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Part Six

How Elyse Saugstad Put Together an All-Time Segment

Story by Hannah Clayton

Landing in BC to film Elyse Saugstad, Dash Longe and Nick McNutt pop pillow after pillow for a week is rad. But landing in the rain: not so rad. That’s what happened last March when the TGR crew and their half-million-dollar camera arrived way up North to shoot for Rogue Elements. They had a sick crew and a hella sick venue, but the weather decided it was going to do its own unruly thing. Elyse, Dash and Nick looked as though they’d pretty much been run through a car wash, minus the car, while they waited on the heli-pad just outside Donald, BC, to fly to Chatter Creek. It was raining. Their bags were drenched. Was the plan to take down some rowdy Canadian lines about to change?

Hell no. These are no fools we’re talking about. They’re veterans of the mountains. They know that rain below means snow up high. So high they went.

I could tell you it went blue the moment Elyse, Dash and Nick unloaded in Chatter, but one, that’d be boring, and two, super not true. Chatter had received dump after dump of snowfall since December, and it wasn’t stopping. The storms were coming in hard and fast.

For the first few days, the crew and their camera saw naught but shades of gray. Having spent a couple months in BC before, Elyse was all too familiar with the province’s monochromatic coloring, but, like all good skiers, she was watching the forecast, and blue was on the horizon.

While they waited for it to pop, the threesome scouted lines via snowmobile. They needed to be prepared for when the skies cleared. Who knew how long they’d have. 15 minutes? An hour? A whole day? Their window could be intimidatingly short. Plus, no pressure or anything, but wasting shots isn’t really an option when you’re filming via helis that cost a pretty penny.

Chatter Creek’s a cat-skiing operation known for its pillows. But Elyse, Dash and Nick itched for something more. After checking out the terrain as best they could in the socked-in conditions, they had decided upon their zone, but back at the lodge, plans changed. Elyse, the crew’s only female, spoke the words “Vertebrae Ridge,” and the game changed.

Vertebrae Ridge, so-named in 1916 because it’s a bumpy ridge resembling vertebrae, had been skied previously, but only by a handful of professionals. We’re talking the likes of Cody Townsend, Sean Pettit and Richard Permin. It’s not for the faint of heart. But when legendary snowboarder Jeremy Jones says Elyse is one of the best skiers he knows, there's a reason why. She’s bold. She’s ballsy. And she doesn’t half-ass things.

Even though the threesome had started their end-of-day ritual of taking off their gear to dry it out in the lodge’s forced air-drying system, followed by indulging in Chatter’s unforgettable après with the rest of the guests, they jumped back on their snowmobiles to get a better look at the ridge. Vis was still sub-par, but they felt good energy. Six thumbs pointed up, and the decision was made: when it popped blue, they were going to ski one helluva no-mistakes zone.

“If you crash, you’re gonna get funneled into some kind of rock,” Elyse says, “I was totally puckered when the skies cleared and what I was about to ski sank in." Elyse doesn’t sugarcoat her experience on Vertebrae. Not only did her line have super high consequences, the drop-in was a hanging snowfield loaded with deep, fresh snow. It was steep and rocky, and while she’s no stranger to either variable, this ridge was different. If she effed up here, she was going to be in serious trouble.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have sweat pooling in your pits about now. I try to picture myself in Elyse’s boots, and last only seconds. What she’s describing is nauseating. I’m sitting on a sofa overlooking a flat-calm lake, but my anxiety’s rising. My hands turn clammy. And yet I go on. This Chatter stuff’s addicting.

Elyse recounts, “A few days previous during the heavy snowstorms, we could hear huge avalanches on nearby peaks, but it was so socked-in we couldn’t see them.” I’m afraid to ask how big they were, but I can’t help myself. “About class 3,” Elyse says, “It was spooky.” Class 3 avalanches can bury cars and destroy small buildings, and most definitely kill humans.

Snow stability was for sure an issue, and the crew had to tread lightly. But that’s another reason they opted for Vertebrae: it’s so steep it naturally flushes itself out, making it safer to ski.

Nick was the first to go when it went blue. Elyse and Dash were ready for action if the snow pulled, but it didn’t. The terrain is so vertical they couldn’t see Nick until he reached the runout. When they saw him come cruising out the bottom, they knew it was game on.

Of her response to Nick’s line, Elyse says her thoughts were just, “Oh man, it’s my turn now.” She’s the cream of the crop, but she doesn’t deny she still gets nervous. She’s human, after all.

Elyse recounts standing at the drop-in, feeling the blood pound through her chest. She recalls the radio in her ear going “Go, go, go” as the film crew in the heli got into position. She says, “At that point, there’s no room for hesitation,” and continues, “The snow held for McNutt, but I was still concerned it might pop under me, so I just took it turn by turn.”

Elyse says, “It was so steep, I was just fighting to get over to the line I wanted.” The first few turns were the hardest, but she found her groove once she got in the air. Air is her jam, and, ironically, hitting it made her feel grounded.

Like Dash and Nick, Elyse sent Vertebrae flawlessly. I ask how she felt when she hit the flats. Her response: “Elated, and then I had that moment of, ‘Oh wait, I have to do it again.’”

Elyse says her experience in Chatter was unforgettable. The group nailed something rarely attempted, and nobody once questioned her choice in line. The crew’s confidence in her was apparent and she didn’t walk away with any crap. What she did walk away with: quality bonding, and one rad Rogue Elements segment. 

Photos by Grant Gunderson

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