’s last light reflecting in the water of the ocean inlet.

Delusions Of Tranny

With high hopes from the previous day’s success, we return to Green Mountain on Wednesday. Our group is only five, a pleasing contrast6;d failed to recognize the danger of this wind-loaded slope and were lucky to have avoided any injury. I ride down the trail with a numb, hollow feeling in my gut, sobered by that reminder of how dangerous the mountains can be.

Stuffed Crust

The following day we return to Copper to check a potential hip. Constructing a reentry jump requires statistical precision, because you have to calculate for speed and trajectory, all while erecting a jump that will land you in the right spot. This is a very complicated matter, and everyone has a different idea of how it should be done. Opinions are regarded and either ignored or implemented, and the dictatorship changes hands several times.

When all the different factions are reconciled, we build quite the carcass catapult. We shred this kicker until the crew gets tired of bouncing off the petrified transition. Moving on, we work a smaller jump for the sunset, then head down the mountain, pausing for Jon to jump over the snowmobile road. Reaching the bottom, I feel satiated and consoled that we are finally getting something done.

That night we’re invited to a dinner at one of our host’s parents’ house. The Critchleys own the local Pizza Hut, so the pie is piled eight boxes high. We eat until it hurts and then entertain ourselves with the Critchleys’ two dogs. One of them is on Valium, and the other, which resembles a piece of lint, is a Yorkshire Terrier with stunted growth.

Stagnant Snowmobiles And Postponed Powder

On Monday we elect for a day off the snow at the prestigious Terrace Lanes, a local bowling alley housed in what looks like a small airplane hangar. Wondering aloud about how you could fit a bowling alley inside such a small structure, we walk inside and discover the shocking reason–bowling balls the size of grapefruits and only five pins. We quickly adapt to this new sport and bowl our worries away.

Rested and energized, the next day we set out once more to go snowboarding. This time our destination is Green Mountain, and the rendezvous is a gas station in Kittimat, a half hour west of Terrace. Corbett’s truck won’t start for a bit, and we ponder the laws of probability–a broken truck at this point doesn’t seem surprising. Old Nelly finally coughs and turns over, and we’re off to meet the crew.

Again, however, we have too many factors in our equation, and the figures add up to trouble. We end up waiting on the side of the road for the rest of our crew, who are tied up with the business of renting sleds and finding transportation. My exasperation commingles with exhaustion and finds a happy medium with indifference.

We finally get underway at around noon. On the way up, we notice the snow possesses an unusual quality–it’s light and fluffy, reminiscent of something called powder! Nearing the top, we see our patience will be rewarded–Green Mountain yields us fresh snow.

The mountain’s terrain is lumpy and hilly, full of seemingly endless possibilities. Justin, Jon, and I drop a cliff band, then Jon and Luke session a gap. Rui mans the digital camera as the snowmobilers cheer, impressed regardless of landings. Satisfied, we move to a different zone to film a sunset jump. Our newfound friends make things easy for us with their snowmobiles, giving us shuttles from the landing to the top of the run-in.

The snowmobile runs make short work of the landing, and with the light starting to fade, we retreat to catch the sunset. We have a view of the Douglas Channel bordered on all sides by the Coast Mountains. The sky explodes with stratified bands of color, the sun’s last light reflecting in the water of the ocean inlet.

Delusions Of Tranny

With high hopes from the previous day’s success, we return to Green Mountain on Wednesday. Our group is only five, a pleasing contrast to the amount the day before. But while the numbers are to our advantage, we fall prey to Green’s terrain. There’s no shortage of perfect transition, but behind every roll is another–right in the way. Every ten minutes someone exclaims, “Look at this! We could land right here, and take off right … forget it.”

We wander the deceptive backcountry of Green, finding false promises and facades behind every good landing. Eventually, Corbett and I come across a good pitch and settle for the stock cheese-wedge option. Meanwhile, Luke and Jon have built a jump over a small ravine, and we sled down to join them. They skip across the divide at high speeds, only to stop abruptly on the other side to avoid hitting some trees.

When Luke and Jon are done with their sketchy stunts, we head back up to hit the cheese wedge. This jump also proves to be flawed–another weird run-in and a tight landing. We scratch our heads, and I try not to spontaneously combust, while Luke issues his standard quote: “Remember to breathe.”

Haircuts And Handrails

Thursday is our last day in Terrace, and the crew is physically exhausted. I contend that a day of snowmobiling is pretty much the equivalent of a six-hour bar fight. At the end of the day, it feels like you’ve had your ass kicked.

