Ski to Surf (VIDEO)
by Joseph Schwartz on Jan 28, 2022
Dual sport endeavors require logistical juggling honed from years of adventure pursuits. The gear is one thing. Making sure everything is in order, and dialed for each activity. One forgotten element could spell the end of the dual sport attempt. Schedule management is a whole other ball of wax. Single and fancy-free? Dual sport days are a little more of a breeze. Hell, make it a quadruple sport doozy. Add a full-time job, family, or other commitments of that nature, and dual-sport schedule juggling requires ninja-level precision. If one’s own schedule wasn’t enough, there’s the need to match up your adventure buddy’s timetables too. Once that’s all sorted, there’s also Mother Nature’s calendar to attend to. Snow forecasts, tides, river levels, the weather; all conspiring against the successful undertaking of a dual sport day.
In my humble opinion, it’s not good enough just to merely “do” a dual sport day. A few groomer runs and a quick lap on the local trails? That’s not dual sporting worth claiming about. Both sports should be done in peak conditions, in the best form possible. That’s not to say it has to be AK spines straight to Pipeline barrels, but considering your local area, what would make for a peak dual sport day? Strive for that, in the best conditions possible.
In my home zone of Vancouver Island, for me the dual sport epoch comes once a year, in the early months of the winter. It’s when the early season storms stack up off the Pacific and start pounding the Coast with a ferocity different from the rest of the year. A defined snow line sets in, and the Island Alps are coated in deep Coastal pow, setting us up for the months ahead. While these storms bring precipitation in copious amounts, they also bring wind. Lots of wind. As a low-pressure system cycles off the West Coast of Vancouver Island, wind currents get spun off to the south, and then sucked up north between the Mainland and the East Coast of the Island, providing consistent SE storm winds. The fetch is long and unbroken, save for a few islands, so these South Easters’ kick up solid wind swell. Combine this wind swell with some select river mouths and small rocky points up the Coast, and for a few brief, glorious hours us East Coast Island dwellers can surf a variety of right-hand point breaks within minutes of home.
Living close to sea level means freezing levels can be a fickle mistress. One or two degrees can make or break a powder day. Sometimes a night of fat flakes turns to mush before the lifts start spinning, or the winds that bring us the swell, also taketh away any fresh pow, turning ridgetops to hard slab and virtually unskiable sastrugi. That said, there are days when it all comes together. The snow falls fast and hard in the hills, while gale force winds rip through the Strait. Rain pelts my bedroom window all night, and the neighbours wind chimes foretell stronger gusts out on the water. There’s a chill in the air though, hinting at a low snowline, and powder in the mountains. Skis are loaded up, wetsuit and surfboard stashed in the truck. The drive to the mountain is hectic, slaloming around two-wheel drive cars spinning helplessly in the ice that invariably coats the road at the transition zone from rain to snow. As I drive higher, the snowbanks loom, trees sag under the weight of freshly fallen pow. From a rainy valley to a winter wonderland in a matter of minutes.
The “which lift will open first'' guessing game goes in my favour, and I’m in the first wave off the top, bouncing down untouched alleyways while the chairlift above lights up with hoots and hollers. A couple more runs like this, then the skins come out for a sneaky slack lap and down to the truck. Engine on, heater on high, I crush a sandwich and check the swell levels. High. Time to go surf. Thirty minutes later, the truck still coated in snow, I pulled up next to my favourite break. It’s reliable when the winds are mid-stride, but best during the magic hours when the winds calm down and the remnant swell holds on for a couple hours. There are a few other die-hards out in the water, plus a couple curious sea lions that hang out here regularly. There’s nothing quite like surfing next to 600-pound mammals with razor sharp teeth.
I struggle on the wetsuit, booties, gloves and hood, chuckling to myself as I push my ski gear to the corner of the truck, and pull out my surfboard. The wind continues to die down, leaving behind glassy waves. The storm is finally abating, and a setting sun peaks out behind the angry clouds that provided me with the powder morning, and the waves we’re enjoying now. It’s chest high wind swell, no Indonesian point break, but for this side of our Island, this is as good as it gets. Trading off waves with the others, we surf until the wind swell fully dissipates, and we’re left bobbing in the relatively calm water, the sky going dark. Struggling out of my wetsuit, I add it to the pile of soaking ski gear in the truck, looking forward to getting home to a hot shower, cold beer, and dry clothes. Another Island-style dual sport day in the bag.