Kootenay Creatures

Originally Published in Method Magazine, February 2018

"The occasional email arrives, but it’s like people can sense that we’re too far out to be bothered.  The world leaves us alone, in peace.  In our natural habitat, the way its supposed to be."

 
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Imagine a place where ancient forests and impenetrable mountains extend in every direction, a place where you’re not going to have a cell signal, much less a normal conversation, because there are no normal people here.   Heck, there’s hardly people here at all.  The people who are here… They are all Kootney Creatures.  It only takes about a week for this place to turn you into one of the Creatures.  During the winter sunshine is so rare that your senses are heightened, your animal instincts are awakened, and even the most subtle differences in the density of the ever persistent snowfall are sensed.  Is that sunshine?  Is it getting brighter?  Nostrils flare, as if maybe we can smell approaching sunshine if we try.

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It doesn’t matter.  The lack of sunshine means one thing, its ALWAYS snowing.  Cycles become rhythms.  Coffee, breakfast, gore-tex, fuel the sleds, fixing some broken gear or possibly spending a half hour digging the truck out of a ditch,  safety check, an hour of two of climbing and breaking trail through bottomless snow, terrain assessment, safety check, pillows, pillows, is that the sun?, lunch, pillows, pillows, pillows, pillows, retreat, light wood stove, eat dinner, do dishes, fall asleep.

 

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“I am a Kootney Creature, and this is what i was born to do”  I held the throttle of my snowmobile wide open and smashed through a neck deep wall of powder.  Snow clung to everything as I arced my snowmobile across the hill, matching the speed of John Jackson’s sled, racing just behind Scott Penner thorough a pillow field as a panoramic sunset revealed itself atop a view so beautiful this could hardly be real life.  Suddenly, Penner and his sled disappeared.... the Earth had swallowed him.

When we circled back and found him, both he and his sled were at the bottom of a 18 foot deep pit.  “I end up in this friggin hole every year, I definitely know exactly where it is boys, forsure” exclaimed Scott, our guide, as he jovially started digging.  Some people get killed in incidents like this.  Scott is a certified a Kootney Creature.

The occasional email arrives, but it’s like people can sense that we’re too far out to be bothered.  The world leaves us alone, in peace.  In our natural habitat, the way its supposed to be.

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John Jackson has been ready to jump this road gap for two days.  Nobody has ever hit it.  The light is so flat in this gully and the landing is so small that it’s not worth risk for most people.  He has this little mini dance he does with his arms to stay warm, and it makes me laugh.  I always look over and catch him doing it.  After two days of waiting a bit of sunlight approaches and now he has 10 seconds to drop in.  2cm of fresh snow has fallen on the in-run since the last time he slipped it.  He blasts a perfect bs5 and stomps right in the sweet spot.  The sunlight has disappeared by the time he unstraps.  It’s a pretty legendary thing he did, how do you stand around in the cold for that long, and then land your trick at the drop of a hat?  One try, one hit, one stomp.  John is a Kootney Creature.

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Our hunting party all tilts our heads and cocks our ears in unison.  The thump of the chopper blades cutting the still air means that Travis Rice and his crew found a pocket of sunshine somewhere close, we can’t chase that shit on snowmobiles, but maybe that pocket will come to us.  The sun never arrives at our zone, but it’s ok, too much sunshine would kill a Kootney Creature.  We need these dark stormy days.  It’s hard to fathom what Travis and the depth perception crew are getting into with that heli.  They're on their own program and stick to themselves, they don’t hang out with us.  They’ve fully chartered the only breakfast spot within 50 miles to cook every meal for their entire crew.  

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Bjorn finishes hand washing the dishes, and the next morning John is vomiting at the trailhead.  He ate a bad pepperoni stick he bought at the local laundry mat.  We can’t even buy coffee or breakfast in the morning because the girls are waiting on T.Rice and his crew.  We’ve got about 100 gallons of 91 octane between us, but we are pretty much feral animals that eat powder and pillows.  The luxuries of modern life are gone.  The cracking of the wood stove at night is our luxury, the silence of the forest is a real luxury, life in the city is tooooo fucking loud.  A backpack with the comforting weight of your essential gear and 3 lunches is a luxury.  We don’t need “real luxuries”, we have a strong crew, surrounded by the deepest snow, the best terrain, and there’s nobody else here.  We could live here forever.  We’re forgetting what home is like.  We’re Kootney Creatures.

