Issue No. 7 // Steadfast

Photographer: Jason Thompson

Location: Peru

Editorial  //  by Jill Macdonald

STEADFAST

Lewin's equation describes human behavior as a function of personality plus environment: B=f(P + E). It was the first theory of understanding human nature that gave importance to a person's momentary situation, rather than relying entirely on the past.

As humans, we have all encountered turning points, moments of decision making that will affect the course of our lives, whether we recognize it in the moment or not. In this issue, personalities who inspire us; those rare beings whose desire feeds our desire, whom we admire, respect and hold up as reminders to keep going.

To be steadfast is to have known the weakest part of yourself and moved through that territory into an unwavering commitment. No one here is rough or raw. They are unshakeable, tightly bound, like industrial cable that will not fray. Meeting whatever happens with muscle and guts, humility and grit.

SURFACE TENSION

A huge talent, with huge reasons to live, mountaineer Forrest Coots has no problem deciding to "pull the pin and spin." Loss is his motivation and his measure; backing away is part of the apprenticeship.

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THE PASSIONATE DIVIDE

Internal drive is a gift, best applied to a single pursuit. Competitive ultra marathoner and lawyer Adam Campbell explains how his need to excel set his multiple passions at war. What was lost?

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OVER EXPOSURE

As a professional skier, Chad Sayers has been in the eye of the camera for almost 20 years. But his ski style is just one form of expression. Introducing his photography: Chad's true passion and his journey.

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FREE RADICAL

"When your middle name is Dick, little girls don't want to play with you." Diny Harrison, first female IFMGA mountain guide in North America. But she didn't set out to become that. A true trailblazer.

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IDENTITY: LOST

Arc'teryx staff Ryan Proctor took a spill on his mountain bike and found himself in quite a situation. Multiple surgeries and months later, he is back, the same but different. Courage, selfies and reflection.

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SELF PROPELLED

Some careers begin with "I quit." Realizing that she had lost her love of skiing, Norwegian champion Pia Nic Gundersen walked away from victory into a new life, beginning at the beginning. Skiing for fun.

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"If you think you have mastered mountaineering, you will get bit."

– Forrest Coots

Photographer: Jason Thompson

Subject: Forrest Coots

Ski Mountaineering, Travel  //  by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Jason Thompson

SURFACE TENSION

Forrest Coots is not your average mountaineer. He's tall, lanky and wears a trucker cap, not quite fitting into his hometown of Mt. Shasta, California, but not completely out of place either. He's neither a hippie, new age mystic, nor trust-funded dirtbag. He is a high level athlete with a broken heart.

In his twenties, at college, Forrest was on the path to being average. Finishing up his Political Science degree, he believed the future was grad school, a steady income, house and family. Then his younger brother took his own life.

Events of this nature are unfathomable. It is something from which there is no recovery, merely acceptance. The Coots' family history shifted into Before and After. For Forrest, the only glimmer of peace he could find was through skiing. He reconnected with the sport and took to the freeride circuit with his sister, entering competitions and using that focus to ease the hole in his being. After a couple of years his sister quit, not interested in the pace of the circuit, and soon after Forrest discovered ski touring and mountaineering. In the stillness and raw power of huge undertakings, he found solace.


Skiing defines who I am, but it's not what I love. I love my family.

The image of ski mountaineers is that they are risk takers. Not always so. When he gave up the freeride circuit, Forrest also consciously gave up chasing movie sequences and cover shots. Not only is that not "real skiing," it is not what brands (sponsors) are looking for; they want athletes who make smart decisions and foster the next generation of skiers. At home he has his wife, Veronica, and their six year old daughter, Ryan. They are his world and the basis for all of his decision making. "If you think you have mastered mountaineering, you will get bit."

What comes up often with Forrest is the concept of apprenticeship. "There aren't many, or even any, young mountaineers out there. You have to learn and gain experience and respect for the mountains." Four key expeditions mark his learning curve: Alaska, La Grave, Peru and Georgia (Russia). Alaska was his first true big mountain experience. Very humble and refreshingly honest, he sums that one up with: "My mind was greater than my skill set." They spent a lot of time in the tent, waiting for opportunities. Not much was accomplished.


Risks are always calculated but there are moments when it just doesn't feel right.



For Peru, he had visions of a 10 summit itinerary. "My daydreams never include the heavy pack or the stomach bug." Camped at 4300m for days, in big scary looking mountains, Forrest couldn't sleep; his mind racing while they waited for that ever brief window where conditions come together to make it possible to safely ski. "Ski mountaineering is fickle. The conditions can turn from perfect snow to alpine climbing. Suddenly it's all ice and runnels and skiing is impossible." The final result of that trip: 3 peaks in 10 weeks.

