Things can change very quickly. That’s a lesson Nick McNutt learned the hard way, in an avalanche accident that nearly took his life in early 2020. But as someone who has centered their life on the mountains, McNutt knew he wanted nothing more than to return to skiing. As a member of the TGR family since 2013, Canadian skier McNutt has led a new generation of backcountry riders, gliding, floating, and defying gravity in all manner of terrain. This past season, while filming for Stoke the Fire, McNutt showed how far he has come as a skier. He didn’t let the past hold him back, instead setting his sights on bigger and bolder objectives, all while staying true to his impeccable style in deep snow. Don’t worry, he’s still way better than you at skiing backwards. Catch the Atomic and The North Face athlete in Stoke the Fire alongside his buddies Dane Tudor, Sammy Carlson, Christina Lustenberger and Ian McIntosh in an ode to what skiing in BC is all about: the biggest lines and deepest days of your life. Stoke the Fire tickets are on sale now, find a tour stop near you!
TGR: What’s the story about how you first started skiing?
My parents loved skiing and that was kind of what we did as a family growing up. And as soon as they saw how much I liked it, there was never any question. If I wanted to try and ski, that was totally fine. And it was encouraged and it was not ever a matter of having to decide whether or not to pursue some other kind of professional career and go to university or anything. And, if I wanted to ski and I was going to build my life in a way I could make that happen, as long as I wasn't a skid, basically they were down with it. They were supportive from the start and they still are today.
Talk about a comeback year for Nick McNutt. | Bruno Long photo.
TGR: What would you have done if you hadn't pursued this path?
I don't know. It's hard to say what I'd do. I think I'd probably still be just doing it recreationally for fun and skiing with friends and playing in the mountains and riding mountain bikes and doing all the mountain sports that I love to do. But I would just have to be going on Saturday and Sunday with most other people and kind of a weekend warrior style, I think would be where I'd end up. And I'd probably end up taking some pretty long time off in the winter still. That was kind of always my approach through it all was to try and work really hard when I was working and be able to take time off when I wasn't working and really enjoy it rather than just taking a couple of days off at a time. Because, with skiing, it's one of those things where you just have to be in the right place for a pretty long amount of time before you're really going to get it. And if you can only ski Saturday and Sunday and a handful of weekends a year, it makes it really tough to get those good conditions. And so I'd be trying to get after it still, but it would just look a little different.
TGR: What does the ski bum lifestyle mean to you?
I think a ski bum is somebody who's really just trying to make everything in their life revolve around getting to enjoy skiing and making sure that they can get after it when it's good. Because it's a finite thing and powder is not a guaranteed thing. And if you can only go when you've got time off work and stuff, it makes it a lot trickier to nail the conditions. So a ski bum is someone who really does what it takes to get the goods whenever it's happening in the mountains. And when the mountains are letting you in and it's really firing, you got to be out there enjoying it. And making sacrifices to make that happen, I think is kind of what makes a ski bum, a ski bum. Living in an expensive town where there's a lot of second real estate homeowners and stuff. And just trying to make it happen by washing dishes or having an odd job or construction work, or whatever it is. And building your life so you can get out and ski, whenever it's happening.
What dreams are made of. | Bruno Long photo.
TGR: Tell us about this year, you started off with a memorable sesh in the Kootenays with Dane Tudor.
Yeah. It was cool. Getting to go out with Dane kind of in his backyard and see what little zones he's found. And he's always out on his sled exploring and checking out. So it's really cool to kind of chase him around and get into some interior BC zones that I'd never seen. And it's not like your typical spot that people have been going to ski all these years in a row. And it was like a little bit of a different place than I'd ever been. And I'd driven past that area tons, but never stopped to go skiing. So it was really cool to check it out and see what they had to offer. We got super lucky with the conditions. It was unstable in the alpine, but below tree line, it was some of the deepest days I've had in recent memory. Trying to wipe your goggles off every turn. And yeah, it's one of those days that you'll remember for the next five years. It's that deep, deep system that came through and we really scored, we were there for a couple of weeks and it finally kind of happened near the tail end of the trip, which was a good way to cap it off. We spent quite a bit of time skiing some decent powder. It was a little bit older snow, but it was still holding up really well. And it kind of snowed five or 10 centimeters here and there. And finally this dump came through and it was, it happened while we were out in the field it seemed like, because we went out in the morning and it had snowed maybe a foot. And by the time we were coming back down on the cat track, it was over the handlebars, driving back down to the trucks. And we knew the next day, it would just be all-time. So we got up nice and early and made it back into the zone. Fortunately we had put in roads and trails and stuff. Because it would have been impossible to get back in. It was so deep. But it was, yeah, truly neck deep pow, which was pretty special.
TGR: Tell us about Dane and his style of skiing, how do you guys compliment each other?
Yeah, Dane's funny. Because he's just, he's so relaxed and low key and he's really kind of just hanging out and skiing and then all of a sudden he just flips a switch. There will be some feature that he likes and it's just on and he's yeah. So on top of his game after not doing some of these tricks for the whole season, he just busts them out like it's nothing. And it's, he's really, really talented. So it's really cool to watch him in his element and seeing him kind of in his backyard in these zones that he's been looking at going to, and checking it out on Google Earth and kind of warming up by just skiing, some fun pal lanes and stuff. And then he'll just drop the hammer.
Nick McNutt just out there doing his thing. | Bruno Long photo.
TGR: After shredding with Dane, you moved on to Mica Heli. Tell us a little bit about the terrain here and the operation?
