Hello there sunshine and welcome to another post! Today's adventure has something to do with cats skiing... or maybe skiing with cats... or maybe just using cats for skis... meow... Ok ok, in all seriousness... No cats were harmed in the writing of this post...
March 24th was the first of our novelty adventures. It was the day we were to go catskiing with Fernie Wilderness Adventures. But we weren't JUST going catskiing... that was the icing on the cake... We were going catskiing with Tony Schmiesing and Brian Sheckler, the two people who inspired our Heliskiing goal, and the first to accomplish said feat in the States. Let me back up a bit...On March 21st I could be found pacing back and forth in my bedroom, waiting... Waiting for Tony and his caregiver Jessica to arrive. Scott had gone to Calgary that day to pick them up. For the next week, Tony and Jessica were to stay with us. The whole thing seemed so surreal. A year earlier I watched his video on Facebook about becoming the first quadriplegic to heliski in Alaska. This man, this legend on powder skis, was at any moment going to arrive at my house and stay in my basement suite! By that point I had probably burned a hole in the floor from pacing so much. But at last, I heard voices outside and knew it must be them. I flew from my bedroom door to the elevator, but then… Have you ever had that feeling when meeting someone of note that you’ll have no idea what to say to them? Oh yes, that was me... I sat there, holding the door handle to my elevator, wondering what on earth I would say to the first quadriplegic to ever go heliskiing. It was this slight stupor that was interrupted by my mother asking me if I was going to move or something. I did, I went downstairs, I opened the elevator door, and I was met by one of the most genuine souls I have ever known. That’s really the only way to describe Tony. The awkwardness that exists when first meeting someone was nowhere to be found, because Tony immediately treated me as though we were old friends. I knew instantly that Tony would be a very dear friend to me, which of course remains true. Tony has the great talent of being instantly likeable, interesting, and just generally amazing company. He speaks as though he’s your family, always using words like “hey sister” or “big love”. Every morning I would hear him start playing music just as soon as he was ready, which he’d leave playing softly in the background. Tony is, though I’ve always found this strange to say, a very real individual. He’s also someone you can speak to about anything and know he’ll have a well crafted response. Tony’s caregiver Jess, was equally warm, friendly, overall just a beautiful soul. And then there’s Rhythm, Tony’s faithful and incredibly sassy guide dog. Rhythm, who is a little auburn golden retriever, only remembers she’s a working dog long enough to complete her tasks, but she does so with such a comical flare you’d almost think she was the owner and not the other way around. Tony and Rhythm are both vegetarians, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a dog get so excited about lettuce hearts... Upon arrival , Rhythm immediately decided being a Canadian suited her, and took advantage of that every chance she got. In summary, the three of them together won our family over within minutes of arriving.
Tony’s first day was spent chiefly in showing him Fernie, unfortunately not in it’s winter splendour, because it was pouring rain… Thanks Fernie, just when I wanted to make an impression! Yet we still managed to have a fun soaked day touring the town, buying chocolate and cheese, and then finishing at Fernie Brewing Company. We then hurried home to welcome our last guest, Brian Sheckler. Brian is Tony’s ski partner in crime, whose presence impacted the room immediately, even if he was only staying for a day and a half. Brian greeted me with a bear hug, which automatically made me like him. Most people hug me like I’m a china doll ready to break if they sneeze in my direction. Brian, like our other guests, became family immediately and added a wonderful new dynamic to our group. With Brian’s arrival, the dream team was completed. What were we missing? Snow….
Unfortunately because of the rain, Tony’s first day was also spent wondering if catskiing would actually happen. The rain was making backcountry conditions variable, which meant there was quite a bit of uncertainty from Fernie Wilderness Adventures about our ski day. We managed to make it through the day with much laughter and smiles, and as we all sat down together in the afternoon, we got the call… We all held our breath as Scott answered his phone… But much to our relief, it began to snow at FWA, making our adventure the next day a possibility.
I barely slept that night, firstly anticipating the events of the next day, but mostly in imagining what a cat would look like. I’ve only seen them in animal form… For some reason, I pictured a big fur covered vehicle with skis and cat ears… I quite literally bounced into the basement the next morning yelling, “WE’RE GOING CATSKIING!!!” I was met with laughter and smiles from our group, who tried to be as enthusiastic as me, but let’s face it… My enthusiasm is as “thpecial” as I am… Poor Scott! He was stressed and preoccupied with gathering my gear together, and instead of being helpful, I just sat there and screamed CATSKIING in his ear… He puts up with so much when I decide to be immature… As we got ready to depart, wheels and ski boots alike, the sky gifted us with a show of pink and crimson. Two wheelchairs, ski gear, and a Sir Scott all piled into our van, affectionately named George, and we set off for our glorious adventure.
