I’d been hearing about the Sennheiser Backcountry Picnic for a couple years when I finally decided pay a visit to Bralorne. This freeride film festival always looked like fun in the videos, but also comes with pretty big barrier to entry. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass to get there and you kind of need a snowmobile to get around.
I don’t own a sled; I have enough trouble keeping my car on the road. So when event organizer Paget Williams assured me he could get me in and out of the backcountry zones, I was a touch sceptical. How was this going to work?
Hitching a ride with Bralorne regular Dan Christie and his two dogs over the Highline Road (a rugged shortcut from D’arcy to Bridge River) we rolled into town Thursday afternoon to find the mayhem had already kicked off at the ball diamond. The opening party was still hours away but crews were already sessioning a kicker, drinking beer and gathering urban footage with dogs and snowmobiles everywhere. Welcome to Bralorne.
After a opening dinner at the Mineshaft Pub – Bralorne’s only watering hole – the competing teams were briefed on the plan for the next day by the organizers and safety crew. Weather and stability were looking good, giving a green light to hit the Noel for Friday. Organizer and Whistler-Bralorne local Free Spirit Quinn emphasized the need to stay within the designated safe zones, packing out every empty beer can and most importantly, respecting the town and its inhabitants. As 30-year Bralorne resident Brian Currie puts it, “Here, no one cares what the fuck you do. Providing you don’t bother anybody else.”
In a town that pretty much governs itself, Brian’s words of wisdom go a long way. Such a tight community of 77 people needs to have mutual respect for one another, which can be occasionally forgotten with the odd dabble of moonshine.
The next morning the sun was out with sleds are lining up at the sign out station before heading up the roughly 45-minute access road to the Noel. With the weather prime for shooting, everyone was anxious to get to the zone, but I still wasn’t sure how I was getting out.
The answer came when I met an ageing Skidoo Skandic utility sled. She’d seen better days, but this was my ticket to the Bralorne backcountry. Doubling Montreal video producer Guillaume Latrompette, our backpacks and gear weighing down her tired suspension, we set off for the Noel.
Over an hour and several rollovers later, we reach the congregation in the alpine. Crews were already formulating plans on what lines to shoot, frequently glancing at the clearing sky. The light was on its way.
The buzz of two-stroke engines echoed through the valley as riders doubled to the top of the face, music thumping from the Sennheiser sound system on the valley floor. Steep lines and pow turns, wind lips and cliff drops were on the Picnic buffet. With rapid ascension on sleds, skiers and riders fanned out across the designated faces with enough room for everyone to hit untouched lines fresh landings. Radios bleeped as cameramen gave the all clear to drop, cameras swinging about on tripods to catch the action. Punk rock blared out of the event speaker and as cans of PBR were cracked. The Picnic was now in session.
After lunch, crews began to reach farther and farther up the ridge. While teams scrambled to get in their final shots of the day, all eyes turned to the south face. That ridge was not open for this competition due to avalanche and fall hazard, but Ryan Nadeau was adamant he was hitting it this year. Deploying his speedwing at the top of a four-hour sled, skin and bootpack, he glided down the steep face, skis a safe distance from the twitchy snow. After a clean landing and his crew confirming they got the shot, the whole picnic erupted in applause. With no set conditions on what equipment you choose to ride, slide or fly, this a freeride competition in it’s most liberal form.
For a small town, Bralorne manages to pull some impressive musical talent. This year DJ Evil E was spinning an old school hip-hop set on Friday night and reggae master Jah Cutta returning to his Saturday night wrap party. The Mine Shaft Pub struggled to keep up with the sharp increase in patronage, but the staff were more than happy to see empty glasses and a full tip jar at the end of the night.
With 35 centimetres falling falling in the alpine from Friday night to Sunday morning, Saturday was flagged as a weather day. Limited visibility kept all crews within the safety of the treeline, the heavy snow limiting the amount that cameras were being pulled out. Regardless, mini-golf lines were getting hit by skis, snowboards and sleds all afternoon. Sunday became a similar affair with crews squeezing in their final hours of riding and shooting before packing up and rolling out.
This article originally appeared on SBCSkier.com in March, 2014