Adventure, cat skiing and big lines: The road to Alaska

Sam Smoothy, Wille Lindberg, and Jérémie Heitz roadtrip it to Haines for the Freeride World Tour, travelling deep into the Canadian and Alaskan wilderness in search of big lines and adventure. Sam Smoothy shares their story

Road trip buddies Sam Smoothy, Wille Lindberg and Jérémie Heitz

Road trip buddies Sam Smoothy, Wille Lindberg and Jérémie Heitz

To seek adventures, you cannot even begin to imagine them until they arrive, staring all the way in to your core, shining a light on what lurks in your traveller’s heart. And all it takes sometimes is just picking up the phone. Within 24 hours I was half way to Vancouver, Canada, meeting fellow Freeride World Tour (FWT) competitors Wille Lindberg and Jérémie Heitz. Ours was a simple plan: Head north, ski powder and discover the freeride Mecca at the edge of the earth — Haines, Alaska –all before contesting the first ever Alaskan FWT event.

Sadly, mother nature had been mean with her bounty, leaving large swathes of Canada without its customary powder. We spend days driving, hunting down rumours of soft snow but a sorry week still passes before we find ourselves finally seeing the soft stuff fly at Skeena Cat Skiing, deep in British Columbia.

Sam Smoothy enjoys the surroundings | Jake Dyson | Sherpa Cinemas

Sam Smoothy enjoys the surroundings | Jake Dyson | Sherpa Cinema

The only people for miles around, here there are no rules, no distractions, just us, snowcats and snowmobiles, dogs and bonfires, moonshine and fireworks. Paradise. Our host Jevon Zip has kept his best area free of other skiers for us to plunder and we oblige most graciously. Mini spine lines are cut to shreds as we slash, spin and flip our way through the afternoon, finally finding exactly what you would expect on this holy powder highway.

Wille Lindberg catches some air | Jake Dyson / Sherpas Cinema

Wille Lindberg catches some air | Jake Dyson / Sherpas Cinema

The hoots and hollers echo around the hills as we push each others riding further, competitive spirit rekindled anew. The Skeena boys drag us to the top with their snowmobiles again and again, until we can’t ride any more. Later, we celebrate in around a raging bonfire with flaming moonshine shots that burn Wille’s moustache and we rip the sky apart, fireworks screaming out into the winter darkness.

Sipping dirty water masquerading as coffee at yet another toilet break, we agree to push all the way north. Canada is prohibition era-dry and Alaska is sitting there, waiting for us to try and best her. We fire out the remainder of our long drive over two mind-bending days, taking shifts to keep our convoy of Audis always rolling north.

Martin-Winkler / Zero Division

Skiing to the car park | Martin-Winkler / Zero Division

We have come so far but now it seems like just the start and the big question looms; is Alaska as big and badass as everyone says? Oddly for Alaska, we don’t have long to wait; our first morning and it’s on. We survive the first day, getting used to the sluff management, the blindness of skiing terrain this steep, and all the other little variables. 

Jérémie Heitz nails a big mountain line | Martin Winkler / Zero Division

Jérémie Heitz nails a big mountain line | Martin Winkler / Zero Division

On our second day I find myself on top of a line I previously considered too big and too exposed. But I am here now. Alone. And as I drop in I know there is only one good way out of this line and many, many bad ways.

Mark, our guide, speaks over the radio as I regain my breath, the best line of my life still pouring with sluff over its cheese grater cliffs.“Smoothy you son of a bitch, I thought this was your first time!!”

First proper big line in Alaska, yes, but not the last, not by a long stretch.

Sam Smoothy takes on an Alaskan spine | Richard Walch

Sam Smoothy takes on an Alaskan spine | Richard Walch

The infamous Alaskan waiting game arrives just in time for the Freeride World Tour competition. We sit, we wait and then, just as our last hopes fade, it is on. Dropping in, I follow my line, but my aggression has faded and I don’t push hard enough, taking fourth position. Wille breaks my heart with an unlucky fall on a big cliff but Jérémie, always in a massive hurry, doesn’t even pause once as he flashes the face like a simple Super G race course, skiing even faster than he drove along those Canadian roads. He is our champion, the best of the boys from the road, and easily takes 2nd place in the competition.

Game faces | Dom Daher / Freerideworldtour.com

Game faces | Dom Daher / Freerideworldtour.com

Our trip is over but I leave unwillingly as this place is inside me now, a wondrous virus coursing my veins begging me to sell the house and stay. Putting an end to such a saga as ours seems redundant, as I know this is no end, but the beginning of the rest of my life. Alaska is every thing the clichés claim and so much more. I cannot wait to ask her to dance again and hope my brothers from that winding road are right there with me.

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