By Greg Hill
Special to the Revelstoke Review
I distinctly remember the first day I skied with Christina Lustenberger. At the time, I was possibly the most recognized backcountry skier at Rogers Pass with a long list of firsts. However, as I skinned up the mountain with Lustenberger, I somehow slipped on my skins and fell flat on my face. I often wonder if it was a hint at what was to come — “move over Greg here comes the next generation.”
|Peering over the edge. (Photo by Andrew Mcnab)
At this point, most of the obvious lines in Rogers Pass had been skied and there were only the very consequential ones left. Consequential, meaning if any mistake happens death is the likely outcome.
Since her parents met at a heli skiing lodge and her daycare was the Panorama ski hill, Lustenberger was destined to be a rad skier. Her parents ran a ski shop called Lusti’s, which inevitably became her nickname.
It was natural for Lustenberger to become a driving force on the Canadian ski team, racing in the 2006 Torino Olympics.
The general feeling was if she had really wanted it, she could have been on the podium. Yet it wasn’t for her. Her true passion was in the backcountry and on days off Lustenberger would skin up a mountain instead. Being a charger she had some terrific crashes that culminated in five knee surgeries which eventually ended her Olympic lifestyle.
Lustenberger moved to Revelstoke in 2008 and quickly fell in with ski mountaineering. As Lustenberger worked to become a ski guide, her hype grew. She was quickly picked up by many amazing sponsors eventually landing on the prestigious North Face Team. She was nominated for “Best Line of the Year in 2018” by Powder magazine. Over the last few years she racked up some incredible descents. Here are some of her latest descents that express grit and determination.
The first was one of the last great unskied lines in Rogers Pass, a line that many of us dreamed of but never had the confidence to try. It’s an ethereal line of snow above the Connaught valley on Mt. Macdonald, sided by cliffs and eventually blocked by a 100 metre drop.
|On top of being a professional skier, Lustenberger is also an ACMG guide. (Photo by Bruno Long)
Last winter, the conditions were perfect. Andrew Mcnab and Lustenberger climbed up the south face of Macdonald, a feat in winter, and skied airy turns down to the rappels. I can only imagine the nerves of steel required, knowing any error could end in death. Regardless, they harnessed their fears and skied it in style.
This winter Lustenberger has been particularly driven, ticking off more first descents while I write this article.
Again, many of us have looked up at the hanging glacier stuck between Mt. Burnham and Mt. Grady in the Monashees and wondered what it would be like to place turns on that precipitous face. This January, Lustenberger attempted it with Brette Harrington. They snowmobiled 27 km, ski toured up a few hours to the base of the couloir and bootpacked below a hanging glacier. As they started to climb, the above towering ice creaked, groaned and cracked.
Obviously, this freaked them out and they aborted. Unable to shake the idea, they returned two days later. McNab also came along for the attempt. Undaunted this time by another ominous whummmmff that reverberated in the amphitheatre of the couloir, they pushed higher. Reaching the summit, they turned and arced powerful and controlled turns down the face to a long rappel. The snow from their turns tumbling off into the abyss.
“Skiing this line felt more comfortable than climbing it. It’s these moments and lines that you become so concentrated and calculated with each and every turn. I really enjoy this style of skiing even though it was very exposed. Climbing the serac ice was the most terrifying part of this objective,” said Lustenberger.
|Yee-haw! (Photo by Andrew Mcnab)
Last month Lustenberger returned to Invermere to chase a 20-year dream and ski Mt. Nelson. It’s an iconic mountain that floats above the school she attended, where as a kid she would doodle ski off the summit.
Lustenberger teamed up with Ian Macintosh, another Invermere local for this mega first descent. She went out the day before to set the track so that they could follow it in the dark. The next morning at 1:45 a.m., they climbed the south face under a starry sky, watching the sunrise as they laboured up the mountain. At 8:45 a.m. they stood on the summit. Anchoring off a rock they rappelled and started to ski.
I can only imagine their excitement. Their timing was perfect as the snow was supportive and stable.
“This was the most special ski day I’ve ever had. This was a childhood dream, the most purest kind of imagination,” she said.
After this first descent, Lustenberger called her anxious parents.
“I usually don’t leave my parents house in the middle of the night to ski something gnarly. They usually find out after the fact. I don’t think either moms slept much the night before. So as soon as we got off the face I texted my mom. She was already in the ski shop with my dad celebrating with schnapps.”
|Bootpacking. (Photo by Andrew Mcnab)
When asked about her thoughts on risk she said, “There is risk in everyday life. These lines are serious. I think a lot about them, go when I’m ready, when they are in condition, and everything is right for me. These experiences have given me so much that I couldn’t imagine another way of spending my time.”
As to why she continues to push the boundaries she said, “It’s a natural progression to continue challenging myself. Maybe it comes from ski racing, always trying to go faster and be stronger. “
Lustenberger continues adding to Revelstoke’s rich ski history with her historical first descents. Hopefully these three lines shed some powder off Lustenberger’s incredible story and when you see her give her a nod of respect for being at the forefront of skiing in North America.
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