Julie-Ann is one of the friendliest people you will ever meet. She is genuine, kind and a bad ass bitch. She pushes herself to be her best and if you meet her she will do the same for you. I’ve known Julie-Ann for almost a decade now; she comes from the east like the rest of us with a love for mountains, nature and anything that’s an adventure. This year I knew I wanted to do a story with Julie-Ann. She runs some of the best woman’s snowmobiling retreat clinics in the world, an endeavor she started 3 years ago called ‘She Shreds’. She is based out of Pemberton, BC but travels all over the province running clinics.
We start planning our private session together months in advance and this in itself is a total crapshoot. All you can do is pray that the weather and avalanche conditions will work in your favor when the date comes. Of course, the day before we are set to go out I get an email from Julie-Ann and my heart drops. I can see that it’s raining hard in the city but now Julie-Ann lets me know that it looks like freezing levels are rising, which means it’s possibly also raining in the alpine. She asks if I want to reschedule and I decline, I’m going to cross this off my bucket list even if I get soaking wet in the process.
Pemberton is approximately 150kms north of Vancouver and 30kms northeast of Whistler. I head out at 6am and yes, it’s raining but no one is going to wipe this smile off my face! The whole drive up I’m psyching myself up with super loud Beyoncé and coffee that I don’t normally drink, let’s all be honest here, I’m SO nervous. I’m worried that the conditions will be horrible, I’m afraid of the unpredictable backcountry, I’m nervous about driving a sled because I’ve never been on one before and I’m always worried my pictures are going to suck. Why did I get out of bed then? Because I know that without risk there is no reward and I know that when I’m afraid doing something it usually ends up being super awesome because I pushed myself out of that comfy box. When I finally arrive at Julie-Ann’s I am greeted by a warm hug and I know it’s all going to be ok.
Julie-Ann’s first goal is to keep you as safe as possible. Every day she educates herself through The Canadian Avalanche Association’s website www.avalanche.ca. Together we look at the avalanche ratings for the day and she explains to me in detail how this will affect our day and how we pick where we will be sledding. She decides that it’s best for us to stay out of the Alpine and instead play in the trees. With the overcast weather the Alpine would have had no visibility anyways. Once we get on-hill she will spend a good amount of time getting me familiar with the beacon that I am to wear by practicing mock searches. Another crucial tool for Julie-Ann is Google Earth, this allows her to show me where we will be heading and what we will be surrounded by, it’ also a tool she uses when she wants to find new terrain.
It’s go time. As I do not own my own sled (yet) we head out and pick one up from her friend Ray who also runs sledding tours by the name of Totally Awesome Adventures. Julie-Ann is one strong woman, just getting the sled up and set up on her truck bed is a feat of physical strength. I’m still afraid of the sled so I stand far back and just shoot pictures.
We head out to our destination through the picturesque country roads of Pemberton; it’s a beautiful place that I recommend you visit. We unload in a parking lot full of pick up trucks, the owners I assume are all cute snowboarder boys, I like this sport already, I wonder if any of them are on Tinder?
Again Julie-Ann is handling my sled, she backs it up off the truck bed, and soon I’m going to have to get on this thing. She goes over the working of the sled, checks all the fluids for me and explains how I am to ride it properly so I don’t hurt myself, she’s setting me up for success and I am thankful that she is being so detailed. She leaves me with these words of advice “don’t let the sled make you its bitch”.
I get on the sled and start her up, we haven’t even gotten out of the parking lot yet and I am beyond excited. We head up the trail and the sled is already making me its bitch. It had never occurred to me the tremendous amount of physical strength needed to go sledding. I just assumed it was like driving a car, turn the engine on and sit back and enjoy the ride! I was enjoying the ride but I was also thinking about my stance and keeping my core engaged and staying alert to any obstacles in my way, oh and not flopping around like a dead fish ridding a sled. It took us about 30 minutes to get to our destination and my arms are already feeling it from holding the throttle.
It’s going to be a hard day but I want every minute of pain because it is snowing and it is beautiful and it is peaceful. Sledding can take you to a lot of beautiful places that cannot be accessed any other way, this is what Julie-Ann loves and I can see why. Julie-Ann leads us to an open clearing where we will spend the day.
The snow is fresh and deep and no one else is around. We spend the whole afternoon practicing deep pow turns on the sled and it’s all magical until…you bury your sled…and you bury it again…and again.
Funny thing about fear is that when you let it get the best of you you end up paying. So me letting go of the throttle or second-guessing my decisions put us in a lot of situations. Julie-Ann never lost her patience with me, she never panicked and we always laughed. A few times it took us at least 30 minutes to dig out the sled and it is grueling work but you learn your lesson or at least try to.
In between all the digging out and the freaking out, I did get some good turns in and they were magical. It’s that moment when you finally understand what someone is explaining to you. Luckily Julie-Ann is also an accomplished photographer and was able to capture a few shots.
I look back on those and smile because I can remember how cool it felt and how much fun I had. This day was hands down one of the best days of this past winter and it’s in big part to Julie-Ann. She made me feel safe, made sure I had fun but also made me trust myself and made me work for the good stuff. I can’t say enough about this experience except that I hope you get to experience something like this one day too.