PHOTO: Courtesy of Andrew Sheppard
Andrew Sheppard is a name familiar to anyone who watched ski movies released on VHS tapes in the 1990s. Inspired by Glen Plake, Scot Schmidt, and Trevor Petersen, Sheppard graced the cover of RAP Films' Snowdrifters and filmed with them multiple times while he explored extreme terrain in North America and Europe between the mid-1990s and early-2000s.
Sheppard, 43, knows where to find good snow—he's been searching for it in the backcountry for years. Having grown up near Lake Louise, Alberta, and Red Mountain, British Columbia, he began Nordic skiing as a child, but became tired of the flat landscape and skinny skis. Sheppard was able to pursue his passion at a young age, getting permission from his parents—who don't ski—to skip school frequently on powder days.
Today, Sheppard shows others where to find a good stash. He opened a bed and breakfast in his home in Revelstoke in 2012, and when he's not entertaining guests at the dinner table or getting lost in the woods with skis on his feet, he's helping oversee extremely dangerous constructions sites across Canada's western provinces as a rock stabilization specialist for Global Rope Access, a company that provides a range of mountain safety services, making difficult, high-angle worksites easier to approach.
POWDER caught up with Sheppard to hear about how he's quietly made an impact on the mountain community, why skiing is important to share with others, and how great it is to nail a line with the cameras rolling.
POWDER: When did you start skiing?
Sheppard: When I was really young, we lived in a tiny little town in Northern Alberta, and my Mom remembers me with these strips of cardboard—I can't remember if I tied them to my feet, or how I got them onto my feet, but I went down a carpeted set of stairs, and said: 'Wait 'till I do this on snow! This is amazing!' My mom always reminds me of that. I was 5 when we moved to Banff, Alberta. I was just obsessed—that's all I wanted to do.
What kind of skiing were you doing growing up?
I did a stint of Nordic racing. My parents were pretty frugal; Nordic skiing was more affordable. I did it for a few years, and it was enjoyable…It complements downhill skiing well, gives you better balance on those skinny skis with plastic boots. But as I got a bit older, the crowd was a bit geeky…and I got into backcountry skiing at about 15 or 16 years old. The cool thing is my mom actually pulled me out of school quite a few times. In my Grade 12 year, I got over 80 days on the ski hill, just from skipping out…because a pow day was more important to me than school.
What drove you toward bigger backcountry lines?
It's getting away from the crowds, and being more one-on-one with the mountain. There's something—not to be cheesy, there's just something zen about timing the big stuff in the mountains. When the conditions are right, you're there, and everything comes together. It's special, it's what we do it for. Moments like that. There's a lot of challenge and patience and energy—and boom, it comes together.
How'd you start filming with RAP Films?
They were based out of Calgary, so they skied Lake Louise a lot, and that's pretty much where I was spending a majority, if not all, of my days skiing when I finished school. In '88, '89, '90, those were big years for me at the Lake. I met Jon Long [the founder of RAP]. We'd shoot the shit, and he was always looking around for new talent, new ideas. He gave me the opportunity to go shoot with them, and it worked out.
How would you describe your skiing style?
I like to charge shit. I just love to go fast.
Are there trends in skiing you particularly like, or don't like?
I thought it was pretty funny how things went so gangster there for a little bit, with the urban influence. In a way, I can understand it—more people live in cities than in mountain towns, so they're going to relate to that easily. But for me, it was a bit foreign, because I've always lived in small mountain towns.
Do you have a favorite moment at the bar?
Oh man, I'm old, I've got lots of party moments. We had a pretty good time—it wasn't even après—it was all day, down in South America, with Hoji [Eric Hjorleifson] and a few other buddies. It was the 'Breaking in Hoji' trip on my 30th birthday…we went down there for five weeks. The end of the innocence for that kid.
Switching gears, your job is doing some crazy shit high up off the ground? Explain.
The parent company is Global Mountain Solutions. Global Rope Access is the industrial rope access division, and I'm the Operation and Sales Manager of Global Rock Works, [doing] geotechnical stuff—I like to say it's kind of like vertical landscaping.
What was the biggest project you worked on?
I've worked a lot in the diamond mines in the Northwest Territories of Canada, and it's pretty real up there. It goes from minus 60 degrees Celsius in the winter to plus 30 degrees Celsius in the summer. They're drilling, blasting down, making these 100-foot walls of granite. With the extreme temperature changes they exfoliate a lot, and you get some massive failures. I watched a 10,000-ton chunk fall off. Pretty wild to be so close to a massive piece of earth like that.
What has skiing taught you over the years?
Just to put things in perspective—the little things don't matter. It's about being happy, focusing on being happy. It gives you a release and allows you to decompress. Skiing with family and friends brings you back to the social enjoyment of it, and you say: Are we really having this much fun?