Mount Royal student and hard-core skier Spencer Romanchuk guides us through the Rockies
Bobby Danger Jones
It takes a special breed of person to survive and thrive in the rarely explored Rocky Mountains, let alone propel yourself down them attached to composite planks and gripping poles. Spencer Romanchuk, who recently placed fourth in the Lake Louise Big Mountain Challenge and Wrangle the Chutes on Kicking Horse Mountain in Golden, BC, does just that. The Reflector sat down to pick his brain and see what it takes to truly be a backcountry badass.
The Reflector: How long have you skied?
Spencer Romanchuk: Since I was three, I still remember skiing between my dad’s legs at Lake Louise. That’s where I grew up skiing every weekend. I still have a ski pass hanging on my wall from when I was four.
I grew up ski racing and competed till I was about 18, then I decided I enjoyed big mountain skiing more. I was tired of the psychotic training of ski racing and the spandex suites, powder and the backcountry was always more fun to me, so I started competing on the Canadian big mountain tour then last year Freeride World Tour Qualification (FWTQ) comps, in hopes of skiing on the Freeride World Tour (FWT).
TR: What got you into backcountry skiing?
SR: My dad. I was pretty much raised on the mountain, and so it was just the natural next-step. As soon as I was good enough to ski most of the mountain, my dad started taking me under the ropes and into the backcountry. He taught me a lot of the things that I know about safety in the backcountry when I was young.
TR: What do you carry with you for safety?
SR: My backcountry kit is essential. You don’t step foot back there without your shovel, probe and avalanche beacon. I bring some emergency food, fire starter and some tools in case you have a gear failure in the middle of nowhere. Water and a small foldable saw, good luck starting a fire without a small saw in the winter.
TR: What is the most dangerous part about the backcountry besides avalanches?
SR: Well you’re on your own back there for the most part. It’s up to you and your buddies to problem solve if anything goes wrong. When shit hits the fan and somebody gets injured badly, you need to get yourselves out safely and quickly. It’s a fun place, but it has to be respected. Tree wells are pretty nasty as well, people don’t take them too seriously but people die every year from suffocating in tree wells.
TR: What should your average skier do before they take the next step and head into the backcountry?
SR: You need to have the proper safety gear and some education on avalanches and avalanche terrain. You have no right being in the backcountry without a shovel, probe and beacon. Knowing how to use these tools is extremely important. You can take your avalanche skills training 1 (AST1). You take it at the University of Calgary or with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures here in Calgary. Learn how to utilize the Canadian Avalanche Association’s website, it is a life-saving tool, they give reports on snowpack and stability in different areas almost daily. Having a solid group of friends is really important too. They’re the ones who are going to be saving your ass.
TR: What’s left on your bucket list as a skier?
SR: Just to keep doing what I’m doing for as long as I can. Keep exploring the mountains and pushing the sports limits. Who knows where it will take me, that’s why I’m also finishing an education. Having a good time with friends, skiing big lines, high-fives and big smiles. It doesn’t really get any better than that.
If you want to contemplate becoming a backcountry enthusiast, make sure you do the research and have the balls to do it.