TALES FROM THE SEYMOUR BACKCOUNTRY

Date: January 24, 2018 Author: Jesse Fox Categories: features
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In the east corner of North Vancouver, we have little Mount Seymour, weighing in with three chairlifts and just 330 metres of vertical drop. On paper, it doesn’t sound like much. It wouldn't have a fighting chance against the trail map of a corporate-merger resort conglomerate. Despite its humble statistics, Seymour has punched above its weight for decades, becoming one of the most recognized hills in Canadian snowboarding.

It all started with the Wood family. They acquired the resort operations in 1984, the same time snowboarding was coming into its own. The majority of the resorts across North America didn’t want any part of snowboarding, let alone snowboarders. Most were reluctant or straight up refusing to adopt the trend. These initial hesitations resorts had in the late ’80s towards the initial wave of snowboarding can still be felt at some resorts today. Eddie Wood and the Wood family had a completely different approach. They embraced snowboarding; they welcomed innovation and acceptance.

This attitude was the turning point for snowboarding in Vancouver. You invite someone in, they’ll feel welcome. You give someone a key, they’ll call the place their own. Just like that, snowboarding had a home. The mountain is popular amongst snowboarders because it resembles snowboarding. Built on a healthy Vancouver skate scene, riding at Seymour felt natural since the terrain accentuated snowboarding’s surf and skate roots. The landscape rolls and turns like the concrete bowls at the base of the mountains. The sides of its runs jack up into the treeline like waves. It all made sense.

The backcountry is snowboarding’s original home. At one point, hiking and building jumps was all there was. So, exploring the peaks that extended past the boundary at the top of Brocton lift was an obvious step. Fortunately, it’s unlike any backcountry on the North Shore of Vancouver. The real dangers that exist when exploring out of bounds aren’t as drastic on the top of Seymour. It's a straight line up and back down to the resort. The peaks ascend the rolling terrain, and epic snowfalls form perfect natural gaps and landings. These spaces went untouched until Devun Walsh, Kevin Sansalone and Scott Serfas went back and built the first takeoffs in the mid ’90s. The rest is history. The world’s most legendary names in snowboarding have had sessions there, producing some of the most iconic photos and videos our world has seen. Countless cover shots and clips in the classic Whisky, Shorty's, Mack Dawg and Wildcats videos still stack views today. Eventually, everyone needed bigger and better, and snowmobiles and the greater Whistler valley took control of the scene.    

Boarders continue to swarm Seymour today for the same reasons they first did: the terrain, the accessibility, and because of its welcoming vibe. Seymour remains independently owned and operated—there’s no for sale sign. No need for change. Snowboarding constantly thrives for the same independence. It always has, because it’s at its best when it’s ours. Twenty years later, we play 'Remember when...' with a few who were there in the beginning. As you’ll see, jumping into this view will never get old. –Jesse Fox

 

Devun Walsh - 2017 [o] Andy Wright


EVAN CHANDLER-SOANES

First time I went back there was probably 1998-99, that snow year. That was the first year I started really going back there with guys. I was filming and I went with Jeff Keenan and Brennan Keenan, who were on their way to becoming the Seymour Kids. I remember hiking, not even to the top, and feeling like we were so far back, just a few minutes from the lift.

Usually we’ll go back and have places in mind to build something, but when you get there, everything changes so much that we’ll veer from the plan and end up just doing something random. That's the cool thing about Seymour. It's not like sledding, where you go to your one jump. You’ll have one idea but then something else pops up from a slight change in the wind, or a change in snow. It changes all the time. It's weird because we've been going there for so long, but you can still find hidden stuff, little pockets. There’re so many options.

I've met a lot of foreign people who come up, and they're surprised at how small Seymour actually is. When people see it in photos and videos, it’s deceiving because it looks like a big vast area, but it’s not.

I think the Seymour backcountry died down probably the mid 2000s because people just wanted to see big, perfect, powder jumps, which was a big thing  for riders and photographers. At the same time, you also had to scrape every stair off when you were hitting rails. Now it's back to more of a fun vibe where  you can hit slightly smaller stuff, banking tricks, showcasing style and having fun. People are more into that now.