So instead of an all-day wrestling match with a 500-pound machine, we decide to attack a handrail. First, however, someone has to get a haircut. When we walk into the barbershop and see the proprietor delivering a serious mullet, everyone decides that his own current state of follicular affairs is just fine. But after a bit, we coax Corbett into the chair, promising to pay for the sacrificial haircut. And while Peter the barber goes to work giving Corbett a sweet bowl cut, he gives me the lowdown on his collection of mesh hats, the origin of the mullet, and why he refuses to give mushroom cuts.

The next stop is the rail in front of the Terrace Fitness Center. There’s no snow on the ground, so we transplant some from nearby snowbanks. It takes a few truckloads, but soon we have enough for a runway and landing. We’re finishing up the takeoff when the fitness center’s doors open, and the suits who manage the place emerge. The stairway has to be free of snow for insurance purposes, they explain to us, and we just dumped a big pile right on the steps. But so far everyone in Terrace has been friendly to the idea of snowboarding, so I try my luck at reasoning with them.

We promise to move all the snow out of the way the second we’re done. They look distrustful for a second, questioning what collateral we have. I assuage their fears with a classic quote: “Don’t worry, we’re professionals.” For some reason this makes sense, and we watch in surprise as they leave us to attack the rail. The jibbing ensues. We rip gloves, ruin edges on bare concrete steps, and bring the Terrace handrail under our sway.

One Ferry And Three Busloads Of Band Campers

The alarm goes off at the usual early hour on Friday, the day of our departure, and our posse piles their bags and bodies into the trucks. We say our goodbyes to the town and our hosts, and start off on our trip back into the real world.

As we board the ferry, we realize reality won’t return with the gentle rhythms of the sea, but with a thousand teenaged voices. On the ferry with us are three busloads of kids coming back from band camp. All the rooms are booked, and the boat is teeming with ten to fifteen year olds, every one extremely excited at the prospect of being on a ferry overnight. The only place left for us to sleep is in one of the cafeterias, which has unfortunately already been chosen as the headquarters for the kids’ campaign to stay up all night.

By 3:00 a.m. I’m burying my head under sweatshirts and jackets, trying my best to keep the juvenile threat at bay. As I lie there on the cold floor swaddled in rental blankets, I think back on our trip, and it seems fitting that busloads of preteens usher us back. We struggled to control our environment the whole time, but trying to go to sleep in the present predicament means simply submitting and dealing with it.

Before my experience in Terrace, I took for granted all the factors that played into a productive day of snowboarding: weather, snow, terrain, snowmobiles, transportation, people, even an avalanche. Our time limit put another value into the equation, multiplying our need for every day to be productive.

We’d have been up the passage without a paddle if it weren’t for our hosts and their friends. For all the problems our production conjured, their generosity solved them for us. The locals’ easygoing lifestyle and hospitality were the perfect contrast to our pressed timelines. When we were scrambling to find transportation for our three rental sleds, they offered their trucks. When we were scratching our heads about where to look for snow next, they took us to the best spot. What looked like a logistical catastrophe to us was just a bunch of guys getting their snowmobile on. While we were freaking about the crappy snow and not getting anything done, they were commenting, “Shoulda been here last week”–knowing it will be good again the next.

*A special thanks to Maria McGowan of Terrace Tourism www.terracetourism.bc.ca.

the amount the day before. But while the numbers are to our advantage, we fall prey to Green’s terrain. There’s no shortage of perfect transition, but behind every roll is another–right in the way. Every ten minutes someone exclaims, “Look at this! We could land right here, and take off right … forget it.”

We wander the deceptive backcountry of Green, finding false promises and facades behind every good landing. Eventually, Corbett and I come across a good pitch and settle for the stock cheese-wedge option. Meanwhile, Luke and Jon have built a jump over a small ravine, and we sled down to join them. They skip across the divide at high speeds, only to stop abruptly on the other side to avoid hitting some trees.

When Luke and Jon are done with their sketchy stunts, we head back up to hit the cheese wedge. This jump also proves to be flawed–another weird run-in and a tight landing. We scratch our heads, and I try not to spontaneously combust, while Luke issues his standard quote: “Remember to breathe.”

Haircuts And Handrails

Thursday is our last day in Terrace, and the crew is physically exhausted. I contend that a day of snowmobiling is pretty much the equivalent of a six-hour bar fight. At the end of the day, it feels like you’ve had your ass kicked.

