On day one of Ascend, groups headed up Parker Ridge, Hilda Ridge and Destiny Ridge, popular alpine touring zones in the Columbia Icefields area. // Dustin Leclerc// RoadtoNowhere Photography
HAVING IT BOTH WAYS Inaugural splitboard festival in Jasper Ascends to lofty heights
Chucky Gerrard is skiing up through the trees near the Hilda Creek hostel, his long lunges distracting from the fact that he only stands about five-seven.
As he climbs, he makes a smooth kick-turn where the slope begins to roll away, using the new perspective to peek at the rest of his group, who skin up from below.
As we pass our snowboard tracks—swoopy and playful compared to a skier’s tight, precise turns—I realize I didn’t notice Chucky’s transition, the equipment changeover that defines splitboarding, for better and for worse. While having a snowboard to surf the pow is ideal once at the top, rookie splitboarders are notoriously slow at switching their riding mode from that of a descending snowboarder to that of an ascending skier and vise versa—just ask any of their skier friends. It takes many days in the backcountry to not only know when to transition, but how to do it efficiently. And so, on our next lap, I secretly peek at my watch as the group begins to disassemble their boards and turn them into skis. After much fumbling and grumbling from some of our party members, 20 minutes later, we’re all in uphill mode. Considering he didn’t know he was being tested, Chucky’s transition time was impressive—an efficient three minutes, 50 seconds. “Four minutes? I must be getting old!” he laughs.
Guides Chucky Gerrard (left) and Matt Reynolds led participants like Kim K'in, from Prince George, around Jasper's alpine. "It was a time of my life I will not forget!" she wrote on Ascend's Facebook wall. // Dustin Leclerc// RoadtoNowhere Photography
Hardly. Chucky might be an old soul, but like the sport of splitboarding itself, he represents a new bud on backcountry snow sliding’s evolutionary tree. The stocky 30-something with a billy-goat’s beard and a lilting laugh is one of only a handful of ACMG-certified apprentice ski guides who earn their turns on a splitboard. And though he can ski like a boss, the Golden-based rider with more than 100 days in the bag this season is resolute in his decision to ride one plank instead of two. “I just love to snowboard,” he shrugs.
And on this day, so does everyone around him. More than 20 riders have descended on Jasper from across Alberta and B.C. for the first ever Ascend Splitboarding Festival, a celebration of the snow, terrain and backcountry accessibility in Jasper National Park. Winter users here know Rockies riding is often overlooked when compared to the heftier snowpacks further to the south and west, but that’s exactly what makes Jasper special, according to Ascend’s lead guide and local mountain maestro, Matt Reynolds. “Hand-in-hand with being under appreciated is the fact that you can have these places all to yourself,” Reynolds says. “Touring in Jasper has never really gotten big and because of that you can have some pretty amazing quality tours without the crowds.”
Most days, that’s true. But today, as Chucky’s group of six splitboarders crest Hilda Ridge, we can see Reynolds’ party of eight making their way towards Destiny Ridge, a 1,000 ft prow that soars above the Icefields Parkway. To the south we can spot a chain of 10 riders, led by Revelstoke-based guide Trevor Gavura, nearing the summit of Parker Ridge. Jasper might not have the crowds, but Ascend has opened at least 20 new pairs of eyes the park’s powder potential.
Matt Reynolds leads a splitboarding party towards Destiny Ridge. Twenty-one Ascend participants were divided into three groups to Ascend Jasper National Park's various alpine areas. // Julian Holldorfer
“Welcome to the first ever splitboarding festival to be held in Jasper,” Lukas Matejovsky declares to a packed room of event participants, guides, volunteers, plus a smattering of curious local shredders, during Ascend’s official welcome party at the Jasper Brewpub. “To see so many of you here is a dream come true for me,” he says.
Matejovsky and fellow Edmontonian Geoff Kramer, part-owner of the well-respected Canadian snowboard company, Olive, have indeed dreamed up this event. However, Ascend didn’t manifest out of thin air. Together with Kramer’s wife, Julie, the duo has rallied sponsorships, organized presentations, obtained permits, collaborated with the Avalanche Canada and are making sure local businesses have a chance to get involved. Most importantly, when it comes time to introducing participants to the splitboarding splendor that Jasper has to offer, they are facilitating the blowing of minds.
Lukas Matejovsky welcoming Ascend participants at the Jasper Museum. Event sponsors put up big prizes for a raffle draw, proceeds of which went to the Canadian Avalanche Centre. // Dustin Leclerc // RoadtoNowhere Photography
“My high expectations have being topped.”
Julian Holldorfer is staring at the tongue of the Boundary Glacier, his own tongue wagging in anticipation of the line down. On this Sunday tour, after a late night learning about Jasper’s snowpack, competing for incredible prizes and swapping secrets of select splitboarding stashes, two of the three groups are climbing a huge white ramp to access the Boundary Glacier plateau above. For Holldorfer, a visitor from Germany who happened to be exploring western Canada with splitboard in tow when he heard about Ascend, the opportunity to travel safely with a guide on terrain that is as dangerous as it is beautiful is something he’ll cherish forever. “You feel so small, looking up at those icefalls,” he says. “I never imagined we’d be on a glacier.”
Geoff Kramer climbs the Boundary Glacier during the second tour of the Ascend Splitboarding Festival. // Dustin Leclerc // RoadtoNowhere Photography
The feeling appears to be mutual. From below, where our group has stopped for a snack in the sun, cameras are clicking all around. We can see the last of Chucky’s group topping out next to a cobalt wall of ice, their steady progress made even more rhythmic for the rope which attaches them. As the troop disappears over the horizon, we assess our own surroundings. With no crevasse hazard to negotiate, our mission may be a bit less extreme, but for most of the group, this is their first time in such big country. For some, although they have many resort days under their belt, this is their first time on a splitboard.
“I can see what I’ve been missing,” says Jasper’s Cristin Murphy, strapping her poles to her backpack and preparing for the long ride down.
As our group gets organized, we can hear the whoops of joy from the alpine above, and Chucky's group is now coming into view as they drop back onto the tongue. We notice Geoff Kramer, riding a board he built with his own hands, leaning into a high-speed carve. The turns appear effortless—and his joy endless. As he cruises by, we realize there’s more to his stoke than the satisfaction of laying out a big powder turn. Kramer is grinning because he just helped facilitate an incredible weekend for more than two dozen splitboarders. “We are so grateful to everyone involved,” he will tell me later. At the moment, however, his gratitude takes the form of a 20-foot high rooster tail, sparkling in the Alberta sun.
Geoff Kramer finds his spot on the Boundary Glacier. // Dustin Leclerc // RoadtoNowhere Photography