In La Grave he found a soulful place where untamed, intense skiing is just a few steps away from the top of the lift. Not mountaineering per se, but an excellent place to hone technical skills and mental focus. Of this he says, "You can't jump any steps." An apprenticeship requires years of gathering experience, letting go of dreams, and staying in the reality of this precise moment, this exact scenario where a mistake is the difference between low probability, high consequence, and high consequence. Risks are always calculated but there are moments when it just doesn't feel right. Time away from home, money and effort expended to get to this point, friendships, hopes, the hours of dreaming of a ski line lose their significance. At those moments he likes to: "Pull the pin and spin." He has nothing to prove.

The most recent chapter in Forrest's learning took place in Georgia, 2015. Ushguli is a UNESCO world heritage site. The architecture of medieval houses with defensive towers has been preserved largely as a result of its isolation. Situated in remote mountainous terrain, Svan communities were plagued by invaders. Life there is still hard and the people have no love for recreation that requires venturing out into harsher conditions.

What happened there? The usual. True ski alpinism: very complex terrain, riddled with hanging seracs and glaciers, but so remote as to make any hope of help impossible. Tyler Jones, their guide, navigated the huge terrain that made them all nervous. "In the end what turned us back was the tiniest of granules. Tyler went to anchor us in and the surface tension of the snow changed from solid to Swiss cheese. There was nothing there."

The Svaneti project might never be skied; global warming may make it impossible. Forrest's search will continue though, for those beautiful ski lines where he finds peace and clarity through intense mental focus. Where he can "tune everything else out and just focus on that next turn or the next step." He has all summer to think about where that will be, working as a ranger on Mt. Shasta, rescuing novices and taking care of the environment.

Surface tension in Forrest – there isn't any. He is balanced, with the nucleus of his family to ground him. "I am always aware of Veronica, particularly on summit days. I think: She hasn't gotten home from work yet and I have been up, gone to sleep, and am going again, half a world away." Veronica doesn't understand the skiing necessarily, but she understands the man. Distance is not separation.

Daughter Ryan climbs in the truck and rolls her eyes at what she calls "Forrest's music," the NPR radio station that is tuned in and turned on at all times, on the road or in the house, keeping Forrest in tune with what's really going on.

"We're not curing cancer or helping orphan children. Skiing is an inherently selfish sport."

That may be so, but helping yourself be whole enough to love others is the best that anyone can do.

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Forrest Coots

Forrest grew up in the mountains and is the product of a life spent in the outdoors. Born in Klamath Falls, Oregon, he and his family moved to Mount Shasta when he was three. With a ski resort fifteen minutes from his home and parents that worked at the resort, it was natural that Forrest took to skiing at an early age...

Read Forrest's Bio 

     

"Having a passion can be both a great uplifting thing and a curse."

– Will Gadd

Photographer: Dano Pendygrasse

Subject: Adam Campbell

Ultrarunning, Balance  //  by Adam Campbell, Photography by Brian Goldstone

THE PASSIONATE DIVIDE

For most of my life, I have been on the run. Racing around the block, faster than the other kids, the longer the blocks the better I seemed to do. Farther, faster, just being in motion was where I found happiness – until I discovered training in team sports. Drills and practice were as good as any game because of the intense focus to drive, push and challenge myself. That inner critic was my best friend, goading me to discover higher limits, new skills. Progress. Today I can race 100 miles. I can withstand lightning, throwing up, bonking and geysers of tears. I love it.

In another form of motion, entire weekends have been devoted to reading. Curled up like a cat, pursuing words with the same insatiable focus. Give me your adventure, your life, knowledge, information, an escape into some other world. Put me in school and I am the annoying kid who asks all the questions. I want to know. I need to know. Curiosity is what pushed me to law school and onto a role as corporate counsel at an environmental engineering firm. There's nothing better than the challenge of figuring out corporate strategy, contract drafting, regulatory compliance matters and having to come up workable solutions to client and company needs.


Today I can race 100 miles. I can withstand lightning, throwing up, bonking and geysers of tears. I love it.

Conflicting passions? Ambition makes me want to excel at both, an impossible task because time spent on one takes away from time spent on other.

Not many people can find one passion in their life, nor are they necessarily in a position to find a profession that they find rewarding and challenging. To be the poor guy who has two passions is a ridiculous, privileged man's lament. The more I run (for personal satisfaction), the less I can read and improve my law practice (professional advancement). It is a constant inner tension that causes me shame.

Work/life balance: this is the highly touted goal these days. We are meant to "engage meaningfully" in all our pursuits, achieve the work/life balance and live inside its glow. Well, most of us have a number of hats in the ring: family member, friend, spouse, career and hobbyist (to use a broad term). When you bring a very competitive and performance driven attitude to each of the items on that list, you have a person who easily loses sight of themselves, their loved ones and the reason why they are doing some of those things. That's me.

When out running, guilt followed me at every step. Why wasn't I working or studying? At work, pictures of mountains reminded me of where I'd rather be at that moment. At home with my wife, I wanted to be out running, and when I left her, I wished I was at home. Everything I chose felt wrong but the pressure to succeed was intense, and I piled it on without knowing exactly what success meant to me. It was the opposite of being mindfully engaged; my sense of appreciation for people and the world, my wonder at being so fortunate and alive, dulled, diminished and disappeared.

