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Big Bend Country

Note: The following historical interpretation, as told by an avid skier and deep snow addict, contains certain references and information that may not be completely accurate or even truthful. Deal with it.

The Columbia River begins its 2000 km journey in the southern Rocky Mountain Trench, stretching north through Invermere and Golden, British Columbia, before making a sharp, southward curve around the northern end of the legendary Selkirk Mountains and boycotting the province of Alberta (even the rivers are taking a stand). Long before the Mica and Revelstoke dam projects, the Columbia’s heavy flow and steep gradient carved another barrier between the Selkirks and the Monashee Mountains to the west. When it was all over, the confluence of the Illecillewaet and Columbia Rivers became a gateway to the peaks and powder stashes beyond, and Revelstoke, tucked neatly into the shores of these two rivers, became home to some of the finest skiing this planet has to offer. It is a region whose own history is as loaded with ski culture as it is with layer after layer of bottomless powder every winter – some 520+ cms in 2010/11 alone, and that’s in town at 450m elevation!

The area surrounding the protective arch of the Columbia River I described above is locally referred to as Big Bend Country and it forms one of the longest natural ski boundaries on the planet – duck this rope and you are in for some of the most stupid-fresh skiing to be found anywhere.

Long before David Thompson stumbled over Athabasca Pass and started poaching lines in and around Boat Encampment (present site of the Mica dam) in the winter of 1810/11, the indigenous people of the area – including Blackfoot, Secwepenc (Shushwap) and Ktunaxa – were the guardians of this epic powder stash. It is unclear as to whether or not the native population were Alpine or Tele skiers, but recent archaeological evidence supports previous suspicions that snowboarding was banned by most tribes’ right up until the Nagano Olympics in 1998.

Flash forward 80 years…

Ski history and ski culture originates in Norway, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that the first skis seen in Revelstoke (1890), belonged to a Scandinavian dirt-bag by the name of Ole Sandberg. Ole used a sweet pair of hand-built, custom boards made from old barrel staves to travel from his Albert Canyon mining claim to Revelstoke to pick up supplies in the winter (ie: KD and cubes of Pabst).

By 1914, another Norwegian named Ole “The Bear” Westerberg (actually Andrew Rupert Westerlund) was using his own pair of hand-built skis to deliver the mail and hunt – you guessed it – bears all the way up the Big Bend from Revelstoke. His contract with the Canadian Postal Service had him covering a 225 kilometer round-trip route all the way from Revelstoke up to French Creek and back 15 times a year and at $45 per trip, this Ole just may have been the first professional ski-tourer in Revelstoke. To no surprise, Ole’s wage converts to today’s dollar value at just under $14,000/year and works out to be about the same annual income as many ‘professional’ skiers are making today, bare-knuckle bear hunting and EI not included.

So, from its early beginnings you can start to see that Big Bend country is ripe with colourful characters and rich with custom, handcrafted ski-building traditions. Hardworking guys that love skiing… building skis.

Starting to get the picture?

Bigbend Skis wants to build upon the history of the earth and the people that came before the ‘now’. On the surface, I’m simply selling skis. But behind the sticks is a story and a history that makes Bigbend Skis more than just another ski company. Skiing is just as much about the landscape and the stories that get shared by the snow-tribe at the end of the day as it is about the powder and feeling of contentment and butterflies at the end of all those perfect turns. Skiing is life… at least in my world it is.

Stay tuned… the Bigbend Skis story doesn’t end here…