Kevin Sansalone - 1997 [o] Scott Serfas

“I would say this is 1997-98. We were the only snowboards that had gone back there to build jumps and shoot something. I remember shooting from down below and Devun’s like, ‘Hey! You should come take a look at it from up here." - Scott Serfas 

KEVIN SANSALONE

When Eddie Wood took over Seymour, it was the complete opposite of what the other resorts were doing. Seymour welcomed snowboarding with open arms. At Cypress Mountain in Vancouver, you had to take a test to see if you could get off the chairlift. Grouse Mountain was late to allow snowboarding but Seymour, from Day 1, was totally on board when Eddie took over. Vancouver had a pretty strong skate scene early on, which I think helped.

The thing was, to go in the backcountry of Seymour, we’d hike straight off the Brockton chair up. The whole time hiking, you could look over your shoulder and see the parking lot. So for being 13, 14-years-old when we started doing it, it was so safe. Even at night when it started getting dark, you had the parking lot lights. You knew where you were going all the time. Cypress was gnarly in comparison. People still die or get lost there all the time. Seymour was really a safe feeling, we'd see the patrollers standing out there on their time off or before work and they were always like, “You guys doing good?” “Yeah, we got beacons, we're good." “Okay cool, have fun… that's a cool jump.” That's a good feeling when you're hiking.

I was 16 when I went to Bear Mountain in California. First snowboard park I ever saw. Oh my god, a run dedicated to snowboarding, like a snowboard park. I came back to Seymour, went into Eddie's office and was like, “Dude, they have this thing, it’s called a snowboard park. It's a whole run dedicated to snowboarders, and they got these rails and metal shit and he says, “Let's do it!”

It was the first park in Canada, I'm pretty sure. It would have been the winter of 1992 or 1993 or something. Because of an open door policy from the beginning, it has carried on through all the generations, making it so great for snowboarders.

The easy access to quality jumps at Seymour is insane. I don't think there’s anywhere else. Besides maybe Donner Pass in California, what else? The Mt.Baker road gap, I guess. The sessions were more relaxed there, for sure. It was really relaxed. No rushing, because no one was coming. I remember that. You could build it and come the next day or build it, hit it a couple times and there was no urgency. That was a neat thing. Nobody else was gonna come and ruin it.

"They have this thing, it’s called a snowboard park. It's a whole run dedicated to snowboarders, and they got these rails and metal shit and he says, ‘Let's do it!’” —Kevin Sansalone

DAVE LEE GAP – The legendary pro-boarder, now owner-operator of Signal Snowboards, came to Seymour with Mack Dawg in the ’90s and made this jump his own. It blew in with a massive gap. Terribly short landing, and a vicious uphill wall if you came up short.

Devun Walsh - 1997 [o] Scott Serfas

“That Indy Devun did was probably the biggest air ever done on the mountain.” —Evan Chandler-Soanes

“Took me like 20 tries to straight air it. That day, Dave Lee did a Backside 360, then a Backside 720. That was pretty legendary.” —Devun Walsh

DEVUN WALSH

I guess we were trying to look for bigger, better jumps that people wouldn’t bug us on. When we built jumps on the mountain, people would always come over and want to hit your jump and then the landing would get wrecked. So we started to branch out, trying to find spots where no one would be. I mean, one day we went up there shooting and it was fogged in. We ended up building a snow cave and drinking. We used to hike all the way from the parking lot to take GT Snowracers up and build jumps up there for them. You know, we went there because we didn't want people bugging us.

I guess we did use snowmobiles a little bit at the time. It was so much easier at Seymour and it allowed us to get home, you know, in time to get to the bar and whatnot. We could have late mornings so that was a bonus. Definitely a lot more slack back then.

Word just traveled, and the first year we were filming for Mack Dawg, the filmer would rip up here from Portland and he’d bring Joey McGuire, Dave Lee, Peter Line—it was pretty cool, that’s how it got really recognized.

