The Fresh Family with freeskiingâ€™s head cheerleader Steve Saranchuk front and centre.
THEN When SKIER magazine was launched, backcountry tenures were being handed out in B.C. like loot bags at a kid’s birthday party. That’s when Mustang Powder (neé Monashee Powder Adventures Anstey) got its start. Located near Craigellachie—scene of the last spike driven into the trans-continental Canadian Paciﬁc Railroad—it was owner and horsemeister Nick Holmes-Smith’s sophomore cat operation: a spacious twomillion dollar lodge with a cathedral air and dynamite food. In the burgeoning pantheon of B.C. cat/heli ops it had its own characters and character. And weather. The Paciﬁc storm track ensures that this wild, western side of the Northern Monashees is one of the best places in the world for consistently deep, dry powder, and the area receives much bigger dumps than ranges to the east such as the Selkirks, Purcells or Rockies. Every other cat/heli operation says this kind of thing, of course, but at Mustang there’s veriﬁable precedent: Mt. Copeland, adjacent to the lodge, holds the Canadian record for the most snowfall in one season at 24.5 metres. Sometimes statistics are cool. NOW It’s an hour and a half of grinding up through glomming dark and looming snow pillows in the cat., and we’re both nodding like bobbleheads. When the lodge appears in the distance, mute lights pooling on the snow below its windows, it’s a little like sighting a ship after days at sea in a life raft. Even Blake wakes up to take in the ridge and its phantasmagorical snow formations— leaning towers and cones of snow cutting Dr. Suess-like proﬁles against the ink. It hasn’t snowed much in the past three weeks, and the Interior is indeed having a severe snow drought. But even in lean snow years Mustang Powder tends to thrive while other areas struggle; we are pleased but not surprised to note that there is fresh powder everywhere. The operation boasts a host of alpine and glacier routes—with steeps, cliffbands and a ton of the mini-golf that photographers need—as well as plenty of the nicely spaced old-growth tree skiing that the Monashees are famously famous for. And Mustang has no trouble rallying clients around this 30,000 acres of goods on the over 250 kilometres of snowcat roads they build each season. Unlike other places, Mustang prides itself on providing full eighthour ski days, which often yield over 20,000 vertical feet of skiing per day. This year they’ll even a have a special cat for smaller, hard-core, steep-skiing groups. Maybe our Fresh Sports posse was the test crew.
Legends of the about-to-fall.
The Pacific storm track ensures that this wild, western side of the Northern Monashees is one of the best places in the world for consistently deep, dry powder. THEN From the beginning, Fresh Sports was an anomaly in skiing retail. What was so different about the way that owner Steve Saranchuk did things? To start, as a guy who came to skiing late in life, he put his considerable curiosity and highly analytical/mathematical (he’s an actuary by training) mind to work, soon knowing as much as anyone about what was going on in the sport. He became one of the progressive freestyle movement’s biggest cheerleaders during those early, tumultuous days: with great interest and bomber foresight, he assembled a team of hard-core shredheads to represent his shop and even some suppliers’ products; he
supported industry events and founded the annual three-day movie blowout in Calgary known as Freshtival each October. Back in the day, Freshtival included a rail-jam that drew every park rat in Southern Alberta as well as a raft of big-name stars like Tanner Hall. Fresh Sports quickly became the leading ski shop and overall ski-scene-focus in Calgary. Still independent to this day, and sponsoring major stars like Eric Hjorliefson, J.P. Auclair, Chris Rubens, Callum and Sean Pettit, Kye Petersen, Rory Bushﬁeld, Mike Henitiuk and a raft of up-and-comers. It was the ﬁrst three guys, plus Saranchuk, who were bunking with us at Mustang.
Chris Rubens plays test pilot, picking his way through the famously famous Monashee timbers.
Eric Hjorleifson, picking up the big mountain superstar torch and running with it.
NOW I’m squeezing Saranchuk’s boneless left calf muscle with my hand. “You can feel them,” he says, referring to the ﬂoating ends of a ﬁbula that now serves as his right lower jaw. “Here,” he says thickly, pointing to the brown, saucer-sized divot in his right quadriceps, “is where they took the stuff to make my tongue and jaw muscles.” “And this,” he says pointing to a lighter scar on the inside of the same leg, “is where they took some skin for grafts” It’s a grave litany, but, in the great scheme of things, a successful and happy one. You see, Saranchuk is over a year into dealing with the ravages of a fast-moving mouth cancer that required radiation, chemotherapy and the complete reconstruction of his face.