Our arrival at the base of Fernie Wilderness Adventures began with a revelation. Cats look NOTHING like what I had imagined! Though considering my imagination, I shouldn’t have been surprised… The cat was square looking, yellow, and to my disappointment, didn’t have ears… We were met by our guides, Brian and Brian… Yes, added together, we had three Brians in our group… not confusing at all… We were also met by Cindy and Kim, who made the whole adventure possible. Ski gear was unloaded, outwear unpacked, and safety briefings completed. I'll summarize the safety talk to save time. “Listen to the guides and don’t be an idiot, or you’re a dead idiot”. Then came loading Tony and I in our trusty steeds. My trust exercise began immediately, as my seat is detachable and needed to be lifted by two people into the cat. The cat is quite high, and as I was being lifted in, I noticed my foot was stuck on the step. Well, before I had a chance to say anything, I was lifted up by my companions, and with that came a dreadful…. POP! Followed by excruciating pain in my knee… I bit my lip for a few seconds, faked a grin, and tried to keep myself from panicking. It was probably just hyperextension I said to myself, nothing to worry about. The pain did not settle down, but I managed to calm myself, and resumed being completely and ridiculously excited. WE’RE GOING CATSKIING was my statement every five minutes until we reached the top of the mountain. It took quite a long time to reach the top, but we didn’t mind. We were too busy laughing, smiling, enduring Kyle Hamilton’s punny jokes. Finally we reached our destination, unloaded from Kitty Kitty Bang Bang as I called it, and sat looking at Fernie Alpine Resort which was situated across from us.
Then came the skiing…. I had never experienced backcountry skiing before then, and let me just say, while it is wildly unpredictable, it’s one of the most incredible feelings. Knowing that you’re the only one on the mountain, the line you choose won’t be touched by anyone else, it makes you feel like you literally are king of the mountain. Our first run completed with the ridiculous grin one has when skiing powder, we loaded into the cat for another run. This time we were deposited by a run called Little Quarry. This run would become Tony’s and my nemesis, though for different reasons. I sat at the top of the run thinking that Scott had finally lost all his marbles. The steepest run I would ever ski, it glared at me in all its intimidating glory. It almost teased me, knowing that I was shivering on the inside. I watched Tony and Brian drop in first, skiing this monster with all the gracefulness of a ballet dancer. As they reached the bottom, a sinking feeling took hold of my chest. It was my turn… I looked at Scott, mumbled that I didn’t want to do this, which he conveniently didn’t hear. Before I knew it, I found myself screaming down Little Quarry, who I’m sure was laughing at me, its newest victim. We reached the bottom, and I stared back up at it, promising that one day I would return and conquer it. However, Little Quarry took a lot of energy from me, so I opted to stay in the cat for the next round. I waited patiently with one of our group members, Debbie, who was also an instructor for the adaptive skiing program. After chatting and laughing for a while, we both began wondering why it was taking so long for the group to return. Finally our ski guide returned, though he was bearing bad news. His short comment was that Tony had a little accident but was completely fine. “Little accident” was the understatement of the year… Little Quarry had claimed yet another victim, for Tony had a horrific crash, which had visibly shaken up the whole group. A few weeks later, we discovered that Tony had actually broken his leg in this accident, though we didn’t know it at the time. For the next round, Tony decided to stay in the cat and warm up. It was the run that I switched instructors and had a chance to ski with Brian, which was thrilling! Though it seemed Little Quarry put a curse on the group, because he and I went crashing into a tree well, and Kyle fell while filming, giving himself whiplash. Our last run reunited the whole group, which was filled with victorious catskiing hoots and hollers. It was with that that we ended our day, and began the long trek back to the base. The whole ride down was spent reminiscing our adventures, with many tears shed over the wonderful memories gained. My tears were in euphoria, but mostly because by that point I could barely move my knee. I finally worked up the courage to tell Scott, who was properly angry with me for not saying something sooner. We later discovered that I had earned my first real ski injury, because I tore the MCL in my knee… Regardless of our various injuries, the group that sat eating delicious soup and sipping warm drinks at the base was a happy one. We had all been united by an incredible experience, and would share those memories for eternity. We continued the party at home with pizza and far too much laughter, if that’s possible, which brought a close to a beautiful day.
The next morning, we said a tearful goodbye to Brian, who had to get back home. Tony was feeling badly from his accident, though at the time we didn’t know why, and spent most of the day resting. He and I chatted for a great length of time, which only reassured me of our growing friendship. We then cleaned ourselves up and when out for Disability Awareness Night, which was a fabulous night to raise funds for project heli. Tony was treated as he should have been, a celebrity amongst us Fernieites, and the whole evening was a huge success.
I soaked up my last few days with Tony, Jess, and Rhythm as much as I could, dreading the day of their departure. I couldn’t fathom not hearing Tony’s music playing downstairs every morning, and hearing his “hey sister” as I emerged from the elevator. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. After a week of beautiful memories, it was time to say goodbye. I think it goes without saying that many tears were shed in the process, but the gentle assurance was present that these new friendships would last a lifetime. And so, our honorary Canadians left for home, thus ending our spectacular catskiing adventure.