Sometimes we drive a little ways to another trailhead, a wide river as still as a lake meanders through fog laden forests, draped with neon green moss.  Old mans beard.  A small cabin is near the trailhead, a dog comes out to greet us every time.  To meet another Kootney Creature is a luxury, and the dog is soooo excited, and a little confused to see us.  He thinks, these guys must be cool, if they are at my trailhead, hardly anybody comes here.

 

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“I thought I had enough pepperoni sticks to make it all the way back to Nelson, but now I’m not so sure, so I’m going to stop for dinner.”  Our filmer, Aaron Whitley is a Kootney creature, I think he said he’s in his 40’s, but he works and looks like he’s 32.  These mountains are the fountain of youth.

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We decide to go up in the heli, but we are still Kootney Creatures.  The cloud ceiling is so low that the pilot must fly fly within feet of the treetops all days.  The vibrations of the bird and glow of the instruments feel right, but nobody is scared, even though we should be, because we’re Kootney creatures.  Our pilot, “Ronnie Rotor" tells us about the time something went wrong with his helicopter.  The day before the incident he sensed that something was wrong it, and reported it, but the mechanic’s inspection found nothing.  The next day while going 130mph a hydraulic pump failed, and the bird listed 45 degrees towards a mountain that was too close for that to happen.  The sticks were frozen...but the tail rudder worked.  Instead of smashing into the mountain nose first,  he swung the bird around and stuffed it into the mountainside so hard that that the the windows blew out inwards, filling the cabin with snow and locking the bird into a slope so steep that it otherwise would have tomahawked down.  Ronnie Rotor is a Kootney Creature.  He saved 6 lives that day.

 The fully loaded truck and trailer hit black ice and start fish tailing and jack-knifing.  We’re going fast and theres no guardrail, the icy waters of Kootney Lake lie hungrily below us.  Bjorn flicks the wheel clockwise 360 degrees, then counter clockwise 270 degrees, then back to the left 180, then 90 to the right, in what seems like a millisecond.  The truck is back on course, and he laughs, and drives faster.  Kootney Creature.  A semi truck overtakes us, passing on a blind corner.  Another Kootney Creature.

The fully loaded truck and trailer hit black ice and start fish tailing and jack-knifing.  We’re going fast and theres no guardrail, the icy waters of Kootney Lake lie hungrily below us.  Bjorn flicks the wheel clockwise 360 degrees, then counter clockwise 270 degrees, then back to the left 180, then 90 to the right, in what seems like a millisecond.  The truck is back on course, and he laughs, and drives faster.  Kootney Creature.  A semi truck overtakes us, passing on a blind corner.  Another Kootney Creature.

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“What a Kootney Creature," I think to myself.  This land bears a nickname in honor of the man I’m observing.  If he were teleported to a ski resort lift line right now the cops would be called in less than 60seconds.  A hilarious facemask makes him more confusing, his outerwear is covered in snowmobile oil, and his mittened hands grip a pistol grip shotgun as he climbs off a snowmobile ten times the size of him.  This is Shandy Campos.  He’s a new father, but with the heart of a child in a grown mans body.  He IS the Kootneys, and the snowmobile is an extension of his body, the snowboard a piece of his heart.  His facial expressions and laughter reveal that he’s genuinely stoked to show us around his turf, even though he’s notorious for being the gatekeeper, and running the unwelcome travelers out of town.  He loves having guests, but he’d be just as happy riding here with his brother Shin and his friend Scott.

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Nightfall was 40 minutes ago.  We’re on our snowmobiles headed up a logging road, and 2 feet of fresh snow make the ride one of those moments so fun you never regret cutting class in high-school to snowboard more, and skipping the 9-5 career trajectory .  We find the spot and hike down the hill in the darkness.  Hooting and laughing, John arrives at the bottom on the hill on his snowboard, scraping rocks and tree stumps the whole way down.  The exact spot is unknown, but it’s energy guides us.  The moon plays peek-a-boo with the clouds, and through a forest older than antiquity, we round a corner and find the hot spring.  Other people come here for sure, most milk it for every Instagram like and comment that they can, but we just drink beers and alternate between the 100 degree water and cold plunges in the creek.  The sky breaks clear for the first time in weeks, and we howl at the moon.  We are all Kootney Creatures.

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