WORDS: Eliel Hindert
While news networks around the world focused their cameras on freeskiing's debut in the global scene last month during the Olympics, 22-year-old pro skiers Rob Heule and Mack Jones, plus a couple more friends, loaded up a 30-foot rental RV outside of Whistler, British Columbia, and hit the road east towards the great prairies and minus 40-degree tundras of Canada.
The idea was simple enough: Travel over 5,524 miles to cover the length of Canada from the Pacific to the Atlantic, fueled by Tim Hortons coffee and doughnuts, and hit as much metal and concrete as possible along the way. The purpose seemed less simple. The crew wanted to prove that, really, you can ski anywhere. They wanted to deliver an alternative portrayal of park and urban skiing to compare against the Olympics. But when it came down to the bottom line, this cross-country road trip was pure and simple about exploring Heule and Jones' own country in search of skiing on their own terms. The end result was the 18-minute edit, Meanwhile In Canada, which Jones and Heule released earlier this week.
"We wanted to show that you can have fun anywhere and without much," says Jones.
Heule is a modern gypsy from Calgary, Alberta. He easily falls under the classification of "pro skier," but would rather tell you stories about living out of his Safari Van 'Terry' or about the denim backpacks he sews for his company RAD. Once a rising contender in the Canadian halfpipe scene, Heule increasingly found more inspiration outside of those 22-foot walls, which ultimately positioned him to become one of the most unique riders in the urban ski scene. Equally, he's just as creative a producer of his own media content. Last fall, in his time off between shifts hanging Christmas lights around Calgary, Heule put together a segment that most would consider solid for an entire season, all before most anyone else had even picked up a camera for the winter.
On the other hand Jones hails from what sounds like a rural city on the edge of nowhere, Ottawa, Ontario. That is, until you realize it's the Canadian capitol. Dotting the podiums of Canada's slopestyle competitions and ever-present in the ski film scene, Jones embodies the many talented skiers in Canada that you've never heard of if you don't live in Canada. Now pairing a life on skis with a push for an undergraduate degree in business, Jones represents the thinker, or to put it bluntly, the reality of a talented yet silent skier in an industry that gravitates to the loud and boisterous.
Together Heule and Jones paint a formidable picture of dissatisfaction with the grassroots ski scene in Canada. Since they were young, they took top accolades in pipe and slopestyle, respectively, but both opted out of the full-time circus of competitive life, one of the only paths to a career as a full-time professional skier in Canada. But rather than sit back and gripe about the situation, they chose to take a stab at showing the world that another route exists to a professional life on skis. One beyond perfectly groomed parks and full-time coaches, or fluted Alaskan spines and six-figure camera systems mounted on helicopters.
"The big production movies are incredible to watch and there are amazing sunset shoots with helicopters and such, but for most kids, it's just not a reality," says Jones. "We're in the middle of the Saskatchewan in the flats, having fun on hay bails and little jibs, and that's something most anyone can do."
With that idea in mind they tapped former videographer Graeme Meiklejohn, photographer Kyle Gibson, and Rob's younger brother Jay to round out the crew and see if they could go 40 days in a 255-foot square space without killing each other—or using the shitter.
Once the wheels started turning, the RV became to the five urban skiers what a backcountry touring lodge is to a big mountain skier. Park your home at the base of new feature every day and literally roll out of bed and onto the drop-in ramp. Of course, this backcountry lodge on wheels can crash into churches in Salmon Arm, nearly get blown over by highway winds in the Great Prairies, get boxed in by dumpsters overnight in Manitoba, create sizable traffic jams on the too skinny streets of Montreal, and have its pipes freeze during negative 45-degree nights in Saskatchewan—Celsius and Fahrenheit meet at that point, so between Canadians and Americans, it doesn't matter which number you use.
Covering such a huge area of ground uniquely positioned Meanwhile In Canada to portray the variety of people and places in the entirety of Canada. They met cops whose only irritation stemmed from fumbling with their phones and missing the snapshot of the action. They traveled through communities so jaded by urban skiing that shoveling of public areas is banned. They encountered old Polish spectators who gave a nod and a "Respect," and rode down backyard rail setups in the flattest parts of the country that put some of the top resort parks to shame in terms of fun.
The group went to great lengths to do an entire trip only in Canada, even driving 22 hours out of their way just so they wouldn't cross into the States. Every track you hear in Meanwhile In Canada is recorded by a Canadian artist. Call it national pride or good marketing. Heule and Jones realized that here in Canada, far, far away from Sochi and the Olympic narrative of freeskiing's birth, a couple of friends can still have a say in the creation story of their sport.
"We were trying to make something that's relatable to people and will make them want to go out and have a good time, y'know," says Heule. "Everyone was focused on the Olympics, meanwhile in Canada, we're doing our own thing and trying to showcase what's good around here."