The Snow Report
In the late 1980s and early '90s, Eric Pehota, 48, along with his partner, the late Trevor Petersen, pushed open the gates of big-mountain skiing in North America. They picked off first ski descents up and down British Columbia’s Coast Range—Mt. Fitzsimmons, Dalton Dome, Mt. Currie, Mt. Tantalus, Mt. Waddington, to name just a few—and then pushed into Alaska, where Pehota laid first tracks down Meteorite and the southwest face of Pontoon Peak. Petersen died in an avalanche in 1996, but Pehota went on to claim over 40 first descents. With their pioneering first descents and ski mountaineering, both men notched their place in skiing history’s books.
Born in the logging town of Mackenzie, British Columbia, Pehota first clicked into skis at the young age of three. He grew up skiing the hills around his home and at nearby Azu Ski Village—now Powder King—with his three siblings. He slapped on his first pair of skins at age 10, and began exploring the backcountry—small things at first, like the water tower run near his home. In the early '80s, he met Petersen at Apex Alpine and a year later they found themselves in Whistler during the 1983-84 season, where they began their siege on Canada’s peaks.
These days, Pehota lives in Pemberton, B.C., with his wife and two sons, Logan and Dalton, named after peaks Pehota claimed, and both accomplished skiers. Eric skis 80 days a year, hunts elk and deer to stock up his freezers for the winter, and races rally cars. In the summer, he owns and operates Whistler Jetboating, which takes clients up B.C.’s Green River in a custom whitewater jetboat running Grade III and IV whitewater. When it’s not snowing, he’s playing hockey and drinking beer, waiting for it to snow. And when it does snow, you’ll often find him ripping around Whistler with his sons.
Logan, 17, has taken on his father’s pioneering spirit and is making his own mark on skiing, pushing the limits of what’s possible in the sport by bringing park tricks into the backcountry. Logan won the 2012 Wrangle the Chute competition at Kicking Horse and placed sixth in last season’s Red Bull Cold Rush in Silverton, Colorado. He was also featured in this year’s Matchstick Productions’ Superheroes of Stoke and has his eye on a spot on the Canadian Freestyle team for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
From their home in Pemberton, after a night spent skinning a deer, the Pehotas discuss skiing first descents, the importance of being calculated, and how to stay alive in a sport full of risk.
So it seems like you guys live off the land. What’s that about?
I don’t know if it’s to be self-sustained, but more to have the satisfaction of knowing what you’re eating, and growing your own food. The whole process is pretty rewarding in itself. You spend a ton of time in the woods. You become aware of your surroundings. You’re seeing other wildlife—bears, cougars, and other animals and birds—and your senses are opened up. It’s also a good excuse to go for a hike and get in shape for skiing.
How did you start skiing?
For Christmas one year, my parents bought a bunch of skis and they were under the couch. We got up and looked under the tree and there were no presents. Then we found the skis. We had no lifts in those days, so we started hiking around. My earliest memory of skiing is that my boots were way too big. And instead of my binding releasing and coming off, the whole boot came off my foot, which was attached to the ski and slid down the mountain.
How did you first get into ski mountaineering?
I got my first little taste of it when I was young, probably around 10. I grew up in northern B.C. near a place that was then called Azu Ski Village. Back then, most of your skiers were of European descent. It was still fairly new to North America. We had some Austrian friends there and they had skins and touring bindings way back in the day, in the early ‘70s. It was a pair of Marker bindings and skins. You didn’t have glue on your skins then. You had straps, so you strapped them to your skis. And the bindings only had about three inches of lift, so ascending slopes was very tough. But for getting around alpine bowls and what not, it was pretty good.