So instead of an all-day wrestling match with a 500-pound machine, we decide to attack a handrail. First, however, someone has to get a haircut. When we walk into the barbershop and see the proprietor delivering a serious mullet, everyone decides that his own current state of follicular affairs is just fine. But after a bit, we coax Corbett into the chair, promising to pay for the sacrificial haircut. And while Peter the barber goes to work giving Corbett a sweet bowl cut, he gives me the lowdown on his collection of mesh hats, the origin of the mullet, and why he refuses to give mushroom cuts.

The next stop is the rail in front of the Terrace Fitness Center. There’s no snow on the ground, so we transplant some from nearby snowbanks. It takes a few truckloads, but soon we have enough for a runway and landing. We’re finishing up the takeoff when the fitness center’s doors open, and the suits who manage the place emerge. The stairway has to be free of snow for insurance purposes, they explain to us, and we just dumped a big pile right on the steps. But so far everyone in Terrace has been friendly to the idea of snowboarding, so I try my luck at reasoning with them.

We promise to move all the snow out of the way the second we’re done. They look distrustful for a second, questioning what collateral we have. I assuage their fears with a classic quote: “Don’t worry, we’re professionals.” For some reason this makes sense, and we watch in surprise as they leave us to attack the rail. The jibbing ensues. We rip gloves, ruin edges on bare concrete steps, and bring the Terrace handrail under our sway.

One Ferry And Three Busloads Of Band Campers

The alarm goes off at the usual early hour on Friday, the day of our departure, and our posse piles their bags and bodies into the trucks. We say our goodbyes to the town and our hosts, and start off on our trip back into the real world.

As we board the ferry, we realize reality won’t return with the gentle rhythms of the sea, but with a thousand teenaged voices. On the ferry with us are three busloads of kids coming back from band camp. All the rooms are booked, and the boat is teeming with ten to fifteen year olds, every one extremely excited at the prospect of being on a ferry overnight. The only place left for us to sleep is in one of the cafeterias, which has unfortunately already been chosen as the headquarters for the kids’ campaign to stay up all night.

By 3:00 a.m. I’m burying my head under sweatshirts and jackets, trying my best to keep the juvenile threat at bay. As I lie there on the cold floor swaddled in rental blankets, I think back on our trip, and it seems fitting that busloads of preteens usher us back. We struggled to control our environment the whole time, but trying to go to sleep in the present predicament means simply submitting and dealing with it.

Before my experience in Terrace, I took for granted all the factors that played into a productive day of snowboarding: weather, snow, terrain, snowmobiles, transportation, people, even an avalanche. Our time limit put another value into the equation, multiplying our need for every day to be productive.

We’d have been up the passage without a paddle if it weren’t for our hosts and their friends. For all the problems our production conjured, their generosity solved them for us. The locals’ easygoing lifestyle and hospitality were the perfect contrast to our pressed timelines. When we were scrambling to find transportation for our three rental sleds, they offered their trucks. When we were scratching our heads about where to look for snow next, they took us to the best spot. What looked like a logistical catastrophe to us was just a bunch of guys getting their snowmobile on. While we were freaking about the crappy snow and not getting anything done, they were commenting, “Shoulda been here last week”–knowing it will be good again the next.

*A special thanks to Maria McGowan of Terrace Tourism www.terracetourism.bc.ca.

weatshirts and jackets, trying my best to keep the juvenile threat at bay. As I lie there on the cold floor swaddled in rental blankets, I think back on our trip, and it seems fitting that busloads of preteens usher us back. We struggled to control our environment the whole time, but trying to go to sleep in the present predicament means simply submitting and dealing with it.

Before my experience in Terrace, I took for granted all the factors that played into a productive day of snowboarding: weather, snow, terrain, snowmobiles, transportation, people, even an avalanche. Our time limit put another value into the equation, multiplying our need for every day to be productive.

We’d have been up the passage without a paddle if it weren’t for our hosts and their friends. For all the problems our production conjured, their generosity solved them for us. The locals’ easygoing lifestyle and hospitality were the perfect contrast to our pressed timelines. When we were scrambling to find transportation for our three rental sleds, they offered their trucks. When we were scratching our heads about where to look for snow next, they took us to the best spot. What looked like a logistical catastrophe to us was just a bunch of guys getting their snowmobile on. While we were freaking about the crappy snow and not getting anything done, they were commenting, “Shoulda been here last week”–knowing it will be good again the next.

*A special thanks to Maria McGowan of Terrace Tourism www.terracetourism.bc.ca.