The result? I ended up sick, injured and burnt out on a sport and activity that I love. My marriage broke up and I had to leave a job at a corporate law firm where I was making a good salary and doing work that I enjoyed with people I liked.

In the aftermath, running aimlessly through the debris that followed my divorce, not racing and trying to find my motivation, the realization came to me that trying to "balance" things is the wrong way to look at it because balance means that two things are in opposition with one another; they are counterweights with nothing in common. This wasn't how I felt. My pursuits were part of a whole – they were all important and what I needed to do was integrate them, not try to balance one against another.

An epiphany! In my attempts to achieve balance, I would tune out on the activity I was doing, or the place I found myself, or worst of all, tune out the person I was with. And although I could still function at a high level that way, I wasn't getting any real fulfillment from it. Integration was the path to less internal conflict and permission to mindfully engage.

Be gone guilt.

Accepting all aspects of myself has allowed me to realize that I have to make the most of my time. Without compartmentalizing my life, I am free to process work thoughts while on my runs and experience deep joy and appreciation for the places I see. More importantly, I enjoy sharing those places and experiences with others.

I am not always looking one step ahead.

Adam Campbell is an Arc'teryx ultra-marathoner, lawyer and reader.

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Adam Campbell

A former member of the Canadian National Triathlon and Duathlon teams, in 2006 Adam decided to shed the extra gear and rely solely on his running shoes to get around. He also decided to put down the stopwatch and set intervals and hit the trails...

Read Adam's Bio 

     

"Years ago I crossed this line of solitude and now I don't even know how to relate to the people I love the most."

– Chad Sayers

Photographer: Jordan Manley

Subject: Chad Sayers

Photography, Travel, Discovery  //  by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Chad Sayers

OVER EXPOSURE

Featured on the covers of over 35 international magazines throughout his career, Chad Sayers is a professional skier who has been with the Arc'teryx team for 12 years. He is handsome, athletic and is typically pictured in the frame of the camera, which he knows how to work. This is not the most comfortable claim to make. It can sound proud, but it isn't. Chad is genuinely humble.

His true love is the camera—being on the observer's side of it. Through his photographs, his relentless travels and various injuries of the past 20 years have brought him to a place where he is as solid as he has ever been. He is healthy, stationary and ready to express himself.

Spending time with Chad is like a braided river; he spans a wide calm plain of interwoven thoughts. His experiences are linked yet diverse and while his desire to communicate is primary, it doesn't come without considerable effort. The displacement of travel, expeditions and internalized pain have built up a dam of expressions that can't get out.

"Years ago I crossed this line of solitude and now I don't even know how to relate to the people I love the most."

His journals are the structure in his nomadic lifestyle. Stories, drawings and lists written in places from the Honduras to Easter Island and Georgia, Russia fill their weathered pages. This is how he manages his thoughts, daily needs and his career. There is no back up. Like his choice to work with slide film, he must be in the moment and accept that the moment can be (or will be) lost.

Chad's lifestyle can be a challenge for others to understand. He is somewhat ascetic, yet skis, surfs and travels the world, seemingly entirely self-indulgent. In a digital age, he is absent from social media. He uses a film technology that few of his generation recognize and which is heartless in its accuracy; whatever is inside the frame cannot be edited. He forces himself to be fearlessly engaged.

Meticulously stored in individual plastic sleeves, Chad has several albums of selected best-of images.

The slides became entry points.

"The boy and the chicken is a shot I'm really proud of because it's one that I thought about for a long time, and I looked for it, and then finally, after about 10 trips to Indonesia, I was able to capture it. There's always so many children around, and I end up interacting with them. But this one time, I saw the boy and he held up the chicken and they're both looking into the camera. For a second."

While the rest of the world is somehow distant, he finds himself briefly in contact with total strangers.

"Travel is another form of constant motion. Often I will sit on curbs in the midst of it all, just to watch and put things into perspective... In this shot, the stillness of the camel caught my eye. It was quietly waiting its turn, amongst total chaos. I admired that."

When you lose balance, you lose power.

"I had this obsession for many years of watching people walk because I didn't know how to walk anymore. (After each injury) I would have to reset the timing of my ski style… My body became so confused that I would look at the toilet seat for 10 seconds before I could sit on it. My natural flow was gone."

Grounding himself after a season in front of the camera, and as a means to heal injuries, he spends a lot of time surfing.

"Sometimes I spend 3-4 months living on the beach, lost in the waves. But in spite of that, my clearest perspective and concentration is on the water, it's not as draining as the mountains where there is just so much going on...

All day, every day, I only thought about the man I once was. From training in airports and being on top of all of my movements to skiing with a stick between my teeth and being holed up in Whistler going to physio... I had to leave. I couldn't take being this person who couldn't answer questions, who wasn't skiing, who was just hanging around, full of stories that I couldn't share. Then I made the decision to move to La Grave.

