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Words by Mark Abma Although a geodesic dome has a futuristic look, similar to that of a space station on Mars, it...
If you’re looking for concrete evidence that ex-racers make the best big mountain skiers, then consider Christina Lustenberger as Exhibit A. Raised in Invermere, B.C., and now residing in Revelstoke, “Lusti” is a former speed demon, having put in a fast-and-furious stint on the National Team, during which she represented Canada at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. But following a spin around the five rings, the pull of big mountains proved too strong, prompting her to trade spandex and gates for crampons and ice axes. Now a certified ski guide and professional ski mountaineer, Lusti can be found making her mark down mountains that most are scared to look at, including a solo first descent of Adamant Mountain in the Selkirks in 2012, and the bagging of nearby Black Friar Northwest Couloir last season. Through it all, Lustenberger has remained as sharp as her edges, with an unquenchable thirst to learn from her surroundings, and a hunger to feed that knowledge to those fortunate enough to high-five her on the hill. —Jeff Schmuck
Looky Lusti. Photo by Bruno Long
I grew up at Panorama Mountain Resort. My parents ran the ski shop there, so my sister and I would spend every weekend of the season either in ski lessons or skiing around with our parents. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my childhood; every kid should grow up on a ski hill. My parents met at a CMH heli lodge around 40 years ago. They live for skiing and the mountains, surrounding themselves with great friends and a wonderful community in Invermere. It’s been a dream of mine to follow in their footsteps.
After five ACL surgeries, I had had enough of injuring myself. All I wanted to do was ski and explore the mountains. I wanted to live in a small ski town with big mountains and lots of snow. I had no interest in moving to Whistler, so Revelstoke seemed like the perfect alternative. It also presented an “A-Team” of ski partners, which became crucial to my career as a skier. I learned so much from my friends and the community of Revelstoke about trust and respect, and I’m lucky to have such a high calibre of mountain people around me in this town.
Becoming a ski guide has allowed me to understand the mountains much better. The training I got while going through the ACMG ski program was critical to being able to safely ski in the places I do. Working both as a professional skier and a ski guide is a balancing act, for sure. I think balancing both jobs is the perfect combination for me, because it allows me to push myself as a skier while exploring new areas. Guiding also challenges me in other ways: it’s taught me to slow down and perfect some of my skills, care for people in a sometimes hostile environment, and be patient—it has helped with that. Guiding is very humbling, and I like that about the job.
Skiing outside the gates at Snowfall Lodge, B.C. Photo by Fredrik Marmsater
By last spring, this line had been floating around in my mind for six years. It’s somewhat remote and obscure and you can’t even really see it from either the Fairy Meadow Hut or the Great Cairn Hut. It’s in the Selkirks North guide book as a steep mixed-climbing route. It had never been skied before, and is described as a 450-metre, 50-to-60-degree ice climb in the summer that tops out at 3,200 metres. Considering the spring we had, I suspected it might be holding snow. Tom Grant and Johanna Stålnacke, two Black Crows teammates, came over from Chamonix and, like most people from Chamonix, they were motivated to go steep skiing.
We managed to fly onto the Adamant Glacier, where we set up camp for the next week. We scoped the line with a drone a few days before attempting it, and after a technical approach, there it was, slivered between the two Black Friar peaks and nestled tightly alongside the beautiful Northern Selkirks granite. The snow in the line felt good to climb, and we moved efficiently. Three quarters of the way up, we reached a 60-degree ice bulge and went from bootpacking to swinging both ice tools and free climbing the 15 to 20 metres of ice. In my head, I convinced myself I could ski back over this without using a rope. Dropping in with a few ski cuts, I watched my slough and felt the snow carefully. I arrived at the ice and managed to scratch my way over that section. From here, I could let it go and have fun with the rest of the line. It wasn’t easy on the way up or the way down, and I wasn’t relieved until I reached the bottom, but it challenged me both as a skier and a climber. It was fun and dynamic, and it’s rewarding to be pushed and feel the purpose of your training.
Lusti rails the first-ever descent of Black Friar. Photo by Fredrik Marmsater
I think working hard to be as strong as I can in the mountains has been critical to the way I’m treated. I have always wanted to be part of the process—decision making, trail breaking, all of it. I want to be as strong as I can for my partners, and I think this way you gain respect as a person in the mountains. My family and community have been my biggest mentors. And as a self-propelled skier, I also feel very lucky to work with the companies I do.
I think more and more about staying close to home and skiing locally. We are lucky in B.C. as I truly think we have the best skiing in the world. Our mountains are huge and I still have so much to explore.
Picture-perfect form in Rogers Pass, B.C. Photo by Bruno Long