Interview by Will Rizzo | Photographs by Eric Berger
In the 1990s, Eric Pehota and his ski partner, the late Trevor Petersen, skied dozens of first descents in British Columbia and Alaska. Their style and strength redefined North American ski mountaineering. These days, Pehota’s teenage boys have their own ski careers. His river guide service, Whistler Jet Boating, funds his penchant for off-season surfing in Mexico, racing rally cars (he won his class for western Canada), and skiing British Columbia’s backcountry. Mountain caught up with Pehota to talk self-sufficiency and life after first descents.
Dalton is 16 and raced at the Canadian Nationals. Logan is 18 and did his first ski film in Alaska last spring. They’re a product of their environment. They had no choice. We’d head to the mountains, they’d come with us. There were no babysitters. If it was a powder day, we’d leave.
Of course I have advice for them. I tell them that there’s a very small opportunity for those perfect, killer lines. When it’s on—the light and snow are good—it’s on. Otherwise, take it all in and be calculated. Talk to any pro athlete, they’ll tell you the same thing.
Back in the day, it was drink beer, have a good time, and keep yourself alive. We were serious about the lines we skied. But now with all the helicopters, it’s Hollywood, man.
New Year’s Day, Dalton, Logan, and I, along with my good friend Johnny “Foon” Chilton, skied the north-facing couloir on Mount Currie. I can see it from my house. It’s 2,300 meters. We landed the helicopter lower down on the ridge and had to climb and ski tour up for a couple hours to the entrance of the couloir. The chute was 55 or 60 degrees, a no fall zone.
I went first and tried to bust a bit of a trail. I remember skiing down to the next safe zone and tucking underneath a rock and then watching my two kids come in. My heart was in my throat, for sure. If you miss there, it’s over. It goes down for another 700 meters and then doglegs. But I know they’re pretty solid. I was more worried about myself.
We’ve been here since 1996. Two acres in Pemberton, right on the river. It was raw land. We cleared it and lived in a trailer for the first years. Then we bought a sawmill and built the house.
We did everything on our own. Bought a truckload of timber from the lower Lillooet River and milled everything from the cabinets to the trim and doors. It’s all post and beam and there’s not a metal fastener in the entire place. The whole structure has wooden pegs, dovetail, and mortise and tenon joints. I’d never do it again. It was 10 years before we moved in.
We don’t buy a lot of meat. We had turkey from our coop tonight. We harvested four deer last season. We’ve got elk in the freezer and some sockeye salmon. I’d say 70 or 80 percent of our food comes from the woods and the garden.
The less money I can spend paying other people, the more money I have to play.
We only have wood heat. The biggest stress of the year is getting the firewood in.
I’ve never had a bank loan in my life. I’ve never owed anyone a dime. Never want to either. I just want money underneath my mattress. I sleep good at night.
I still tour and ski some sketchy lines. I was around a big avalanche last spring. Fortunately no one died. Thank god I wasn’t involved in it. It’s a numbers game. Sooner or later, if you spend enough time in the mountains, there will be an accident. It’s the inherent risk of the sport.
I’m going to be an empty nester next year. I’ll see what life brings. Work hard for three months and play the other nine.
This article appeared in the Early Winter 2013 issue.