Mica Heli is a really special spot. It's kind of in this, I don't know...I guess it's sort of the convergence of a few different major valleys and it's somewhere that's really remote and hard to get to. As far as BC even, it's quite remote. And the terrain here is just stacked with all kinds of crazy pillows and couloirs, and the mountains get really big right out of the lake. And there's all kinds of stuff. There's glaciated terrain, there's kind of stuff in the trees, all these different pillow walls, all over the place that are some of the craziest ones I've ever seen. And even just kind of the mellow laps, you're just catching air the whole way down. It's not really your typical kind of alpine bowl skiing here. It's a lot more kind of, yeah, catching air going fast and taking little pillow hits all over the place. It's a really, really cool spot.
TGR: You linked up with Ian Mcintosh and Christina Lustenberger, what’s so special about skiing with them?
Yeah, it was really nice linking back up with Ian and Christina after last year. My last day of the season and pretty much everyone's last day of the season was the accident that happened in Pemberton. And so getting back into the mountains with those guys has been really special and, something like that happens and we're already close, but it just pulls even closer together. And being in a place like this and having it kind of to ourselves since international travel has kind of put a governor on who's coming here. It's been really, really cool to enjoy this place with those guys, and all of us being from BC and getting to ski some of this amazing terrain that BC has to offer together has been really cool.
TGR: Do you look at things differently after what happened to you last year?
Part of being a backcountry skier is just constantly learning from what the mountains are teaching you and they're always offering up lessons and it's just a matter of whether or not you listen and pay attention. And what kind of decisions you make after the fact that are based on your previous experiences. And obviously having something like a massive pillow breaking off and steamrolling me and burying me was pretty eye-opening as to what can happen when some of those massive blocks of snow come down. And we're pretty conservative, I'd say generally with avalanche turning when it's in the true sense of the term. Big, massive bowls with planar slopes and stuff like that. But the pillows are a little different because they're just building up all year and they're overhanging.
Keepin' her mellow in the trees during one of the deepest storm cycles of the season. | Bruno Long photo.
And no matter when you're skiing them, they're always a little bit crazy looking. They're kind of these inverted mushrooms and it's one of those places where it's some of the most fun terrain to ski, but there's also a lot of hazards. And not just collapsing pillows, but also holes and just by nature of them forming they're kind of terrain trappy and they're kind of cornice-y almost. Part of the decision-making this year is trying to just pay a little bit more attention to how attached individual pillows might be and making sure that you pick your line according to where you can really put down some weight and feel what you're landing on is extra supported.
You're always rolling a dice by getting onto these things. And skiing in the pillows is one of my favorite places to go, but you have to make sure that you pick your line wisely and all you can do is try your best to make the right decision at the time and have an exit strategy and try not to get yourself in a situation where you have no out if something is to go wrong.
TGR: What did you get into with Mac and Lusti this year?
After last winter, it was really kind of the highlight of the season to know I was going to link up with those two again. We knew it was coming in March when we would all get to go to Mica together and being here with Mac and Lusti, after they'd just kind of gotten off of their previous first ascent of Mount Nelson was really cool. Because day one, it was a high pressure system and the snow was super stable. It hadn't snowed in quite a while.
And so Lusti had it in the back of her mind to go check out Mt. Dunkirk, which is the peak above the lodge that everyone here has been staring at the whole time this place has existed and probably the most photographed peak at this place. And it was something that wasn't really on my radar, but I had a feeling that skiing with those two they'd be kind of eyeing up something like that. And so it was a really cool thing to do on our first day and just get up there and ski something that no one's ever done. It was kind of a wild place to be. And not necessarily in my wheelhouse. It's not really something I've sought out as these kinds of ski mountaineering objectives. So it was a really cool experience to do that with those guys. And we definitely had a nice, easy ride up with a helicopter, but coming back down, it was for sure an experience I won't forget.
McNutt absolutely punting one. | Bruno Long photo.
TGR: As a climber, do you like adding ropes to your skiing?
I kind of figured, coming on a trip with Lusti, we'd ended up busting the rope out. She's kind of known to ski with one and gets herself into hairy situations on purpose with kind of some mandatory rappels. And so we had this kind of storm day where we figured skiing in between these walls. It would still be pretty good visibility. And yeah, we got a rappel set up and kind of lowered ourselves down into this really cool tube. And it had these walls of pillows just kind of coming in from all angles. And that was a really cool place to be. And no one had ever skied that either. So I guess it was the second first descent of the trip on day two.
TGR: What is stoke to you?
Stoke is kind of just that feeling of pure excitement. You're a little kid who's going to Disneyland, right? That feeling that kind of keeps you up at night and wakes you up early in the morning without an alarm. And it's that just pure desire to be doing something or to be somewhere.
I think you just have to really start hyping things up to people and you’ll create stoke. And if you're excited enough, it's going to rub off on whoever you're trying to entice into your plan. And maybe it's not trying to sandbag them or con them into doing something, it's more just helping them get a grasp on why you're excited about it. And maybe they come around a corner and realize why you're so fired up about it. And it's pretty organic. And I think it's pretty natural amongst skiers to be stoked when it's snowing or if there's a positive forecast outlook or something. So I think being that kind of person who's maybe sending a message to your group of friends of like, oh, did you go see the forecast for next Wednesday? It's going to be sick. Let's get out. I think that's a good way to spread it.
Psychedelic shapes make for the perfect skiing background. | Bruno Long photo.
I think we're lucky that we have all these cameras and stuff to capture what we're doing. And I think getting people excited for winter is the biggest highlight of the job. Having these experiences with our friends in the mountains is amazing. And then being able to share that with people and they in turn, take it in and just can't wait to get out with their friends and do the same thing and emulate kind of what is going on in the films. That's the best way to share it. And seeing people fired up at premiers and watching whatever kind of footage you're putting out and getting really excited, it's a super satisfying feeling and you know that they're doing it for the right reasons. And it's something that's a huge positive to pass along to your friends and yeah. Get out into the mountains and just enjoy nature and have good times with your friends.