There were a few things I deliberately left behind. The cell phone, the girl, no internet. I wanted to live alone and somewhat disconnected from all the items that would distract me from a life without confrontation or conversation."

Although it appears he is embarked on a solo journey, solo does not mean solitary. Pictured right is one of Chad's favourite captures, a damaged and faded door in what could be an abandoned building.

"This was not far from my parent's place. Those are bullet holes – it's someone's house. Gunshots go off every night and it's in the middle of the jungle. People live like that. They're not doing much, but they're not up to any good either. It's just how it is."

From these lengthy sojourns, the physical equivalents of the inner reaches of himself, Chad brings an exploration of expression, motivated by his pure desire to share.

"I look back on my life these days more than I ever have... in a way that is allowing me to see my faults and selfish decisions from the past. Realizing that I cannot allow myself to fall into a dark space filled with shame and regret. Now I have an understanding of the changes I need to make in order to live the life God is calling me to live."

"When I came to Whistler in 1990, I was strong in both my body and my mind, and I was very determined to make my mark... and build a career that would give me the freedom to see the world and share my love for the mountains. I wanted to be in the movies and ski the steepest, rarest lines for the camera. I was 21 years old... I pushed it too far."

Chad has a favourite photo of an avocado, held by its stem against a white plastered wall cut by shadows of palm fronds. It's austere, poetic, odd. We kept coming back to it. What it said for him was a way of explaining his compulsion to search for bullet holes, death and starvation in places that are spicy, warm and full of gratitude for life.

"I am a skier and I live the life; not being able to hold onto relationships that would ever last is just the way it is. A choice I've made. Question is, is it all worth it?"

The answer: Chad is working on a book collecting his photographs and chronicling the twenty years of his Skier's Journey.

"Portraits are something that give you an opportunity to be intimate with people that you can't communicate with, except for this brief moment through the lens. The light on his face and in his eyes... with a wide angle and really close up, there was a connection."

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Chad Sayers

This unique lifestyle manifested itself organically, when I started skiing professionally 10 years ago. The challenges and injuries presented by my skiing have given me a chance to embrace life for the true gift it is and grow as an individual...

Read Chad's Bio 

    

"When your middle name is Dick, little girls don't want to play with you."

– Diny Dick Harrison

Photographer: Robin O'Neill

Subject: Diny Dick Harrison

Mountain Guiding, Women in Sport // by Jill Macdonald, Photography by Robin O'Neill

FREE RADICAL

On Diny's dresser is a big badass belt buckle. She is tiny, the buckle is huge. The room is filled with polished antique furniture and momentos; she is barefoot, dressed in patched embroidered jeans and a sexy tank top. She is fluent in three languages, has an art degree and can tell a dirty joke that would make straight hair curl in embarrassment. Dichotomies are everywhere: these are the surprises of Diny.

Born into an affluent family, by the age of two she had spent most of her life trying to recover from pneumonia and weighed 5.5 kilograms. Hence Diny, a derivative of her given name, Diana. Soon after she recovered, her parents divorced, leaving her mother alone with 5 children to raise, from ages 8—unborn; mom was the pregnant ex-wife of an orthopedic surgeon, in Toronto, 1960. From the beginning, Diny's life was not ordinary.

"My mom was sporty." It's too bad that voices can't be captured on paper because Diny's is infected with humour, storytelling skills and a slight raspy deepness that is tinted with experience. "She taught us all to ski on snow and water and when I was 6, she packed us up in the car (5 kids and a 17 year old nanny) and we drove across Canada, camping. She had fire."

Despite being "the runt of the litter," Diny was always independent and strong-minded. If the girls at private school didn't want to play with her because she didn't have a proper middle name ("Dick" is Diny's grandmother's maiden name), she was quite fine to hang out with the boys. And until she developed breasts, this wasn't a problem. "Then they all got weird and I just hung out by myself."

It's impossible to write about Diny without mentioning men and health. Men because she is surrounded by them, personally and professionally; and health because of her beginnings and her recent confrontation with cancer. The two are intricately linked.

It may not come to mind that men have been a big influence in the shape of her life. Being the first woman to attain the coveted silver pin that identifies a full mountain guide, you might expect that she set out with this ambition from an early age. But she didn't. When she was twelve, Mom's longtime boyfriend, a naval officer, installed a weather station on the roof of their ski chalet so that the kids could dress appropriately for the weather. "I was fascinated. Imagine, I could look at that thing and figure out if it was a shorts or a sweater day. It blew my mind." This was the beginning of her using data as a tool to make decisions and explore the analytical capabilities of her mind.

It was through the influence of two other men that she ended up in the guiding profession: Guy Clarkson and Jeff Boyd. "We were out ski touring and they said, 'Diny, you should become a guide; you'd be good at it.' But I just wanted to ski." She had years of experience on ski patrol and as an avalanche forecaster, launching explosives and studying terrain, plus she was a solid rock climber. "Then they described being a guide like this: You get to decide where you're going to ski, and you always go first. Well, that sounded pretty good."