Surgeons slit him from ear to ear under the chin, then rolled it up. They cut out his tongue and the tumor in the ﬂoor of his mouth. Because it abutted his jaw and they had no way of knowing if the cancer had moved into adjacent bone, they took out that quadrant of the jaw as well. Five layers of lymph nodes on the right side and three layers on the left were removed along with anything unidentiﬁable. A post-operative staph infection required IV antibiotics for six weeks. He has fared better than expected in all recovery categories save one—swallowing, which necessitates the continued use of a stomach tube as his sole means of gaining nourishment. Undaunted, Saranchuk makes
Perusing the latest ski porn, or plotting the next wave of Fresh’s freeskiing domination?
Watching the boys climb to savage Mustang’s tree-spined towers and short, vertical slots and faces was like watching a history of freeskiing woven together in miniature, framed by the future.
the best of even that indignity. At Mustang, he played guitar (he’s a virtuoso of the Stevie Ray Vaughn type) through an amp program in his computer while an IV bag ﬁlled with his daily allotment of six cans of Boost ﬂowed its contents into his stomach. With Fresh coming up on its 10-year anniversary as a force in the Canadian freeski scene and Saranchuk’s personal journey as a survivor even more inspirational, the story is really an amazing one. Saranchuk and Fresh are held in amazingly high esteem by hard and softgoods distributors, but it’s not quite as surprising how his considerable contributions and individuals career-boosting have affected his status among athletes.
THEN J.P. Auclair was the skier of the hour. A oneman Style Council. In those days, the Quebec sensation and his New Canadian Air Force cohorts of Mike Douglas, J.F. Cusson, Vinnie Dorion and Shane Szocs were all moving their new-found fame out of parks and pipes and into backcountry tricking. J.P.’s cornice-drop Mute Grab on the cover of SKIER issue No. 1 signaled a new era in more ways than one. Meanwhile, a young, oh-so-talented big-mountain skier with a big bag o’ park tricks named Eric Hjorleifson was apprentice stone-masoning with his father in Canmore, Alta. He was also a devoted member of the burgeoning Rocky Mountain Freeriders led by Kevin Hjertaas, a scene into which a young Calgarian by the name of Chris Rubens would soon land to learn the Front Range ropes with a crew that became lifelong buddies. One by one Hjorleifson and Rubens would graduate, a few years apart, to the big-time world of ﬁlm stardom that Auclair had occupied for a while. And they would all cycle through the Fresh turnstiles as devotees, athletes and friends.
Part-time musician, full-time survivor.
Saranchuk became one of the progressive freestyle movement’s biggest cheerleaders during those early, tumultuous days… With great interest and bomber foresight, he assembled a team of hard-core shredheads to represent his shop. DNA: freshsports.ca • blakejorgenson.com • mustangpowder.com
NOW We’re out in the mountains again, cycling the dribs and drabs of snow falling miraculously from a sky too stingy to offer anything elsewhere in the Interior. Inside the cat, its all wet and funny and foodﬁghty. Helmet-cams, footage and touring are the ongoing topics. J.P. talks about guide courses he’s taking. He’s a big-mountain guy now; that cornice-drop cover was some of the ﬁrst writing on the wall. Outside the cat its about sweeping down steep rollovers in the alpine and ﬁring through bowling alley tree lanes and popcorn-ing through seemingly endless pillow ﬁelds to the valley. We’re gooﬁng it
this afternoon, but the morning had been all business. Film wunderkind Dave Mossop was rolling, and even Blake had made an appearance from his deathbed to click on the synergy of the moment. Watching the boys climb to savage Mustang’s tree-spined towers and short, vertical slots and faces was like watching a history of freeskiing woven together in miniature, framed by the future. Though it seemed like small potatoes compared to the massive mountain faces these guys were used to, big moves and technical drops were still the order of the day. They are the kind of dedicated pros that didn’t even exist back in the day. We were all impressed.
And Saranchuk. Beatiﬁc, on only his third post-op day on skis, was enjoying every powder-ﬁlled minute underfoot. But even more so, he was enjoying the milieu of pros working their magic in ways he never could have imagined 10 years ago, and which he was ecstatic, on the good side of life’s knife edge, to be able to witness. Things had changed in the past decade for everyone here. And this moment of reunion was the crucible where they all found themselves now. Whether time had been good, bad, or indifferent didn’t matter. All change had to be handled. It’s how evolution works.