Participants of the second annual Splitboard Festival in Jasper National Park were riding high after the event once again Ascended beyond expectations.
Meanwhile, those closely connected to the festival have noticed a change in the conversation when it comes to what tools people use to access Jasper’s backcountry.
Brooke Ashley, who lives in Whitecourt, is a seasoned resort rider but before the March 14-15 festival in Jasper had never been on a splitboard (specialized backcountry equipment used like skis to climb up the mountain, then converted to a snowboard to ride down).
After two days of skinning under the dramatic peaks of the Maligne Range and the Columbia Icefields area, Ashley felt connected to the park in new ways.
“There's something really special about knowing that you made it to such a paradise solely by your own sheer will and perseverance,” she said.
Splitboarding felt like a new world to Ashley, but the fact that it’s on her map at all has a lot to do with Ascend. A small group of Jasper die-hards have been involved in the sport for a few years, but as far as Ascend’s lead guide, Matt Reynolds, could tell, splitboarding has only become truly accessible for the public since the festival began.
“I’ve definitely seen a change in Jasper, even just in terms of the amount of splitboard rentals available,” he said. “More people are talking about it. You can hear the vibe.”
One of those feeling the vibe was Emery Stoesser. The southern Alberta snowboarder has been exploring the Rockies for more than 20 years, but for him, the defining element of Ascend was the opportunity to see the mountains from the perspective of the guides.
“It quickly became apparent that I was going to learn a lot,” Stoesser said. “I really didn’t expect to learn a quarter of what I did.”
For Reynolds, who headed up a team of three ACMG professionals to introduce participants to Jasper’s terrain, determining expectations is an important part of guiding. There will always be a compromise when leading large groups, he said. Some folks will feel pushed, others will want to be more aggressive. What helps bridge that gap, he believes, is the group’s communal excitement for being in the mountains together.
“You form a bit of a community,” Reynolds said.
Trevor Gavura agreed. The Golden-based guide said that some people go touring for the exercise, some people are soul surfers while others are there just to get away from the daily grind. When you can reward all of those ambitions, you’ve succeeded as a guide, he said.
“The sum of the product is adding those things up.”
On the second tour of the festival, the guides seemed to be hitting those notes. Jordy Toms, a Torontonian who did a stint in Jasper in the 1990s, was high on the Boundary Glacier, breathing hard but loving every lungful of the familiar mountain air.
“I’ve been wanting to travel in the mountains like this for a long time,” he said.
With 500 vertical metres of powder turns between the participants’ snow-eating grins and their cars, with mere hours before it wound down, Ascend might have seemed perfectly planned. However, just 48 hours prior to launch, organizers weren’t confident that the event would go off so effortlessly. A six-week dry spell in the Rockies had scared off potential registrants; numbers were down by half from 2014.
“We’re not getting a lot of sleep,” Julie Kramer, who organized the festival with her husband Geoff and their friend Lukas Matejovsky, said at the time.
But then, the night before the welcoming reception at the Astoria Hotel, a karmic storm blew into Jasper. Any uncertainties about moving forward were buried under 15 cm of precipitation. On March 14, 14 splitboarders moved their way through the pine forests of the Maligne Range, finding a a north-facing stash of boot deep powder. Whoops of delight echoed on the Bald Hills.
“I did not expect that,” Stoesser laughed, looking up at his fresh tracks.
Neither, it seemed, did the Kramers or Matejovsky. They traded satisfied glances, knowing with the snow taken care of, all they’d have to do was facilitate the evening’s presentations and raffle (Ascend raised $2,500 for Avalanche Canada).
For Ashley, who hoped that by trying splitboarding that she’d learn a little about Jasper's backcountry, she was just happy to have Ascended with other likeminded souls.
“I’m looking forward to uniting with other enthusiasts at the 2016 festival,” she said.