At the time, she was married to a mountain guide and Diny figured it would be a way for the two of them to spend more time together if they shared the same profession. "Marriage is difficult. Being with someone who is a mountain guide... We see life differently. You have to be strong-minded and decisive." It's not an occupation where there is always time for a measured course of action. Things have to be reactive and move forward. "I don't think he wanted me to succeed. I was getting through the exams that he had worked so hard at." But she continued, or maybe she continued because it wasn't encouraged.

The outdoor world, and the heli-ski industry in particular, is a male dominated environment. There is no denying this fact, even if the needle might be moving slightly. Diny entered into outdoor sports at age 15, when she went to a summer ski camp in Banff. There she also discovered rock climbing. "One day we couldn't ski because it was too warm. The guides took us rock climbing instead; I was stoked, it was so much fun." The following year she came back, this time to High Horizons Mountaineering Camp. "On one tour I was put on a rope with a terrified and uncoordinated girl." Diny charged forward, hauling the two of them up rock faces in hot pursuit of the boys, picking her route by following their rockfall. "When we got to the summit, I encouraged the rest of the gang to take our own down climbing descent, which was not the way the guide wanted us to go... When I think about it now, I was a guide's nightmare. Never turn your back on a teenager."

But she had the right instincts. She paid attention to everything going on around her and she trusted herself. "Being a guide is like having ten tabs on your web browser open at the same time, all day. You think about your clients: how are they doing; where is their confidence at; do they need some encouragement; are they hungry... If you're heli-skiing, you have avalanche conditions, weather, slopes and abilities at play. What are the other groups doing; where is everybody? Day after day." It's a caregiver's occupation where everyone's life is at risk, including the guide's. And it is approached through data, analysis and assessment. The same way Diny approached cancer.

The feared visitor showed up last year. True to form, she took an alternative approach to it by refusing western medicine and embarking on a deep, deep dive into understanding the causes of cancer and exploring the potential of natural healing, such as the life force of food and the importance of hydration. A complete overhaul of her lifestyle has stabilized her tumour, but not yet eradicated it.

Here is where health and men meet. Men have been the bumpers that set her on this path, one way or another, and now it is her health that shapes the future, as it was at her birth. In the past year, during what she calls her 'cancer vacation,' the guide has learned to take care of herself and to accept the support of others.

To be steadfast is to have known the weakest part of yourself. A free radical at heart, Diny is a mentor, a trailblazer and fearless. She is taking her cancer to task in the same way she has weathered divorces and being a gender minority in a community that she loves. She is gorgeous, competent, independent, a wicked skier and climber, and loves a good time. Ironically, it is women who don't always appreciate that in other women; it can be intimidating.

Tiny now, she was not always so. Her first summer spent in Banff, "I partied and drank and ate whatever I wanted. When I got back, I looked like a beach ball with teeth." She is not perfect. Often alone in the crowd growing up, she now has a posse of female friends and is always encouraging women to get out and do whatever they can, to whatever level they are comfortable.

Presented to her at an annual ACMG meeting (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides), the belt buckle was engraved by Steve Cody, a veteran cowboy, with a rendition of the Three Sisters mountains in Canmore. What does it take to grow up to be a female mountain guide? An adventurous independent mom, the support of men and colleagues, and a spirit that dares to be and do. Diny's story inspires the girl in us, the woman, and the mother – all the roles that we inherently hold within. Her advice: "Be tenacious, be impulsive. Remain true to who you are. Always."

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"I look at the world differently now. I don't quite know what that means yet."

– Ryan Proctor

Photographer: Ryan Proctor

Subject: A Selfie Project

Injury, Recovery, Perseverance // by Lisa Richardson, Photography by Ana Pedrero

IDENTITY: LOST

A man takes a photo of himself every day. A selfie project. It's not that strange. It's been done. But in this case, the man had just fallen off his bike, and smashed his face beyond recognition. It would never be the same again, and now he has the picture-diary to prove it. This is the story of recovery, becoming bionic and learning to heal, one day at a time.


FACE FIRST

Galbraith Mountain is the city of Bellingham's gem—a 3000 acre tract of privately owned, North Shore-like forest, riding distance from downtown, riddled with 50 miles of singletrack trails maintained by the not-for-profit Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition. Friday, late June, 2014, Ryan Proctor logged off early from his duties as the Digital Community Manager at Arc'teryx and drove to Bellingham to pick up a new mountain bike. The plan was to join a friend and test out the new ride. He barely completed 40 pedal strokes.

"Then I woke up in the hospital."

Josh Poulsen is the bike mechanic who built up Proctor's bike. "We stopped at the top of the trail to make some adjustments – rebound, shock pressure, fork pressure. And then we started down a trail called Pump Track." Poulsen, a member of the Trail Coalition, led the way. Their posse swelled with addition of Oso Ghoffrani, a textile designer who can roll onto the trails from her back door. Out riding with friends, she fell in behind Proctor to ride sweep. "I didn't even know his name," she says, but she was right behind him when Proctor cased an unmarked gap jump. "He must have braked at the last minute and he nose-dived."

