Riki and Talon Pascal grew up in the shadow of Ts’zil. Then they skied it.
A new film, Slides on the Mountain, depicts the two brothers from Lil’wat Nation’s quest to ski down Ts'zil, known by settlers as Mount Currie, with all screening proceeds going to the Indigenous Life Sport Academy.
Sixteen-year-old Riki said he and his brother, 18-year-old Talon, immediately grabbed the opportunity to be involved in the project. “We both kind of jumped at it. We didn’t really think it was going to happen,” he said. “We started training on Whistler Blackcomb. I realised I wasn’t going to be able to ski Mount Currie unless I did more training.”
Growing up, Riki often emulated his older brother. “I used to try everything he did until I was about nine or 10,” he said. “Then, I gave up.”
As kids, Talon said he and his brother were more focused on having fun on the slopes than the technical aspects of the sport.
“We were pretty good skiers,” he said. “Before this, we were never trying to practise technique or anything. It was always just to go up there and have fun. I knew that we definitely needed more training to do something like that. We needed to touch up our skills.”
When the boys finally reached the top of the summit, reality kicked in. “I was feeling completely fine until we got into the chute,” said Riki. “I put my skis on and looked down. I just thought, ‘Holy crap, that’s steep.’”
Meanwhile, Talon was just ready to get going, as evidenced by the huge smiles the filmmaking crew captured during his descent. “I was excited,” he said. “It was intimidating, but I wasn’t scared or anything like that. It was super exciting to be there.”
Talon knew he wanted to ski Ts’zil. at some point in his life, but didn’t know it would be so soon. “I’m not a person that gets all excited about something,” he said. “It felt like an accomplishment. People are always asking me if I would do it again. Yeah, I’d do it again if I had the chance.”
Sandy Ward of the Indigenous Life Sport Academy, who co-directed the film alongside Seth Gillis, has been involved with getting First Nations kids on the slopes since she was a kid herself, and supported the Pascal brothers after her partner, ski coach Morgan Fleury, recommended them for the ambitious project. “He was coaching these boys and felt they could do it,” she said. “I rang the boys’ dad, Ryan, and asked for his permission. From that it just snowballed.”
Ward was well aware of the dangers that come with this kind of adventure. “People come from all over to ski it, but there’s only a couple of days a year that it’s safe to do so,” she said. “You really need to time it. You need to be aware of the snowpack, the weather that we’ve had and everything to do with the valley.”
Ward had been nursing an injury, one that finally got the better of her at the very beginning of the group’s descent.
“I was by myself in the couloir on my toe edge, not able to move. It took every bit of strength in me to move to the side and get to the guide. It was sheer pain,” she recalled. “When you put your entire life into something, you want to be there. I saw the boys coming down, making turns and doing it so well. I knew my time had come to leave and they didn’t need me anymore.”
The mentor refused to go to the hospital when a helicopter brought her back down to the valley. Instead, she watched in awe as Riki and Talon skied down the mountain they grew up under.
Slides on the Mountain screens in-person on Nov. 14 at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver as part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, and is also available to watch online between noon on Nov. 14 and 11:59 p.m. Dec. 10. Learn more at vimff.org.
Roisin Cullen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Pique Newsmagazine