Workshops, Seminars and Skiing at the 2024 Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy in Whistler, BC

Workshops, Seminars and Skiing at the 2024 Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy in Whistler, BC

A friend asked in the past few days: “So, what exactly is the Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy?” I didn’t quite know how to sum up our first few days up here with Arc’teryx in Whistler, BC. But what I can say is this: this event is so much more than skiing.

Upon landing in Vancouver, Canada, on Wednesday, February 21, and checking into the Seaside Hotel, we were swept away for a tour of the Arc’teryx Design Center. They walked our group through the space, showcasing the innovative work, sustainable materials and the heat press products used to impress the infamous bird onto every garment. Arc’teryx even has an entire in-house team to sew prototypes on-site. 

Jenna Mahaffie tested her sewing chops at the Design Center.

After putting our sewing chops to the test, we rounded out the day with the first of many film screenings—this evening, it was a private showing of “Continuum.” The film follows the narrative of the word “Continuum” highlighting and distilling the holistic nature of an evolution – whether that be the old jackets they used to make the tent featured in the story, the progression of women in sport or simply fueling their own friendships that strengthened throughout the film process­­­­. A panel of the women featured in the film sat down for an intimate style Q&A. When asked about why they aren’t marketing it as an ‘all women ski film,’ Robin Van Gyn responded, “There’s this archaic idea as female athletes that if you’re chasing men, it makes you stronger in the mountains. This was us challenging that notion.”

Tatum Monod, Elena Hight, Robin Van Gyn, Spencer O’Brien, Lucy Sackbauer and Michelle Parker sit down with the media to discuss their new film “Continuum.” | PHOTO: Jessy Braidwood

With a good night’s rest under my belt, I was ready for a day on sticks. The clinics offered at the Backcountry Academy take place Friday through Sunday, so today was really a bonus. We headed for a tour up Whistler Mountain with Arc’teryx athlete Sandy Ward and many others from the Arc’teryx brand team. Ward is a proud member of the Lil’wat nation and has dedicated much of her time to helping indigenous youth in her nation access the outdoors. Though the mountains around us are socked in, she shares stories of the place names given by her nation to the peaks and valleys around us, explaining that much of the Lil’wat language is based upon sound and emotion. 

Sandy Ward shows off her Arc’teryx backpack while leading a group tour. | PHOTO: Jessy Braidwood

It’s a special way to kick off the week, and as Ward would later tell me, it’s Arc’teryx’s support of the organizations she cares about that matters the most. She is a founding member of Indigenous Women Outdoors (IWO) and also a coach for the Indigenous Life Sport Academy, both of which were supported in films and clinics later to come.

Michelle Parker and Greg Hill are all smiles. | PHOTO: Jenna Mahaffie

Our first official day of clinics with the Academy began on Friday, February 23. We kicked off the day by joining legendary alpinist and skier Greg Hill on a clinic titled Skin Track Tricks but quickly renamed to Having Fun With Shreggie. Despite being known for skiing, Hill donned a split board for the clinic even though he just learned last year. A comedy of poor luck encompassed the group throughout the day (broken bindings, loose skins, a minor injury), but we managed to ski some incredible big mountain lines that looked like they might as well be in the Alps.

I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that skiing isn’t always about the actual skiing–I’m way more inclined to focus on the energy and stoke of the people I’m with and the idea that, even if the snow isn’t deep, it’s just nice to be outside. But as we rounded a corner on our last pitch, revealing the peaks and valleys of Garibaldi Park engulfed in an inversion of clouds, day one reminded me that, yeah, sometimes, it is about the skiing.

PHOTO: Kyle Gibson

Later that night, we hit the convention center at basecamp for a screening of snowboarder Spencer O’Brien’s film “Aether5,” Sandy Ward’s film “Slides Down The Mountain.” The keynote speech from Chief Ian Campbell of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation set the tone for a night of incredible and impactful films.

Once upon a time, someone told me that outdoor brands will always be about the bottom line. The past few days have demonstrated that Arc’teryx is so much more than its colorful apparel–this is a brand that really lives its mission in a way that’s both admirable and aspirational. Between the art, speakers, films and skin track conversations, it’s clear that the Backcountry Academy is an exemplary force in brand authenticity.

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