PHOTO: Joel Whalen
"What if somebody hacked Instagram and it disappeared overnight?"
Rob Heule, a 22-year-old Canadian skier known for his fancy mustache, sewing skills, and love of analog photography often ponders this question. "So many people would be in shock, because they wouldn't know what to do with their lives," he says.
Heule started skiing at age 2 in Fernie, British Columbia, eventually taking a serious interest in pipe skiing in the late 2000s. But after finding enjoyment in making season edits, his enthusiasm shifted to powder and park, allowing for more creative expression and less pressure on serious progression. His style today is peculiar and intriguing; his videos are packed with nose butters, wall rides, laughter, and shots of him eating. He's on Instagram, but he shoots strictly film photos, and the few shots that make it past the hardcopy and onto the internet embody the notion that skiing is, simply, fun. His backcountry skiing, however, is what led to his recruitment for Level 1's new movie, Pleasure.
Heule spends the summer near his home in Calgary, Alberta. He wears camo Tevas and Smartwool socks, a hand-sewn hat, and stacks surfboards atop his GMC Safari to go river surfing. When winter rolls around, he drives across Canada to ski, film, and shoot photos, enjoying random interactions with strangers along the way. "When you're traveling alone, you want to have those conversations and learn about the area you're in. I find a lot of enjoyment in that," says Heule.
Before winter hits full force, Heule gave POWDER an inside look at his life.
SWEET: Let's start by talking about transportation. You drive a van, two different RVs, and a motorcycle. Are you the owner of all of these vehicles?
HEULE: That is a very good question (laughs). The RVs don't belong to me personally; they were used to ski throughout Canada to make a couple little road trip movies. There are definitely some ups and downs to road-tripping through Canada in the winter, you know? Super cold… super cold. But the RVs are nice because they have furnaces.
I grew up skiing in Fernie, BC. It's pretty amazing to know a hill so well, and know where every hit on the mountain is, and where to go when it snows. I'd love to find somewhere else like that someday.
The van and the motorcycle are personal possessions, and they go together. I have a rack for my Yamaha 250 motorbike, so I can park the van wherever I please, and then bomb around on the bike in the spring, summer, and fall.
I bought my van, a GMC Safari, when I was 18 years old. I haven't had to put too much money into it other than a lift kit, tires, and routine maintenance. Right now I'm building a wood gear slide that will come out of the back of the van. Basically, all my gear will be stashed under the bed. I'll have a little ski section, a climbing section, and a surf section. It'll be equipped for all activities.
What are you going to do when the van inevitably dies?
I try not to think about that too much.
So considering all of the skiing you do, you'd probably turn around and buy another one.
Totally. If you have a van, initially you're thinking about planning trips that revolve around activities in general. Your road trips are so much easier because all of your gear is with you all the time.
You go to the typical places to ski, and if you find somewhere you like, you end up going back and spending more time there. You can't only ski a place once and really feel like you know it. Right now I'm looking out my front window at the hill I grew up skiing in Fernie, BC. It's pretty amazing to know a hill so well, and know where every hit on the mountain is, and where to go when it snows. I'd love to find somewhere else like that someday.
How do you make the money for all of this travel?
During fall here in the city, I hang Christmas lights for a couple of months. That's a good little chunk of change right before ski season starts. I do that until Christmastime and then start my ski season.
How did you get into sewing? And tell me about RAD Packs. You make those at home in Calgary?
My mom taught me how to sew at age 12 because I wanted to make sweatshirts. I used to get so frustrated and my mom would have to finish making them. But as I got older, I got a little more patient and started doing everything on my own. I've been sewing RAD Packs for four years now, and it's definitely a hobby-slash-project. I'd love to call it a company, but it can't be one without putting all of my time and energy into it. I like focusing on it when I'm not skiing, and I like being able to sell some bags that people are stoked on.
Your denim bags were awesome.
Thanks—yeah, [the Red Bull Canada run] were some of the last ones I made out of denim. RAD was originally an acronym for "Recycled All Denim," but no longer. I've kind of moved into working more with wax canvas and some newer materials. It's a lot nicer than taking apart donated or thrift store pants and putting them back together into backpacks. When you work with new material, you eliminate that 'taking apart' step.
So you're in Level 1's new movie Pleasure, which means you're now involved with a major ski production company. What was it like working with Josh Berman and the crew?
I actually only know Josh Berman via email. I've never met him before. He seems like a nice guy. I mostly worked with Freedle Coty—he was the main reason I was able to get involved.
I was on a trip with Sämi Ortlieb and we were both cruising around BC skiing some powder. Freedle was nice enough to point the camera at me and press record. It was pretty cool working with him, because he's seen so much skiing history and progression. He's very selective about what he likes to shoot, so it was obviously a real honor to have him stoked on my skiing. It's good that he has a camera pack that he skis with because it slows him down. Otherwise we can't keep up with him. Hopefully I'll shoot with Level 1 again, because that was definitely a highlight last winter.
Would you say the urge to ski is inescapable?
I'm definitely an avid skier, but my brain doesn't revolve around skiing 100 percent of the time. It's amazing to see that dedication to skiing from guys like Tanner and Henrik, but that's just not how my brain works. I've found other things in life that I enjoy; those other things provide a bit of balance. That said, skiing is amazing. Everybody can relate to that, and it's pretty hard to have something you love more. But I like to have a reset and a refresh to come back stoked on winter.