Slumped on the ground, bike to the side, Proctor fell about eight feet, his face taking the brunt of the impact. Ghoffrani dumped her bike and jumped across the gap.

"His jaw was dislocated, he couldn't speak and his nose was over under one eye. I screamed as loud as I ever have to the guys at the bottom of the trail." When she remembered she had her phone in her pocket, she called Josh Poulsen, trying to communicate the urgency of the situation without freaking Proctor out.

Meanwhile Proctor, unable to see the damage, had snapped back to consciousness and was reassuring her and himself: "I'm fine, I'm fine." He appeared coherent, his eyes were tracking, but he was asking the same questions, over and over. "Where are my teeth? Do I have my teeth? Am I bleeding?"

At the bottom of the trail, Poulsen, a volunteer EMT firefighter knew something was wrong; Ghoffrani was uncharacteristically terse on the phone. "We need you up top."

It took fifteen minutes for the group to make it back up the trail. Poulsen began a trauma assessment: "His face looked like someone swung a flat head shovel right at his nose. And as I'm doing my thing, he starts to become non-responsive, grunting, blinking really slowly. He was going into shock. We needed to get him down the mountain – now."


I'm not dead. I'm still walking around. I definitely feel like I dodged a bullet. But I'm not out of the woods, yet.

Poulsen ripped down an access trail to his van and raced back up. In the van, Proctor flipped the visor down. "Whoa," he said, when he first saw the damage to his face. "Looking good, Proctor."

"He looked in the mirror three or four times in ten minutes," says Poulsen. "His face was starting to swell so he couldn't really breathe. I was worried about frontal lobe damage. He kept putting his bloody hands all over the van, flipping down the visor to look in the rear vision mirror. And he was joking the whole time."

"I walked his bike down while we waited," says Ghoffrani. She pauses. "It was like an archaeological dig, picking his teeth out of the ground."


ABOUT FACE

Proctor's memories start with him getting his lip stitched up at St Joseph's Hospital. Kate MacLennan, who has known him for 20 years and was deep into Friday night drinks, says she received a text from her friend—a selfie, captioned 'lost a few teeth'. "He looked terrible. But he was texting me." She agreed to come and collect him in Washington the next morning. "It wasn't until I picked him up that it became really clear to me how serious this was."

That was Saturday, 3pm. By Monday, at 8am, after a visit to the Whistler clinic and being transferred to Vancouver General Hospital's ER, Proctor had been diagnosed with a broken neck and was being wheeled into a four hour surgery to reconstruct his face.

It was a dizzying about-face. 48 hours earlier, he'd been walking around, drinking a Booster Juice and sending selfie announcements to his boss: 'not going to be at work for a while.' ("Better than a long rambling text, right?") Suddenly, he was in a neck brace, being wheeled into an operating theatre full of whiteboards diagrammed with what was planned, under a bright white light, signing a waiver that gave hospital staff the permission to peel off his face.

Proctor admits, "It got a bit overwhelming at that point. I had a bit of a teary moment, but I just swallowed it down. Like: not now." Then the anesthetic was swirled around his mouth, toothpaste-like goop on the end of a popsicle stick. And he was out.

Turned out he had a concussion, 10 facial fractures, a dislocated jaw and a right occipital condyle fracture. 5 bottom teeth were missing. He woke up with a new nose, ear to ear staples across the top of his head and a neck brace that was to stay on 24/7 for the next three months.

His instinctive response on regaining consciousness? Take a selfie.

"It happened fast." Longtime friend and neighbor Kim Brennan picked him up after surgery. "He had the thought that he was just getting checked out." She had to sit on the edge of his bed when she first saw him. "I thought I was going to pass out. He didn't look like Proctor. He seemed so fragile."

The doctor told Ryan that his face had acted like a shock absorber. "I think your face collapsed so much that it saved your brain. If you'd worn a full face helmet, the front piece would have broken your neck."


LUCKY | UNLUCKY

You're lucky, people said.

Mike Shaw, freestyle skier, coach and friend, dislocated his neck 6 months earlier. He visited Ryan in the recovery room. They wryly compared injuries. Shaw's neck is pinned solid with rods, he has no mobility, can't move his head; but you can't tell that from looking at him. Proctor could move, but his face was a mangled mess.

Brennan: "'It could have been worse.' People kept telling him that. 'You could have never walked again, or not made it out of surgery.' ...His injuries were still pretty severe."

"50% lucky, 50% unlucky," says Ryan.


MIRROR IMAGE

As his face reconfigured itself, Proctor snapped self-portraits. Every day, for 50 days, as if he could reconstruct a new relationship with himself... one that was more honest than the street reaction where his injuries were ignored, or sugar-coated.

"That sentence: 'Oh, you look pretty good for what happened;' it frustrates me. I know they're not saying it to offend me, and yes, I do look okay for what happened. But in my head, daily, I'm like, I look different."

