The World Ski & Snowboard Festival (forever after lovingly referred to as WSSF) is an annual confluence of events whose prime thrust is mountain culture; viewed thru multiple lenses, interpreted in myriad ways and celebrated by an ever-evolving cast of participants and enthusiasts.
When the festival first started, over 20 years ago, I was far more interested in the athletic aspect of it all, specifically as it pertained to snowboarding. That was my jam and everything else played second fiddle.
As I grew older and my horizons expanded I began to appreciate the other facets WSSF had on offer. Skiing, of course (elderkin and Yin to snowboarding’s Yang) as well as the music that would soundtrack the stoke, whatever your mode of locomotion. Then came my appreciation for the all-encompassing catch-all for everything rad: ART. Art on canvas, art carved in stone, on the printed page, in wood, in what-have-you. To say nothing of the majesty that is photography or film! To me, art is anything that holds within itself intrinsic beauty or curious genius. Or both.
And so I found myself outside the Whistler Conference Centre (WCC) this Tuesday last with a level of anticipatory eagerness I’d not explored in some time. The main course, MULTIPLICITY, was paramount on my mind, but the Swatch ART + Soul gallery in the main foyer of the WCC was an appetizer not to be missed. Showcasing the talents of local artists on various mediums, I was struck dumb by the sheer volume and level of artistry at play here in my backyard. And as I strolled amongst the wooden divides with creative works on all sides, DJ Vinyl Ritchie performed his own auditory artform, stitching beats into the tapestry that unfurled over us all.
Then the call was made over the PA: Would everyone please make their way to their seats as the show is about to begin…
This is the WSSF website’s description of MULTIPLICITY:
The annual event, presented by Mountain Life Media, captures human beings’ rich tradition of storytelling, then elevates it, adding in visual elements of photography, slideshows and video. The result is best compared to a TEDTalk® on adrenalin, with stories brought to you by explorers, athletes, outdoor thought-leaders, and passionate personalities from the mountain world.
That works for me. I mean, that REALLY works. A night of people tellin’ tales? Sign me up. And the event was in support of the Spearhead Huts, a great mountain culture cause? Sign me the hell up! And so I did as I was told and found my seat. Mr. Feet Banks, the Mountain Life Editor (but also a writer, producer, director, reviewer, hoster, bard & boaster) stepped up to the mic and rocked his role as emcee with relish and whimsy.
There were seven speakers on the night, not including Mr. Banks (who you most definitely should include!) and all of them deserve more words than I’m about to give them. Unfortunately I’m limited on space and suffer from a rare but real case of Linguistic Verbosis. So in the interest of not turning this worthy tale into a weighty tome, I’m gonna give you the Coles Notes and this statement: you really had to be there. My apologies to those whose shift I short.
First up was professional mountain biker, Darren Berrecloth, who gave a talk on ‘Fear’ and how to manage it. It was amazing to me, watching this athlete’s ludicrous lines and ridiculous descents on the screen as he spoke. He was a perfectly decent, if a tad unpolished, public speaker who had me completely mesmerized. Here was a guy whose footage literally caused me to sweat & fret in my seat as he “handled” the fear, yet it was here talking in front of an audience that Darren felt, if not fear then perhaps a tad out of his comfort zone. Amazing.
Survivalist Ted Baird was next. He and his brother were contestants and eventual winners on the History Channel’s hit show, Alone, which I highly suggest you check out. Ted was great at making me understand how perfectly awful his situation was and how perfectly disgusting eating a gunnel fish would be, let alone buckets of them for days without end!
Alex Warburton spoke next and, of all the speakers, he was the one I was most interested in. Like the gentlemen preceding him, Alex isn’t a professional public speaker. These are adventurers and athletes after all, not orators and actors, and I give anyone who can stand up and talk in front of an audience a tremendous amount of leeway in their delivery because… it’s a bloody hard thing to do! But my point is, Alex could’ve spent his whole time folding clothing and I’d still be stoked to watch. He spoke of his early days in Whistler and how, “all six of us professional snowboarders lived in the same house” and I damn well know that to be true. Alex beat me to Whistler by a couple years, but when I arrived, back in 1991, one of the first things I did was look up the pros that I knew lived here (Alex being top of my list) in the phone book. What’s a phone book, you ask? Nevermind, sonny-boy, suffice to say I found a couple of my hero’s last names on a list but didn’t need to take it any further than this. To simply ride the same slopes as the blokes I idolized in the magazines was enough to fan the flame. And now, almost 30 years later, the lantern light’s a little lower but baby, it still burns!
Hans “No-Way” Rey is a world renowned trials mountain biker, who spreads the joy of biking thru his charity, wheels4life, which donates bicycles to those in need of transportation in developing countries. Hans spoke of his ascents and descents down Mount Kenya & Kilimanjaro and his commitment to that aforementioned joy is commendable.
Jill Heinerth spoke of her otherworldly experiences in “inner space”, the caves, cracks and crevasses below the surface of the sea. The photos that accompanied her talk were simply amazing, and it was hard to believe they weren’t, in fact, alien landscapes.
A long-time legend with varying degrees of infamy, Johnny Thrash spoke next. Johnny epitomizes the ski-bum aesthetic and I don’t mean that like a jacket you can put on or take off. “Ski-bum” oozes out of every pore with this guy. And while the long hair of his youth has been tamed and trimmed, the wild in his eyes remains. And you know, through his words and photographs certainly, but just by looking into those damned eyes, that Johnny Thrash is the genuine article. In what I suppose could clunkily be called Johnny Thrashian fashion, part way thru his talk a gentleman streaked the stage, hootin’ and wailin’ as his wang waggled wildly. Planned or not, the spectacle added flavour to the soup.
Legendary rock climber, John “Largo” Long rounded out the night and, while I hadn’t heard of him before (one can’t possibly know every legend from every sport or discipline, can one?) I couldn’t have been more impressed with his bona fides. As an amateur writer and chronicler, I look to those who’ve come before and achieved that which I wish to reach for. To paraphrase and reinforce Feet Bank’s sentiments, Largo is a man who walked the walk, climbed the route, talked the talk and wrote the book. Many books, actually. And magazine articles and tv shows and documentaries and movies and, when it comes to Largo’s accomplishments, the list is (forgive me) Long.
Speaking of long, this night went on way past my bedtime, and continued at an after-party I would have loved to attend had I not a very real job to do at 6am the next morning. Oh the questions I would ask these speakers-of-their-truth over a pint or two! But any regret on my part is just Greed speaking its truth. I love me some stories, and MULTIPLICITY’s walk-the-walkers and talk-the-talkers combined to tell a tale I’ll not soon forget.