The Party Pow Bus: Jeff Scott’s Breakthrough in Adaptive Backcountry Access

They call it the Lunchbox.

It’s a one-of-a-kind trailer designed to be towed behind a snowcat. It holds four sit-skiers and is about to embark on its inaugural test run in British Columbia’s Monashee range.

 

Josh Dueck at the bus stop.

words :: Cassidy Randall       photography :: Bruno Long

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Made of aluminum siding with open-air windows, a tailgate, and a windshield to protect from snow kicked-up by the cat, the Lunchbox looks like a teardrop trailer on steroids—with sled skis instead of wheels. It was constructed in Revelstoke, and the builder has sworn all involved to secrecy for fear of being commissioned to build another one. Logos from local and international sponsors grace the bright green wrap, but today the most important thing is how it performs.

“The only weight we’ve ever put in it is one empty sit-ski. What could possibly go wrong?” quips Jeff Scott, his bright blue eyes crinkling with his easy smile.

Scott is the visionary behind the Lunchbox. He possesses that unique combination of vision and a taste for extreme adventure that marks outdoor pioneers. On the last day of the 2010 ski season, he came across a roller gap he’d been eyeing and thought, if I don’t hit it now, I’ll have to wait until next year. The crash rendered him a C5-6 quadriplegic—Scott has no feeling below his collarbones and while he has strong biceps, he has no triceps feeling and limited hand movement.

“Seven years after his accident, he’s about to spark a revolution for backcountry sit-skiing—if the Lunchbox works.”

Scott first tried sit-skiing nineteen months after his accident. In 2014, he took the helm of the Live It Love It Foundation, an organization promoting the progression of adaptive adventure and providing recreation opportunities for the disabled. Now, seven years after his accident, he’s about to spark a revolution for backcountry sit-skiing—if the Lunchbox works.

Any backcountry skier or rider will attest that turns outside the ropes are different, and they’re addicting. Resort snow is subject to skier compaction and can’t compare with the bottomless powder of the backcountry, and combined with the feelings of adventure and solitude, it’s a magic formula that ever-increasing numbers of skiers are seeking out. Without touring/skinning access options, sit-skiers like Scott rely on snowcats and helicopters, but the transfer from machine to sit-ski and back again is exhausting and trades-in valuable time that could be spent taking turns. But the biggest problem with the typical scenario? There’s usually only one sit-skier.

 

Loading up the Party Bus.

 

“When you’re one person out in a wheelchair, a lot of attention and energy gets focused on you. Having a crew of sit-skiers adds some normalcy to the adventure,” Scott says.

Enter the Lunchbox and a dream team of athletes Scott assembled to help him test the trailer on its maiden run: Josh Dueck, famed Paralympian and the first athlete to pull off a backflip in a sit-ski; Samson Danniels, monoski cross gold medallist in the 2012 Winter X-Games; and Amanda Timm, big mountain competitor and the first woman to sit-ski Sunshine Village’s expert-only Delirium Dive terrain.

Mustang Powder Lodge is hosting the test run and the team lounges in their luxurious lodge trading speculation on how the next morning will unfold, and meeting with media and the collection of support characters that will make this maiden voyage possible. It’s the fi rst time most of them have laid eyes on the customized trailer. “It looks like a party bus,” jokes Danniels.

“I’m nervous,” Scott confesses. “It would have been nice to try locking down four sit-skis before dragging 14 people up here.”

No one else seems as concerned, maybe because these athletes are accustomed to the problem-solving that goes with testing prototypes. According to Danniels, who has figured out how to surf, paraglide and snowmobile after breaking his back, being a pioneer in adaptive sports is born out of necessity. “If you want to get out there, you have to build what you want and customize it. You’ll never be able to go to the sit-ski store and pick out which one you like, because that option simply doesn’t exist.”

I believe in friends on a powder day.”

“Even if it doesn’t work tomorrow, we’ll get up there somehow,” says Timm confidently. She credits Live It Love It’s signature big mountain camps for getting her back on snow after an accident in a freeski competition left her with a T-6 spinal cord injury that stole the use of her legs and most of her core. Like the rest, she’s in this for the long game of making the backcountry more accessible for adaptive skiers.

Recent warm weather and rain has threatened the entire test run, but Scott pushed Mustang Powder to make a last-minute call to go for it, his attitude unchanged from those roller-gap years of old: if we don’t do this now, we’ll be a year behind.

The morning of the Lunchbox’s inaugural run dawns warm, but the freezing level sits lower than predicted and dispels worries of bad omens. After some eleventh-hour rigging on the Lunchbox involving plywood, wrenches and the mechanics of fitting all four sit-skiers comfortably inside the trailer for the first time, the tailgate closes with finality, and there’s no more time for speculation.

The trailer suddenly looks diminutive behind the monster cat, whose steel tracks churn at ominous eye level with the sit-skiers. We collectively hold our breaths for the length of the fi rst climb with its roller dips in the track, but we gain the ridge with trailer and sit-skiers intact.

We line up at the drop of the fi rst run to execute the whole point of this mission. Dueck, Danniels and Timm are all self-suffi cient in moving themselves through the snow with their outriggers, but Scott is unable to hold them due to the nature of his injury.

 

Sam Danniels, at the forefront.

This is where James Eger comes in. Eger is the head of Revelstoke Adaptive Sports, a branch of Live It Love It, and he and Scott have skied together countless times. Scott drives the motion with his upper body, using his arms as rudders, while Eger skis behind holding a pair of handlebars on Scott’s customized sit-ski, taking cues from Scott’s movements. They make it look effortless. At the bottom, we’re far more efficient in loading the Lunchbox and it’s rinse and repeat for several more runs, without a single major mishap. When we finally return to the lodge to debrief over whiskey, every member of the mission is on a high from the unexpected ease of success, while startling snowflakes begin spiraling down from above.

“We’re completely shifting the perspective of disability—that this snow coming down right now is no longer an obstacle, but an opportunity,” Dueck says. “That we’re sitting here right now at the forefront of the sport thanks to Jeff’s leadership, Mustang Powder, and the Live It Love It Foundation is an incredible honour.”

“We’re completely shifting the perspective of disability—that this snow coming down right now is no longer an obstacle, but an opportunity.”

So ultimately, what does the success of Lunchbox mean? “If you think about the drive and mentality of the age group that’s sustaining serious injuries, these are people taking on challenges and living full and adventurous lives,” says Jeremy Hanke, owner of the snowmobile avalanche education operation, Soul Rides, an instrumental player in the Lunchbox’s R&D.

“Backcountry adventure is about progression, and that’s what this design can offer—it opens doors for those people to push as far as they can go.”

But Scott’s vision doesn’t end with the Lunchbox. This trailer is the prototype for moving sit-ski athletes around terrain to serve his end goal: the first-ever backcountry, big mountain competition for sit-skiers, rider-driven and rider-judged. Everyone agrees that if anyone can pull off the groundbreaking event, it’s Scott.

Scott just shrugs and says with that slow smile, “I believe in friends on a powder day. That’s what it’s really all about.”

The Lunchbox wouldn’t have happened without the support of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Soul Rides, The Village Idiot, Clif Bar & Company, High Fives Foundation and Extreme Everest Challenge. liveitloveit.org

 

 

 

 

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