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The Far Out Ones: Nick McNutt

Story by Sam Morse

From his humble beginnings as a ski bum, Nick McNutt is perhaps the most relatable pro skier on the TGR roster. Growing up, Nick’s dad was always renovating and flipping houses, so it was only a matter of time before he joined his pops and learned the carpentry craft. Busting his ass at job sites all summer and fall allowed Nick to save money and take the winters off. During these four-to-five month windows, he’d hammer down at his home resorts in British Columbia, progressively developing the skills that have defined him as one of the most versatile backcountry skiers in the game. In his early twenties, Nick’s talent started getting noticed, and he was eventually invited to star in TGR’s award-winning 2014 feature, Almost Ablaze. His superlative aerial acrobatics and butter smooth switch landings earned him top honors at that year’s Powder Video Awards, where he took home the award for Top Breakthrough Performance. This year’s film follows McNutt as he and a crew of companions attempt to pioneer a new zone in one of the most forgotten alpine corners of continental Europe: the Cursed Mountains of Albania. During their trip to the mythical Valbona Valley, the team encounters mental hardships, relentless weather, and are forced to confront the realities of when things don’t go according to plan. To see if the weather breaks, be sure to check out TGR’s Far Out, presented by REI.  

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Your career as a pro skier started relatively late. What was your life like before that?

Well, I was always skiing, and in the lead-up to filming with TGR, I was filming small parts and whatnot. I bought my first sled about four years before establishing the relationship with TGR, so I was definitely out getting after it, just not professionally. For work I was doing carpentry from about May until Christmastime usually. I would save up as much as I could and then take off roughly four months in the winter and ski from about New Years until the end of April — just skiing at the resort (Whistler Blackcomb) around 100 days a year, sledding as much as I could. That was my focus for a long time. 

How did you get into Carpentry? What do you like about it?

My dad was doing the house-flipping thing, and he was doing some contracting work, so I was kind of around it my whole life. We were always building and renovating houses that we lived in. I picked it up and kinda liked it. I definitely have the brain for it 

I don’t think I could deal with office-type work — I need to be doing something more manual-labor oriented. 

In many ways, carpentry is the perfect job for being a ski bum. The balance of the construction work slowing down in the winter, and then picking back up in the spring. Plus, it pays well and there was a lot of work around Whistler, especially leading up to the Olympics. I’m still pretty project-oriented. I’m always in my garage building benches and stuff. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it completely because I do get some level of achievement out of building stuff and being creative. It’s something that I can always fall back on. Every day you leave work and you’re closer to the completion of a project, so there’s a certain level of satisfaction that you maybe don’t get as easily with some other jobs where there’s not an end result, like, something where you can step back and look at. It’s satisfying to be building something that’s going to be around for a while. When I walk around Whistler, there’s a number of buildings I’ve worked on over the years all over the place, so there’s definitely a level of pride there.

What is it like being a pro skier?

In addition to his segments in BC and Albania, McNutt narrates the main storyline of Far out.

It’s pretty rad. I spend my whole early season at the resort getting strong, then after the holidays, I start making plans and going where the snow is to film. It’s always a slow buildup to early/late spring in Alaska or BC. The whole season is like slow buildup to that moment. And then after mid-April, I’ll head back to Whistler and ski another couple months. But a big thing in the offseason is staying in shape. That time of year, I don’t really do any formal exercise stuff necessarily, but I do a lot of outdoor activities and I’m getting stronger and increasing my mountain awareness all the time. And it all kinda cycles back to the start of the year again. In the fall, I put more effort into time at the gym, getting as strong as possible for winter, then I start all over again. It’s a pretty high level of strength you need taking the crashes that we take. You don’t necessarily have to be a super-strong person to be a good skier, but you have to be pretty strong to be able to take the crashes that come with trying to push yourself as much as possible. Injury prevention is key, and the older you get, the more you realize that it’s a pretty important part of the game. 

Injury prevention is key, and the older you get, the more you realize that it’s a pretty important part of the game. 

High-level athletes in most sports have to do some training that’s not necessarily very fun. But I ride the bike a lot and climb and try to spend time doing rad stuff as much as possible, but it’s also pretty important to work out the ski legs and the core and make sure you’re ready for when the snow starts flying, because once the season opens it’s pretty hard to get into the gym.

Are there any downsides to being a pro?