It's just condensed in one little area. It's so easy to get around. There are so many rolly, turny features that make it so cool. And with the amount of snow we get, between five and 10 metres of snow, it's always changing the terrain.

Seymour is still really cool with snowboarding, it’s pretty amazing. The park staff will go in and build the sidehits with the cat that we used to build by hand, just to make it more fun. And a lot of the new-school kids that are around Seymour today go up and build a bunch of the old jumps and they have found new jumps and cliffs. Al Stathis, Danny Koriath, ECS and I had a session back there. A lot of them seem to know the tales of what’s gone down, so that's pretty cool.

It's also cool to see kids getting after it because there’s so much untapped potential out there. Kids are so freaking needy these days, wanting perfect parks, when there's so much around them, they could just step off the side of the run and build something. Make it happen. It's kinda cool to actually see some people taking some incentive and actually doing it, you know? I mean, I still go shovel side hits out down the run after it snows. It's so much fun that way. Actual snowboarding compared to heading down stopping, keep stopping, waiting for someone, waiting for the next guy to go, then hitting the next jump… I hate that shit.

Backside 360, Dave Lee Gap - 2017 [o] Evan Chandler-Soanes

SCOTT SERFAS

Back then it was a mission to go out sledding, and Seymour was ride a chairlift and then take a couple steps. There was no stress at all. It was all for fun. We would go out on crappy days and just drink and build booters in the clouds, in the rain even, just dorking around and snowboarding.

Then Devun became more well known, and that brought Peter Line and Mack Dawg to come up there with Dave Lee and Joey McGuire. I remember hearing stories of people who were going to move to Whistler, but they moved to the North Shore to ride Seymour instead. They were seeing all these jumps, "That looks awesome, let’s go there.” Imagine showing up at Seymour for the first time going, "Well, where is everything?" Tiny little hill, little two-seater lifts, then you’re hiking. Seymour was always this rope-tow learn-to-ski kind of place and then all of a sudden it was the place to snowboard. Eric Burger came down from Whistler to shoot here. He was a backcountry Whistlerite know for shooting heli-ski stuff. All of a sudden, wait a sec, you're coming to Mount Seymour to shoot? What's going on here? They must have seen an increase in ticket sales during those years.

 

Jorli Ricker - 1997 [o] Scott Serfas

The Seymour Quarter pipe has seen some action. Before the now infamous ECS Invitational contests, there was local ripper and filmmaker, Jorli Ricker. He put in work and stacked more covers than any other Seymour local.

“Jorli was the king of building everything back there. He'd go build that quarter pipe for five days by himself. Yeah, he was nuts, but it was good. It was crazy, he got three or four covers in the same month one year.” —Kevin Sansalone

 

STANDOUTS

“Spencer Forbes. He was always doing stuff way bigger and crazier at the time. More flips, more height, and full-out wild. Of course, the Keenans were always good, two guys that could find anything up there and make it work.—Evan Chandler-Soanes 

“Filming with the Whiskey dudes was pretty amazing. Filming with Kearns and Johnson back there getting crazy. Then the Mack Dawg days, too, with Devun and having Jamie Lynn and Dave Lee up there was pretty special stuff for sure.” —Kevin Sansalone

“When Dionne Delesalle got the photo for the cover of Blunt Magazine on a gap up there. That day we had gone up to film, it was in-and-out weather-wise, so we threw in the towel. We were drinking pitchers at the bar, all of a sudden it started to clear. We were a couple of pictures deep. We hiked up, we jumped the gap and we were half cut getting covers. We all got photos out of it. It was pretty awesome. Made it home just after sunset and got the shot. Pretty good day.” —Devun Walsh

Rob “Sluggo” Boyce [o] Scott Serfas

Peter Line, Switch Backside 360 - 1997 [o] Scott Serfas

Frontside 360 [o] Evan Chandler-Soans

“Devun took me to Seymour back in the day and I instantly fell in love with it. It has the hometown small resort vibe. I’m lucky to have been able to hit some of these jumps with so much history in snowboarding. Seymour is a special place, for sure.” —Iikka Backstrom