The ML Interview: Justin Lamoureux

by Ned Morgan.

Justin Lamoureux at the 2010 Olympic Games, Cypress Mountain. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck.

Pro snowboarder Justin Lamoureux started riding at Quebec’s Mont Orford and Vermont’s Jay Peak. A born adventurer, he spent most days in the trees searching for new lines (and dodging ski patrol). The two-time Olympian – and holder of the Canadian Olympic record finish for men’s Halfpipe (7th, in the 2010 Games) – has made first descents in Alberta, BC and Alaska. His pro career has taken him all over the world – Europe, Chile, New Zealand, Japan.

But in the last year or so, Lamoureux has chosen to explore his Squamish, BC home. From his window he can see 30 different mountains. To most they’re just distant, inaccessible scenery.

What if you could ride them all in a single season?

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This is the concept behind his four-part short film series released by Arc’Teryx this winter called The Backyard Project.

Mountain Life: You’ve enjoyed a successful career riding halfpipe all over the world. With The Backyard Project, you’ve moved from the constructed environment of Olympic and World Cup competition to an unstructured wilderness environment near your home. Is this something you’ve always thought about doing?

Justin Lamoureux: The Olympics were obviously a huge draw in my career. However, I always knew that unless you medal it doesn’t really count for much in your career. In Vancouver, I started thinking that if I wanted to still be a pro rider, the 2014 Olympics were a dead-end, career wise, the day the Games were over.

Couple that with a massive financial commitment to try and beat my 7th place [in the 2010 Games] it just felt time to change. It was a bit tough on my ego as I was still competing last winter and still one of the top two Canadians in pipe, but in the end I’m quite happy I switched and put all my energy into The Backyard Project.

ML: Could you talk about what changed in your world or attitude that led you to your backyard mountains?

JL: Well, being in the backcountry is something I’ve always done really. I just never focused solely on that aspect of my career like now. I’ve always loved every aspect of snowboarding but the simple joy of riding down mountains and finding new lines has always been at the top of the list.

Aside from the simple desire to ride everything I see from my house, the Project itself is a bit of a backlash against the mega-budget movies and exoticism that is prevalent in action sports (and the world in general). We’re told that adventure is always at the end of the earth but really it starts as soon as you step out of your door and decide to look for it.

ML: You were at the mercy of the landscape, elements, and snow conditions. Did you ever think about giving up?

JL: No, I’m stubborn as hell! [laughs.] It was very exhausting and quite simply the hardest goal I’ve ever tried to achieve. Squamish isn’t really known for its touring and easy access (aside from very few spots). So in general it was exploration every single day we went out. Lots of bushwhacking, lots of failure and dead ends. Nearly every day led us into a new area where we didn’t know what we would find to ride. Add the coastal weather, big storms, and the big elevation (and snowpack) changes in Squamish and it’s a recipe for some hair-pulling moments.

“We’re told that adventure is always at the end of the earth but really it starts as soon as you step out of your door and decide to look for it.”

Old forestry roads or trails that you think exist have simply vanished and been replaced by millions of alders. The Squamish River poses a bit of an access issue. And the mountains themselves are generally very steep and complex so just navigating them is quite a challenge.

ML: At the beginning of Episode 1, we see you hiking through some serious rainforest scenery. Was this a part of the appeal of your Project, apart from the actual riding? Ie, being immersed in nature while on your way up?

JL: Getting to ride a good line in good snow is simply a payoff to a lot of hard work and searching. Thankfully the searching takes place in one of the most beautiful places on earth. So while at times the rainforest is frustrating, it’s overwhelmingly beautiful. Having been brought up with a reverence for nature it was a great experience to find our way into some of the rarely traveled corners of the Squamish backcountry.

ML: We see you narrowly escape a class 3 avalanche in the north couloir of Mount Triconi in Episode 3 (see 10:40, below). How did you approach the avy risk out there? Did it feel more dangerous because you were seeking out unexplored lines?

JL: I think every time you’re in new terrain it feels more dangerous. Familiarity with an area definitely makes you feel more comfortable.
As far as avalanche danger was concerned, we were very cautious in general. Mostly it was just Kyle [Wolochatiuk, principal cinematographer] and myself out in the mountains and a lot of times we were quite far apart so we couldn’t really afford to make any mistakes safety wise.

We took our time and assessed the snowpack everyday and in every area we went into, and for that class 3 in particular, listened to a gut feeling. Everything on our way over to the line that day felt totally bomber but something just nagged at me to take more time and cut the cornice above that line.

Pretty happy we really took our time on that one. Could have been pretty bad.

In episode 4, above – the final of the series – spring is now looming and Lamoureux still has 10 backyard mountains left to ride. These lines are either failed attempts from earlier in the winter, or tucked back in the remote corners of the Project domain.

Justin Lamoureux is an Arc’Teryx and Whistler Blackcomb athlete.