"It wasn't that I thought of myself as super good looking," says Proctor. "I thought I was an average normal looking dude and I was totally okay with that. But my face was my identity. People knew me."

Other survivors sought Ryan out, the grapevine lighting up, his neck brace like a beacon announcing: shoal of stories right here! Strangers on the bus, bartenders, old guys in the street, all would approach and ask: "What happened?" And inevitably, they'd have their war story, too. "I wrecked my face; I've got chicken wire eye-sockets." "I fell off a swing in Spain. There's titanium plates in my forehead."

It was a weird, but instant bond. "It's funny how many people have been mangled at some point. People who have been hurt will come and start talking about it straight away. But those who haven't might not even mention it." He didn't mind. "I liked it.


Yes, I do look okay for what happened. But in my head, daily, I'm thinking, I look different.

I was happy to tell the story. Maybe it's the entertainer in me. It does help to talk about it." Brennan was at his house every day during the sweltering summer months, making dinner, ("we had a lot of mac'n'cheese, and he got addicted to those disgusting elderly people drinks, Ensure"), watching Netflix in the dark. "I'm sure he got sick of me at times, but I didn't want him to be lonely and go into a vortex. I remember him riding his bike to the brewery, riding around in a neck brace and this busload of people went past. I was laughing so hard, imagining what they were thinking. When his neck brace came off, it was a big deal. When he had it on, people knew he'd hurt himself and he had a story. When it came off, I think he was afraid people wouldn't care anymore."

That was the day that Proctor ended his Facebook and Instagram radio silence. He posted an unflinchingly honest selfie of his new face—no funny expressions, no filters, no props, just a man looking into the camera—and announced:

"I haven't posted in a while. Here is why...

Three months ago I took spill on/off of my mountain bike in Bellingham which ended up doing just a little bit of damage to my neck and face. I have zero memory of what happened and was helped out of the bushes and taken to the local hospital by some good friends and a few new ones. After a visit to the Bellingham hospital, an overnighter at the Econolodge and a shuttle across the border up to Whistler, I finally ended up at VGH.

The damage was large, I was concussed and had crushed my face, crushed my nose, ripped out 5 bottom teeth, cracked my jaw and sustained an occipital condyle fracture. It took 4 hours of surgery to fix the damage to my face. After four days of rest I walked out with 4 titanium plates and screws holding my face together, a brand new nose, a chewed up tongue, stitches under my nose, staples from ear to ear across the top of my head and a neck brace that was to stay on 24/7 for three months.

The rebuild is almost complete and today my neck brace came off for good!! F'n Eh Rights!

I have had the support of great friends and family over the past few months. From dropping off lattes and food, to dragging my broken ass out of the bushes, driving me across the border, hanging by my side in the hospital while the doctors did their work, shaving my stapled head and everything else I needed to get by along the way.

It is humbling to need help and have people who drop everything and show up, no questions asked. Kim (who could now be considered a registered nurse I'm sure) Jeff, Kate, my big brother (the OG Proctor), Matt W, Sakeus B, Josh P, Levitt and Sarah and more. You have all helped me along the way. I have a lot of thanks and love for you all. Arc'teryx, thanks for the Vitamix! And, the doc who put me back together – good work!

From now on every time I look in the mirror at my semi-bionic face, I will remember the pain, the support, the resilience of our bodies and that who we are comes from the inside, not the outside. Even if some of the inside stuff is now titanium.

Next up – physio for my neck and to start the dental process to get my smile back to normal/huge.

#mission

I took a selfie everyday for the first two months which are not too great for an FB post. Happy to share if anyone wants to see. The body is a crazy machine."


THREE STRIKES

A month before the accident, Proctor's dad died suddenly, a heart arrhythmia. On his way to the memorial with his brother, driving the 401 freeway in Ontario, the hood of the car popped up and shattered the windscreen, triggering a three car pile-up in their wake. "Then I got back from Mexico for my best friends' wedding and moved some dirt around with my face. High and lows, right? It keeps you in check. It can't always be good."

Proctor got back on his bike in October. "I biked a ton after my neck brace came off. I want to bike more. I want some vindication. But I am pretty tentative now."

Proctor still has several painful dental surgeries ahead – gum grafts, teeth implants. He has ongoing numbness, discomfort, the micro-expressions in his face, dimples, wrinkles – all gone. "My face feels like one big muscle." Its new metallic skeleton gets cold when he skis, feels sharp and pointy and foreign beneath your fingers. "I'm not dead. I'm still walking around. I definitely feel like I dodged a bullet. But I'm not out of the woods, yet."

Says MacLennan, "I don't think he ever put on a brave face. It was just pure stoicism. And now, I think he's thinking about things, his perspective is evolving."

His older brother Kent checks in every week. "I never really thought about his face, to be honest. I think he's trying to figure out how to live the way he wants to, as opposed to just kind of doing things. He still has the lighter side, for sure. But he's a bit more serious, now."

