Headlocked, Banff to Blue River
by Jeff Keenan
In the mid-2000s, before I started Dinosaurs Will Die and sometime between the Skids’ videos ending and Sandbox starting, Andrew Hardingham invited me to Banff to film with him and Mike Fikowskis for the cult classic video, Throw Your Panties. Filming with those guys was always a crapshoot, you never knew what you were getting yourself into. When I arrived in Banff riding powder was thrown out the window, the storm had missed us, the mountains were bare. Mike and I ripped around Bow Valley looking for street spots to hit, while Andrew was working on some new ‘skits.’ After a few days of driving around, drinking seemed like a more productive option. We set back to Hardingham’s place and got into a midday buzz to help him film a skit. As night fell, we were pretty turned up and about to head out on the town when Jonas Guinn popped by the house; his truck was packed up and he was heading to Blue River. After a few White Russians and some whiskey, we convinced Jonas to stay the night and (even better) bring us out to Blue River. Within seconds, phone calls were made and a plan was in motion to go ride at Mike Wiegele’s legendary heli op in Blue River.
As the night went on the thought of going to film and ride was getting me more stoked than drinking so I pulled the pin and left the bar to get ready for our next adventure. In a half-drunken haze, I walk up the stairs and hear a commotion outside the bar. To my shock, I see Jonas on the road with two RCMP officers in headlocks. He was the soberest of us, so what the fuck was going on?! My brain went into overdrive: What happened? How do I stop this? Jonas can’t go to the drunk-tank tonight of all nights. We had powder to ride tomorrow. I hesitate for a second, I see another cop running down the street, I need to think fast, I need to turn this situation around. Jonas is yelling at me, “Keenan! Help! I can’t let them go.”
My brain starts firing. How am I going to diffuse this situation? I grab Jonas’ elbow with one hand and a cop’s head with the other. Finally, Jonas loosens his vice-like grip and I get one cop free. Then the second wiggles free, too. Then suddenly I am weightless, flying through the air as the cop I saw running hits me with a full-force tackle. I hit the ground like a ton of bricks. Within moments we’re at the Banff station, the cop that I helped outta Jonas’ headlock vouches for me and they let me go. Jonas was nowhere to be seen. I head back to Hardingham’s and pass out for the night.
Waking up at 6 a.m., I look over and Jonas is sleeping on the couch right next to me. WTF! How is he here? What the hell happened? But if you know Jonas, you wouldn't be surprised by this. He manages to get out of wild situations with a mysterious charisma. I still don't know how he managed this. Stumbling out of bed I pour a cup of coffee as news comes in that a serious storm has hit Blue River. Details can wait. We pack up and sober up on the road.
Arriving in Blue River, we get some food and head to our heli briefing. The report was 40cm of new with an avalanche report reading a weak layer in low elevations due to surface hoar. There’s another problem, we do not have a guide. So, we are sitting in Blue River, two days of Heli lined up, clearing skies, 40cm of fresh and no guide. With the antics of the night before and the long drive, we were not in a state to solve our unfortunate situation; we decided to call it a night.
We wake up to a call from Weigele’s, they found us a guide. As we get to the helipad low and behold the legendary Mike Wiegele himself is waiting for us, wearing his signature white earflap hat, sunglasses, and all-red suit. We all board the heli and Mike wants to take us to ride trees deep in the valley. This area was a series of large spinelike features with trees scattered all around them. We were sure Mike brought us here because he wanted to get some turns and not waste time watching us film. The trees were perfectly spaced, and the powder was deep. Mike digs a hasty pit, looks at us and says to stay on top of the spines. Like magic the sky’s open up and Mike drops in, his fist turn sends a massive cloud trailing behind him, the second turn does the same, third turn the snow changes and the surface hoar under the 40cms activates and starts g away from him, every turn he makes is like a bomb going off. The slope in front of him is pure sliding away from Mike, he is skiing the top of the spine and all the snow is cracking and sloughing and perfect, the slope behind him is destroyed all the way down to the hoar layer. It’s now our turn to drop in, as I take my first turn I can tell this was going to be a different kind of ride. The powder was all but gone, the snow was difficult even to get an edge in. We all creep down keeping light on our feet, trying to hold an edge while slipping down. As we get closer to the bottom the snow stabilizes and we get a few decent turns in, popping out of the trees in the valley we are able dig into a few deeper slashes as we near Mike.
Mike looks at us, with snow caked to his glasses and hat, “Isn’t the snow great?” not knowing what the hell just happened. Jonas just looked at us and started to chuckle, we all laughed. After all, getting here was a helluva ride and we had just rode with one of the great pioneers of the BC backcountry.