Well, I think from the outside it’s pretty glamorous, obviously, just getting to travel around and ski, so it’s pretty hard to complain. But there is a certain level of it where maybe you’re on a trip for a month, and you’re battling weather and stuff, but back home your friends — who are just ski bumming — are having a great time shredding while you’re sitting around waiting. But like I said, it’s pretty hard to complain about that, because the experiences you get to have traveling and all the doors that have opened since being able to make a career out of this — I’ve gotten to travel to a lot of cool places. So, it kinda goes with it: you can’t just travel and ski and expect to never have to wait for weather to clear once in a while. And the social media side of things. That’s definitely not what I got into it for. It wasn’t like: I’m good at Instagram and can also ski. It was more like, I wanted to be a skier first and foremost and social media is part of the job now. Being a competent social media user is kind of a prerequisite to getting your brand out there and keeping people entertained and informed about the products that you’re representing.

Skiing has been McNutt's vehicle for traveling to new parts of the world

But it’s not something I chose — Instagram specifically, but the fact that it’s part of the job is just kinda accepted. It is what it is.

Broadly speaking, what do you think of social media?

I think it’s pretty universally accepted that social media’s only showing the best 5% of what’s going on in your life. Seeing what your friends are up to in Stories is pretty cool, but once you get down to the actual posts, it’s super curated — kinda like reading a magazine or something. It’s just an evolution of what’s been happening for a long, long time. Like, you can go look in a magazine and see pictures of what you’re supposed to look like and act like and dress like. Instagram is just the digital version that’s in everyone’s pocket now.

It’s a great tool, but definitely not the be-all-end-all. No-one should revolve their lives around what’s happening on social media.

What scares you?

Having to sit in an office. That’s just not somewhere I want to end up. It’s kind of an irrational fear, but I want to be able to go outside, and being super-limited, all the time, doesn’t really appeal to me.

Tell us about filming Far Out this winter?

I hooked up with Sage, Hadley, Dane and a big production crew and we went out into the Kootenays — in BC — into the Purcell Mountains. A helicopter left us out in the hills for 10 days.

We were winter camping and ski touring. Avalanche conditions were quite bad, but the terrain we chose to camp near was pretty safe. Really, really fun skiing! 

It stayed nice and cold, which, if you’ve ever winter camped, cold temps are your best friend. 

If it gets warm, it turns miserable pretty quick. We had a super-sick time on that trip. We pretty much stayed up there until our goggle and film lenses weren’t working anymore. Basically, anything that needed to dry out completely never got a chance to, so eventually, we ran out of options. We still had plenty of food, but we didn’t really have any way to shoot skiing anymore.

How about Albania?

Albania was a pretty cool experience — it was definitely somewhere that wasn’t really on my radar. They don’t really have ski infrastructure there. The mountains are pretty incredible and kinda resemble coastal BC in style, terrain and snowpack.

When we showed up it was really, really good. But because it was storming, our helicopters weren’t able to get there. They were grounded for essentially half of the trip. There’s no resort or anything there, so we were just kinda stuck at the lodge in Valbona. We had ski touring gear, so we did some of that, but it wasn’t worth filming. Then it warmed up and stormed for another week, so we weren’t doing a lot, just playing board games and cards, and waiting, hoping for the best. Once it finally did clear up, we were able to get out and we realized that a lot of snow had been temperature effected and rained on, so that was a little disappointing. A lot of the stuff we were looking to do was too low, but we ended up finding some stuff that was the highest you could get in that zone. So we had basically three days at the very end of the trip to ski and take advantage of that weather window.

It was a tough trip morale-wise — to get there and have pow all the way down to the lodge we were staying at, but watch it all slowly get rained on and melt away. 

It was a pretty good lesson in patience, 

and it was really cool to go over there and experience the culture shock. … In light of that, discussing the snow seems like a first-world thing to be talking about.

You narrate Far Out. What was it like aiming for a story-driven format? Did it add pressure to be the narrator?

Well, it was still pre-planned. Blake [Campbell], the editor, had basically written out the story — the thread — of the film. The whole idea was to get us to go as far away from our comfort zone as possible. Whether or not it was going to work remained to be seen.

But at the time, it didn’t really feel like the Albania trip was the story of my season. I had already done a full shoot with TGR in the Purcells, so it wasn’t my whole season, but it certainly felt like a long trip.

It’s definitely the first time I’ve narrated a film, so it added a bit of pressure, for sure. Those films are the hard work of many, many people showcasing roughly 20 other athletes, so I didn’t want to be basically ruining the film we had all worked so hard on. But the more audio takes I did and talking to the editing team — talking to Todd and Steve — they just kept encouraging me. It’s one thing to watch yourself ski on film, but hearing yourself talk is always hard. I didn’t really realize what I signed up for.

But the editing team — Blake and Jill – are awesome! 

They’re so talented and it was great to work alongside them and see how efficiently they do their jobs. Any time I’d have an idea, they were one step ahead of me, and it definitely makes your job easier when you can rely on the talent and creativity of the people you’re collaborating with.