"I look at the world differently, now," says Proctor. "I don't quite know that what means yet."

Ryan is honest. "I've never taken the time to look at myself and figure out who I am as a person, and I think that will linger longer than my injuries will. I find I'm more worried about people, worried about the goodness of what goes on in life. I still make cynical jokes, things that are probably offside, but I feel more a gutcheck every time I say that kind of stuff. The real difference between me now and me then? Probably a secret compassion."


LASTING IMPACTS

The last Oso Ghoffrani saw of Ryan Proctor was when he was bundled into the van and driven to the hospital in Bellingham. "I think about that day all the time," she says. "It had a huge impact on my decisions to go out into the wilderness, to have a partner and a plan. I carry a few more things in my backpack, too."

Poulsen, who also has 2 titanium plates in his face from a high school injury, now carries more first aid supplies with him when he rides, too. And he went back up to the feature with the trailbuilder and filled it in. "It's marked now. I want him to come back and go riding with me. Give him a redemption lap. Show him the scene of the crime, if he's interested. Show him, we put this in here because of you. I'm sorry it wasn't there when it happened. But thank goodness he's there to walk up the trail and ride down again, rather than having to see a picture from his wheelchair."

As for Proctor, he's going through a phase of buying lottery tickets. Not because he believes in luck. Just, well, because.


UPDATE FROM RYAN

"It's been 15 months since my accident and the interviews for this story. Time flies by. Most of the physical stuff has either healed, or whatever felt weird/funky is now beginning to feel normal. I am about to get my new teeth and am curious if that will change my mental state, as it is the last physical piece of the puzzle.

I think less about the actual accident and more about what moving on means; if I was being too superficial about appearance, or too casual about my injuries because it was shitty for a while. But, I was able to get back to life as usual quite quickly and I am amazed when I see people endure much more than I, and am curious if I could handle it. When something like this happens to you it is hard, or least takes a long time to step back and think honestly about how it has affected you mentally. Maybe I am not 100% there yet.

I do know my time is worth more than I used to think and doing what I want every day is becoming more my focus.

I still don't have much to say about lucky vs. unlucky, although I do buy lottery tickets. I'm just glad I can go outside, stand in the sun and the rain, ride bikes, ski, spend time with family and friends, and time alone. I think is important to understand what makes you, you.

When you pull yourself away from something, or are forced to, you begin to understand what really matters to you.

The people around you, good or bad, help shape who you are. I am thankful that I have been allowed to continue on 99.9% intact, and for the good people around me."

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"There is nothing special about me."

– Pia Nic Gundersen

Photographer: Angela Percival

Subject: Pia Nic Gundersen

Skiing, Norway // Words and Photography by Angela Percival

SELF PROPELLED

On a chilly chairlift ride during a race training day Pia had an epiphany; she realized she had forgotten why she was there and why she loved skiing. Her motivation for racing was gone. That exact day she resigned from the training team, lived like a teenager for a few weeks and pushed the re-set button on her life. Feeling refreshed, Pia returned to compete in the Norwegian National Championship for the fun of it and won the Super G. When the newspaper called for comments on the race and to enquire what's next? "I quit."

Pia is Pia Nic Gundersen, Norwegian Downhill and Super G champion, Freeride World Tour competitor, Arc'teryx athlete. She is quiet, humble and loves to ski fast. Born in Versterålen, Norway, Pia spent the majority of her ski career based in Narvik.

Narvik is a small Norwegian city 220km inside the Arctic Circle. Like most coastal towns around the Lofoten area Narvik is part ski town, part ocean side community. It's a town ringed by water and backed by skiable peaks.

Pia credits Narvik as a place that was pivotal in her ski career, both as a young skier and following her retirement from ski racing. It's a town she feels contributed to the revival of her passion for skiing when she set to rediscover the joy of skiing for fun and her love for the backcountry.

She returned recently to ski in zones she had wanted to ski for years including the Sleeping Queen, on the Island of Andørja and the famous Gangnesaksla Couloir—a mountain top to ocean's edge couloir that's locally known to 'put hair on your chest' once you've skied its 1200m descent.

Pia is as humble and kind as she is strong and capable. She skis big burly lines with the commitment and strength of a trained athlete, but with the flying speed of a racer. Pia loves to ski fast—really fast—but even with incredible speed her style is exceptionally graceful.

She commits to new lines with the confidence of someone that has skied them many times before. Her modesty consistently belies her strength. 'Don't believe you are someone' is a saying in Norway that reminds one to keep one's ego in check. A surprising motto in a country full of talented yet humble folk. "I am like any other professional skier," says Pia. "There is nothing special about me."

We beg to differ.

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Pia Nic Gundersen

I grew up in Vesterålen, North of Norway, surrounded with high mountain peaks, midnight sun and northern lights. At the age of two I got my first pair of skis, and since then skiing has been an essential part of my life. I moved away from home at the age of 16 to be able to combine school with as much skiing as possible, at that time as an alpine racer...

Read Pia's Bio 

    

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