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Feeling Badass at Icefall Lodge, with TREW Athlete Emma Giebler

By Jess Joyner on


TREW Athlete Emma Giebler set out for an eight-day ski trip outside of Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies this spring for a hut-to-hut traverse through Icefall BC. Fueled by spaghetti and ABBA tunes, the group traveled through glaciated terrain, hit five summits along the way, and found freedom in the mountains steadfast indifference.

Here's What Emma Had To Say....

I plunged down from a high alpine glacier through whiteout conditions, breakable crust, and a mind-numbing bushwhack to finish off a challenging week in remote British Columbia somewhere along the outskirts of Banff National Park. Skis were either on my feet or strapped to my back along with the supplies needed for eight days on a glacier. Four years ago I went on this same advanced ski mountaineering course trip, and my group of fellow skiers was presented with a stable snowpack and enough pow for everyone to feast upon. This time, things were quite different. The Canadian Rockies experienced a below average year for snowfall, and compounded with a rapid warming event that lasted beyond our time on the glacier, we never truly encountered ideal conditions with the exception of some lucky corn skiing.



 The weather hardly allowed for freezing temperatures any of those nights, and as a result, avalanches were numerous and cascading down around us at all odd hours of the day, even before sunrise when we'd leave the hut for an alpine start, guided by the glow of a headlamp. We beckoned for a freeze and maybe some precipitation in the forecast so that we could bag some peaks and descend some never-before-skied lines. Nature worked against us, and we found ourselves at odds with the mountains. 


When I arrived at Icefall for my second visit, a goal of mine was to disconnect from all the chaos of daily adult life: all the planning, plugging into my cell phone, worrying about paying bills, communicating with everyone in my familial and social circles, and work stress. I took this as an opportunity for a mental break because I was out of cell service and what felt like the first time being off the grid in years. 


Coming to a remote location with complex terrain carved by glaciers and unforgiving conditions, I was forced to pay attention and be present, an ongoing exercise I like to practice. It was therapeutic to be in a place where nobody or nothing cared about me. I could let it all go. The mountains didn't care who I am, where I've been, or what I'm capable of. 


Spring is an incredible time of year to ski, as it offers numerous opportunities to get up high on top of peaks, and it allows for stability in the snowpack. Options become endless, but only if conditions withstand the weather. Spring is challenging. It pushes your endurance and mental fortitude, and it regularly involves some degree of stubbornness to climb the mountains that get dressed up and invite you out for the season. Patience was the name of the game in this high alpine terrain, and there wasn't always a reward for it. The mountains don't care what you're after, and they sure as hell don't care if you lose a ski and fall while descending a 50 degree pitch in an icy couloir. It can get mean and ugly out there, and the best thing you can do as a skier is turn around as soon as the mountains begin to whisper "No" in your tiny human ear. The experience teaches discipline, patience, and humility. 



We are all at the mercy of the mountains, regardless of the season, but spring is a time for new endeavors that manifest the skills and ambitions we accumulate as skiers and boarders. Survival in this sport revolves around a carefully calculated balance of risk versus reward and teaches the mind to balance ego with modesty. It may seem outrageous, but climbing mountains and enjoying the ride down is what keeps me sane in this crazy little world we've built. And it's all because the mountains just don't care.


Where was your trip and what were you doing there?

I went to Icefall, BC, outside of Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies for an advanced ski mountaineering course. It’s sort of like a bridge to ski guiding program.  It was an 8 day hut-to-hut traverse through glaciated terrain, which involved 5 summits.

Were there any trip shenanigans?

Yes. I was skiing a really steep and icy couloir, which wasn’t pleasant. At one point, I remember thinking “Man, I don’t really want to ski this, but I’m going to tough it out anyway.” And then, boom, I hit a bump, lost a ski, and it shot down the face about 500 feet. I was honestly excited that the decision for me to down-climb the line had been made for me. 

If you could give this trip a theme song and a food menu, what would it be?

Oh, God. So much spaghetti and oatmeal. I’m still struggling to eat those things again. For a theme song, I don't really have one, but I do remember singing a lot of ABBA on the trip. :)

Any advice for someone who wants to take a big trip but doesn't know where to start?

Don't be shy to crowdsource and find out beta from someone who has done the trip and is willing to offer you the information. Get a gear list, look at maps (real ones too, not just digital), and it may be worth it to even hire a guide. Guides possess a wealth of knowledge and will take you to all the right places so you're not wasting your time poking around in the backcountry.

What do you love about skiing?

Where do I even begin? Skiing is the best thing in the world, and I'm so damn lucky I get to do it. I'm grateful for every single day I get to spend in the mountains. I prefer to ski in the backcountry, and spring is definitely my favorite time to be skiing. It's pretty incredible to move through the mountains, especially when its human-powered-climbing rewarded by downhill turns on skis. On trips like these, it's pretty cool to go to a location that you don't know super well, and you become very challenged by so many unknown variables. It really forces me to be present and to pay attention to my surroundings. In the spring, the high-country opens up to endless possibilities that fuel the fire within me, and it's truly the biggest thing in my life that makes me feel so alive as a human being. I love communicating with the mountains and understanding what they have to offer on any given day, and I learn something new every day about myself. And if I'm being completely honest and letting my guard down a bit, skiing just makes me feel badass, and I think it's okay to admit that.

And to keep it random.....

Winter or summer?

Winter, but I love summer for trail running.

POW or hotPOW?

Do I have to choose? I'm always the jerk who will mention on a deep pow day how much I love hot pow. I love it all.

Après drink of choice?

Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher


You can follow along with Emma's adventures on her instagram @emmagnarlene

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