Snowboarding vs skiing: who cares? - An interview with Charles "Chucky" Gerrard
Snowboarding vs skiing: who cares?
There’s room for everybody to get creative in modern backcountry culture.
Why can’t we all just get along? Snowboarding has come a long way from the days when snowboarders were banned at most major ski resorts. Some people mourn the dynamic counterculture centred around snowboarding’s early days.
For a lot of new backcountry users, though, the snowboarding vs skiing debate is irrelevant. What’s important to them is getting out, connecting with the growing community of self-propelled backcountry users, and learning the skills to go have fun outside on whatever setup they’re most comfortable with.
This year, the ACC’s national Adventures Program is adding splitboard-specific camps to our lineup. Just like we’ve done for skiers, we’re trying to make it easy for aspiring splitboarders to get the technical and safety skills they need to become responsible backcountry users.
The person spearheading our new splitboard camps is a familiar face with the ACC. Participants and staff at the GMC are probably familiar with Charles “Chucky” Gerrard as the guy who keeps the camp running, can improvise a fix for almost anything with a roll of duct tape and the parts from an old dirt bike, and makes sure that everybody gets to where they’re going. In the winter, he does double-duty as an ACMG guide and a Level 4 snowboard instructor with CASI (Canadian Alliance of Snowboard Instructors). In his spare time, he hand builds his own gear.
He also has interesting perspectives on getting creative in the backcountry, exploring outdoors, and how it’s possible to make a living with a very eclectic collection of outdoor industry jobs.
Read our recent interview with Chucky below.
When did you start riding?
I started riding when I was 13, but I wouldn’t really call it snowboarding. I was living in the prairies, and was sick of riding behind someone on their skidoo. I got a rope and a Canadian Tire snowboard (Black Snow), and would hitch rides with people who were sledding on the river by my house.
When did you start instructing?
I started instructing when I was living in Quebec. I was 16 and needed a way to afford a season’s pass at the local resort. The cost of the course was cheaper than the cost of a pass, so I took a CASI course and started instructing or just showing up at the ski hill and they eventually gave me a free pass.
When were you certified as a ski guide, and what equipment did you do your test on?
I got my full ski/snowboard guide cert at the end of winter 2016. I have done all of my testing on a combination of skiing of snowboarding, depending on the trip or destination. I believe that some destinations are way more fun on a board, and some are more fun on skis.
How did you get involved with the ACC?
I got involved in the ACC as an amateur leader up at a GMC camp as a last-minute replacement. That same I was also hired on the GMC camp tear down crew. Since then I have been a camp cook, camp manager, a coordinator, and many other positions. I basically step in whenever something happened last-minute, and a replacement is needed.
You wear a lot of different hats in the winter outdoor industry. Tell us about some of your projects.
At the moment, I build a few boards every fall. I keep two for me and I sell two to people that I have ridden with. I build them with a style and snowpack in mind, so they’re all very unique personal creations. I usually do some CASI courses. I have been evaluating CASI 4 courses for the past 10 years, as well as the Snowpark Level 2 course and anything else they give me, so it’s fun to keep up with my skills on the ski hill. Then, I guide for a heli-ski operation or two. I put together backcountry touring camps as well, and have been focusing on intro to split boarding camps. I do a couple through Ascend Splitfest, as well as the camps this year with the ACC and through the local shop (Higher Ground) in Golden BC. I believe with the rise in cost of ski passes, and people seeing what the true cost of a sledding day is (with the price of gas, maintenance, and any unforeseen blunders), touring is coming back into vogue.
You build your own boards, too?
In part, I started building boards because in the beginning I couldn’t find a board I liked riding. Nothing felt like the boards I was used to riding and playing on. So I started building my own and experimenting with shapes and materials. I have settled with a pure carbon wrap with inner core of sitka spruce. It took me some trial and error to figure out the weight of carbon that worked for me. I remember a spring day guiding for a heli-ski operation, when right after lunch I broke a board just in front of my front binding because the weight of carbon was off. I spent the rest of the day guiding switch.
What do you wish backcountry skiers knew about splitboarding?
I wish backcountry skiers knew how similar spitboarding actually is to skiing. It’s all downhill, it’s all gravity fed, and, just like with skiing, there is nothing better then slashing turns through great snow and playing with terrain (or at least that’s how I ski when I have to)!
How do you feel splitboarding is seen by ski guides?
Well at first, I think it was viewed as an annoyance. As the skill level of clients has improved, and as ski guides began to see the possibilities of what could be done on a board, I think it has opened a lot of old-school guides’ eyes. As I said before, there as some trips and snow conditions that are easier and way better on a board, and there are some that are better on skis.
What’s your advice to somebody who wants to get into the backcountry, but doesn’t know where to start?
I know this sounds like self-promotion, but honestly, get a guide. Or get on a trip with a guide. An ACMG guide has been trained to take a lot of the decisions out of your hands, give direction and create a smooth flow to your day. They will also, when prompted, be able to answer any questions you might have, train you to be better out there, and give you some insight into the right questions to ask that further your understanding.
Register for our splitboarding programs!
Intro to Splitboarding Program
Presented in conjunction with Ascend, our two Intro to Splitboarding days are a great introduction to gear and techniques for budding splitboarders. Rather than struggling on your own, these affordable, day-long camps are a chance to learn the ropes from an experienced guide. They’ll introduce you to the gear, show you how to efficiently transition between ski and board mode, and explain the different gear options out there. They’ll also explain how to move up and downhill efficiently, and deal with the bane of every backcountry snowboarder’s existence: long, rolling up- and downhills that are flat enough to get you stuck in board mode, but steep enough to be difficult in ski mode.
Rogers Pass Powder Camp
If you have a basic grasp of uphill backcountry technique and just want to get more backcountry mileage (AKA go have fun in the snow), we have two Rogers Pass camps for you. For intermediate in-bounds snowboarders, we’re welcoming snowboarders onto our Rogers Pass Powder Camp. You’ll have the option of 3 mixed groups of snowboarders and skiers. It’s a great mix of mileage and coaching for the budding backcountry boarder.
Rogers Pass Split Camp
If you’re an advanced in-bounds snowboarder, we’re excited to add the Rogers Pass SplitCamp to our lineup this year. This camp is for the ambitious in-bounds rider with a minimum basic knowledge of splitboard systems. It’s also based out of the Wheeler Hut at Rogers Pass, and avalanche conditions and safety are the only limits to the lines that the group plans to jump on!
We’re also proud to be working with Ascend Splitfest again this year. They have camps throughout the season (their lodge-based season kickoff and their Splitfest in Jasper National Park are their two big events), and a great community of like-minded backcountry users to connect with.