WORDS: Eliel Hindert
It's 4:17 p.m. on a gray Februaryday and I'm late to meet Callum Pettit. I stumble up the front steps to the Pettit palace in Whistler, British Columbia, in ankle-deep snow. A light flicks on after I hammer on the front door, and a man with a scrubby face and hardened lines across his brow swings the door open and greets me with a pair of hands that have seen more days in frozen gloves than out. His resemblance to Callum is striking, except this face carries another 30 years of age.
"Cal isn't home," says his dad, Greg Pettit, who lives with his two sons. "He's still out touring with his buddies."
Of course he is. We're in the middle of Whistler's first major storm system in a season that's seen one of the longest snow droughts in recent memory. Now I'm early.
A few hours later in the Pettit's kitchen, it's clear that Cal's mind is still in the mountains. He's hardly dried off from a day exploring a new pillow zone near Pemberton. Constantly moving, rubbing a bruise on his right arm from a collision at the end of today's tour, Callum's excitement is borderline feverish. Pacing the kitchen, the 24-year-old checks and rechecks his phone for messages from Superproof filmer Brandon Kelly regarding an upcoming hut trip for their new film The Recruitment. Despite a full day of touring and a lifetime in the mountains, Callum is far from exhausted.
His hard work is paying off. Last year, Callum, skied a main role in Sherpas Cinema's latest film, Into the Mind. And at the 14th Annual Powder Awards last December, Callum took home both Best Line and Full Throttle, joining the ranks of legends like Seth Morrison, Shane McConkey, and Candide Thovex. So why then, on the eve of reaching a new height of his own career, did Callum stay home last winter? In the year following such success, when you'd expect a professional athlete to leverage this moment to find new sponsors, film with a major production company, or set off on an extravagant expedition, Cal was filming in his backyard.
Part of that is because the Sherpas are taking a hiatus from conventional ski filming this year, and Callum's sponsors were focused more on the Olympics than his realm of big mountain skiing. But truth is, Callum keeps his aspirations simple—to find new zones and ski terrain that strikes his fancy on any given day.
"Whether it's huge couloirs on the other side of the world or pillow in the backyard…just skiing what's in condition rather than chasing it has been my biggest shift," says Callum.
Callum is a Whistler transplant, lifted from the hills of Quebec before the ice coast could sink its teeth into him. His mother moved him and his younger brother, Sean, to Whistler in 1999 just as the boys were discovering skiing as a full-time passion in their adolescent eyes. The impacts of that move surfaced immediately.
At a young age, Callum started riding with local and international legends. It was hard to miss the then 4-foot 8-inch body ripping harder than most anyone in his weight class. Growing up in Whistler, the Pettits took outdoor education classes in high school and, instead of visiting art museums, their field trips took them snow camping. Living in Whistler shaped Callum's knowledge and experience in the mountains at a breakneck speed. But the real spark came in the form of Tanner Hall, who recognized the talent in Callum, Sean, and Kye Petersen, and started featuring the trio in his films circa 2004, when Callum was only 13.
Despite the early success, Callum's maiden voyage to skiing’s center stage didn't happen until this past year. It's a bit odd to see the younger of two brothers rise to the top first, but that's the case with the Pettits. Sean's breakout season, marked by his performance in MSP's 2009 release, In Deep, arrived four years earlier and six years younger than Callum's. Call it a difference in style, talents, or area of interest—both in skiing and in life—Callum's approach is less flare and more function than Sean's.
"[Callum] lets his skiing do the talking,” says Eric Hjorleifson, a fellow Full Throttle recipient. “The silent shredder."
It's easy to tell the brothers apart when they're in the same venue, be it daytime terrain or Whistler nightlife. Where Sean can be found bouncing from one situation to the next, always busying himself with the next social or business venture, Callum takes a methodic approach to the day—by no means does he pump the breaks, rather he rolls down the windows and enjoys the view.
Callum favors days on the local hill with old friends more than nonstop travel itineraries and lavish parties. For good reason, too. Whistler happens to be one of the most revered local hills in North America and he has talented group of friends to match, with a roster that includes Petersen, Hjorleifson, and Austin Ross.
Callum's surgeon-like method of dissecting a situation in the mountains is what first attracted Sherpas filmer Dave Mossop to cast Callum as the symbol of growing old with skiing in Into the Mind. Callum's responses are slower and more contemplative, a rare trait amongst a largely brash generation that revolves around instant gratification. Callum’s well-seasoned attitude helps him manage his fear so he can stand up to burly lines. It goes the other way, too. Those same instincts help Callum realize when things don’t line up and that he should pull back from a line.
Spring in the rearview, plans hovered around Alaska, but they failed to come together. Alaska is a venue where, surprisingly, Callum has yet to set foot, speaking to an abundance of talent that has yet to fully bloom. Schemes on the future are loose. His ambition stretches to explore places like the European Alps, or to keep it simple and focus his energy at home in Whistler. Swapping days deep in the coastal range with evenings constructing a sauna or skate bowl at his home, Callum continues to grow his own roots amongst those of local legends that surround him—all with the knowledge that whether he's in front of the camera or pursuing a more grounded profession as life carries on—it will be a life well spent amongst the lofty peaks that surround him.