Filming in Interior British Columbia with the Swiss Crew

Words/Photos: Ben Gavelda

After 21 hours of pavement had peeled my eyeballs open and delayed flights had stranded the crew in Chicago with no jackets for two days, we finally made it to the shores of Kootenay Lake in Nelson, British Columbia. Christian Haller, David Bertschinger-Karg (DBK), Stephan "Mu" Maurer and I were gathered to work on a new video project headed by Haller. Already two days behind the storm and a bit burnt from travels we ended up drinking two beers in the hotel room and passing out by ten.

It was my first time meeting Christian Haller, who also goes by Hitsch, or something that sounds like Riggee with a thick hacking sound at the beginning, which I have no idea what it means. It'd been many years since I'd seen Mu and DBK and I was stoked to finally link up for some riding. Although all three of these guys speak fluent English, I quickly found myself in the middle of a Swiss German speaking ring. Interior British Columbia is familiar territory, but hanging with this group put me in the confused state of a Swiss German comedy show and Fubar. I found out early on that the best way to partake in this shred mission would be to pick up as many words as I could. In our short time together this is what I learned and began to use in varying combinations:

Füschli – fist bump

Huere gail – super awesome

Nei – no

Ja – yes

Nebel – fog

Baum – tree

Schwarz – black

Dini muetter – your mom

Chäs – cheese

Schlange – snake

Schnabeltasse – sippy cup

Rechts – right

Links – left

Eule – owl

During long walks through Whitewater's sidecountry, conversations while driving to and from the hill and down time at the house the Swiss German chatter was broken by my random word mix. Among bouts of backseat laughs between Haller and DBK, and on-hill logistics across pillow fields or along ridges I found it helpful to yell one word at random to get someone's attention. It worked most the time, and I'm sure there were a few, "That damn American won't leave us alone" moments.

DBK sizing up a powder hallway at Whitewater.

DBK sizing up a powder hallway at Whitewater.

We were a bit late on hitting the storm, but we made due by seeking out the sidecountry at Whitewater, which is plentiful many days after a storm. So became the routine: arrive early, eat breakfast poutine, take one bump up the lift, hike the ridge, session a spot all day, then ride back to the parking lot in near darkness. The post-sunset rides back to the truck were like riding by braille with goggles off and slow, scrubby turns with bent knees ready to suck up unseen bumps. They were also blissful, even with a heavy camera pack, riding fresh pow by the fading forest light. One day in particular got a bit spicy as we found ourselves swimming in powder in near darkness then perched above a not-so-rideable cliff band. Early January in the north offers little light so we soaked it up.

DBK and Christian on one of the multiple late light hikes out of the Whitewater sidecountry.

DBK and Christian on one of the multiple late light hikes out of the Whitewater sidecountry.

We hacked up as much snow as we could and wore ourselves out with a steady regiment of hiking around Whitewater. By day six of this cycle we were ready for a change of pace and scenery, so we turned to local legend Tyeson Carmody. Carmody had already been guiding us around a bit and was keen to get out on the sleds, so we loaded up and headed for the trailhead early one morning.

The long, winding drive on snowpacked roads in the pre-dawn night led us to w parking lot where the ride continued by sleds along a curvy logging road past creeksides and untouched pillow forests as we made our way into the mountains. We bumped past heli operations refueling and clients awaiting pickups before settling in on a cut block laden with pillows. The heli groups were amused and so were we. They were spending a few grand a day to ride and watch the show we were putting on, we got to ride some of their terrain for a fraction of the cost. We rewound the day by passing along the same wintery river and back along more snowpacked roads before settling into the Halcyon Hot Springs. The next day brought a similar fortune, but time was running out and we had to pack up just when the terrain began to really reveal itself. So it goes.

The crew scopes one of many pillow zones found around the Kootenays.

The crew scopes one of many pillow zones found around the Kootenays.

The moving visuals from this trip are yet to be edited, but the final cut will have a similar vibe to Christian's past pieces, Memoires Memoires and Miyago, with mixed media from digital to 8mm film. These past projects took a unique look at the way one rides and interacts with the mountain and culture of a place. This future project aims to do the same with a twist. The filming was a bit unconventional and you'll just have to wait and see what I mean when it's all said and done. And regarding that language bit, well, riding and style is a universal conversation.

Check out more photo features here.