Banff, Alberta is a badass big-mountain arena; Meet the rippers who call it home

Banff, Alberta is a badass big-mountain arena; Meet the rippers who call it home

The majority of the “The Wiseman” focuses on Maisonet’s grandfather Eddie Hunter, who has been skiing Mt. Norquay for over 80 years. The community ski hill that casts its shadow over the town of Banff exudes a primal love for skiing, as evidenced by the loyal contingent of cars stationed in the parking lot upon our arrival on a Wednesday morning.

Eddie Hunter is often one of those skiers gearing up for first chair every morning, and Maisonet cites his grandfather’s love for skiing as something that drives him.

“My grandpa was skiing these mountains long before there were even lifts and has been filming them his whole life,” he says. “If I’m ever contemplating whether or not to go skiing, I just know that my grandpa is probably already at Norquay waiting for first chair. That definitely gives me motivation.”

And while Maisonet’s family heritage is something that pushes him, growing up with a huge group of rippin’ local riders certainly plays a part for all of these young guns.

Capel and Maisonet have been best shred buddies since their younger years, and the relationship is obvious upon meeting these young guns. “We constantly push one another because we want to better than each other, so it’s always fun,” explains Capel, who is currently finishing up a degree at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary.

That competitive nature that the majority of skiers share is complemented by the expansive terrain sitting right outside their backdoor. A constant one-upmanship pervades skiers around here. On our first run with the locals at Lake Louise, a line called F Gully on the resort’s backside, Maisonet drops first, arcs big, hard turns down the fall line. Not to be out done, Capel and Goyette drop in subsequently, each sending up bigger sprays of chalk than the previous skier. In the afternoon, the trio would take turns sessioning a tombstone-shaped booter located in the heart of the resort. Not a bad training ground, in my opinion.

Watch: Team FREESKIER invades Banff National Park

That competitiveness translates well to the bevy of big-mountain freeride competitions in the Banff area.

“Doing the local junior big-mountain competitions around here introduced me to a ton of like-minded kids, and it was super refreshing to see a crew of competitors who would be super pumped for you after you put down a good run,” explains McMillan.

Perhaps the biggest breeder of big mountain talent in Banff is the Rocky Mountain Freeriders program. The program helps build a foundation of big mountain freeride skills that progress local youngsters who are looking to elevate their skills or pursue a career competing on big mountain circuits. The evidence of Rocky Mountain Freeride’s influence can be seen in the RMF stickers plastered across the helmets of Maisonet, Capel and McMillan.

“RMF is probably the main reason I am able to ski as well as I can today,” explains Capel. “The coaches that I got to ski with when I was younger were the best skiers in the Bow Valley and growing up watching them ski and skiing with them made for some of the best days I have ever had on-hill.”

For Capel, Maisonet and McMillan, those coaches included names like Chris Rubens and Eric Hjorleifson. Rubens and Hoji come up countless times in our discussions throughout our time in Banff, from the young shredders to the older residents in town. These two helped put Banff on the map as a freeride destination in the 90s, and their resounding influence is outlined in the Sculpted in Time episode “The Character.”

Watch: Sculpted in Time “The Character”

“When I first started in RMF at the age of 11, two of the main coaches were Eric Hjorleifson and Chris Rubens,” explains McMillan. “It was pretty cool to grow up skiing with hard-charging guys like that every weekend. I looked up to those guys immensely, and as I got older they really helped me out in fine tuning my own skiing.”

While many grew up skiing Banff under the guidance of veteran freeskiers, some, like Goyette, are transplants, who have built their skills on their own since moving to the region. We first met Goyette—the self proclaimed “fastest pizza delivery man in the west”—in the gondola line at Sunshine Village. He’s a lanky fella with long, curly blonde locks and a thick French-Canadian accent. The Quebec native, cites “shredding some pow and skiing the gnar,” as his biggest motivation for moving to the area.

Despite the lack of snowfall for the past week, Goyette proceeds to find us the best snow and the best lines on the mountain. We ski steep, chalky snow in a chute dubbed “G4” in Delirium Dive—a special freeride zone that requires you have a partner as well as avalanche gear to enter. The Dive is a huge arena of horizontal rock with steep chutes and gullies that funnel to the valley floor below, and is home to some of the best inbounds terrain in the area.

Vince Goyette in Banff

Goyette shreds above the town of Banff. Photo by Kjell Ellefson

Later, Goyette enlists the aid of legendary ski patrol Louis-Charles Cote, affectionately known as “The Phoenix” to get us into the Wild West zone, which has yet to open for the season. There, we enjoy soft turns in the trees amid blue skies and sunshine. Not a bad day at SSV.

“Delirium Dive is just super steep and extreme terrain with lots of good lines and tons of stuff to jump off,” explains Goyette. “And then once you get to the goat’s eye chair go up and ski the Wild West. It’s got four gnarly couloirs and some awesome tree skiing once you’ve survived the couloir. Dive to Wild West laps are my favorite on a powder day.”

Goyette’s developed a relationship with ski patrol across the three mountains, a nod to the commitment to community that permeates the region. Thanks to that rapport, Goyette often finds himself skiing the best conditions on the mountain. “I literally spend more time at the resorts than at my house, and get to know most of the people that work on the hill,” he explains. “Ski patrol are usually rad skiers, so it’s always nice to catch some laps with them. I have a lot of respect for these guys and I’m really thankful for all of the avalanche control work they do so we can shred safely.”

Carter McMillan at Lake Louise Ski Resort in Banff, Alberta

McMillan with the bomb drop in the rock garden. Photo by Kjell Ellefson

Back at the Lodge of the Ten Peaks, our conversation continues surrounding our time at Lake Louise. The six of us recounting the best lines of the day, and Ellefson providing photo evidence.

“I wasn’t sure if you were going to slide the rock wall or just bomb drop it,” I say to McMillan.

A slight smirk appears on his face as he shrugs off the statement, a nod to the humble attitude of these shredders possessing bold and loud abilities.

These locals may find themselves skiing in far off locations around the globe, but always seem to come back home to hone their skills in Banff. When you finally do decide to pull the trigger on that trip to Ski Banff-Lake Louise-Sunshine, a recent addition to the Mountain Collective Pass, be sure to find a local and rip a run with ’em. Your legs may hate you, but you won’t regret the decision.

Related: Slush Cups and Trash Cans: Your guide to spring skiing in Banff

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