Published by the Globe and Mail on November 16, 2017
Written by Matt Cote
"I made the team again!" J.F. Labrecque says as he joins a dozen bipedal creatures curiously walking down a steep, snowy alpine mountainside in quizzical zigzags.
The dreadlocked, four-season veteran of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort's (KHMR) volunteer bootpacking crew doesn't have skis on his feet, but instead slings them over his shoulder in a slow trudge downhill. To the uninitiated, it looks puzzling. But to locals from Golden, B.C., it's a coveted preseason ritual with a waiting list of 60.
Starting in early November every year, KHMR's patrol works with two volunteer groups to litter its expansive alpine bowls with footsteps before the mountain opens. It's a practice that helps break up problematic early season layers in the snow-pack, stabilizes the base and keeps precious storm layers from peeling off the ridges. For passionate skiers such as Labrecque, it's a way to get in shape, get above the clouds in the Purcell Mountains and bask in the high-alpine bounty that's often deep and fluffy well before opening. The reward is a few untouched, private powder runs each day, delivered under the watchful eye of the ski patrol, who act as guides.