DANO Pendygrasse

odds and ends from an unusual life

Mike Nyuis

For friends of Mike Nyuis,

The complete article from Snowboard Canada and a couple photos. Click the photos to download high resolution versions. (right click, save link as)




Anywhere But Here

“We have to get out of town, man.” Jon Cartwright and I are talking on the phone on a rainy day in January. Every snowboarder knows that feeling of desperation when the conditions have turned to crap and there is no change in the forecast. Outside, it’s the third rainy afternoon in a row, and warm wet conditions are smeared all across my Internet weather sites. January started out with cold, snowy conditions all over the Pacific Northwest, but now, a week and a half into the month, the promise of a perfect January has passed into a soggy reality.

“Where are you thinking of going?” Jon asks.

“I don’t even care man. Europe, back East... Anywhere but here.”

“It’s still cold in Revelstoke and Nyuis built a cabin out there,” Jon tells me.

It’s all I need to hear. I immediately start to plan in my head how long it will take to get out of Whistler. “OK, we’ll leave tomorrow. Let’s try to be on the road by noon.” We spend the rest of the night on the phone putting together a crew. It sounds like everybody is on a mass exodus from the rain.

By three thirty the next day I am on the road, driving my truck with Jon Roth as co-pilot. Lukas Huffman has dumped a trip to California and is an hour ahead of us with Cartwright. Dave Short is driving up with filmer Ryan O’dowd and they will be somewhere between two and ten hours behind us.


“Even when I was dressing up like I was hip hop, I was still crying to my friends about girls.” Jon Roth is embracing his emotional side on the long drive up. We talk about the changing trends in snowboarding and how one person’s costume is another person’s real world. From the outside, it’s so hard to tell what is authentic and what is marketing. From the inside, the whole thing is as obvious as a narc at the school dance. Credibility is everything to pro snowboarders and there are daily conversations about who is faking it and who is a badass. Things don’t change much after high school in the snowboard world. This sport goes through long periods of slow growth, and then it seems like everything changes overnight. Suddenly everything cool is boring and there is a surge of new names and styles. Right now it feels like we are on the verge of change.

Roth is 22 now, has grown up snowboarding and struggled early on to fit in with the cool kids. At some point though he stopped trying to be like them and started just being himself and, as a result, “The Boy”—as he’s known to some of his friends—is turning out all right. Of our crew, Roth is the newest to backcountry freestyle, having only graduated from the park in the last couple years. The expense of sledding and a knee injury have kept him out of the game a bit for the last couple seasons, but now he is healthy and ready, and he is both nervous and excited about what is in store for us.


It’s windy, foggy, and wet but we’ve been making good time despite the weather. I slow to stop for a figure on the road waving a stop sign. As my window hums open, rain drops splatter on my face and neck. She is a big lady, smothered in many layers of clothes and she steps towards my opening window as the truck comes to a stop. She is wearing the orange vest of a road worker, but she looks like she would be more comfortable taking care of orphan animals for the local SPCA.

“I’m going to have to ask you how far you’re going.” she says.

I tell her that I’m meeting friends just this side of Revelstoke.

“Well I don’t know how far you’ll make it. The road is closed at Three Valley Gap”

There has been a huge avalanche on the Trans Canada Highway and it’s been closed all day, I tell her that I’m sure that my friend’s house is on this side of the slide.

“Well there is another roadblock about 20 kilometers up, at the truck stop, so you can tell them. I live the other way so I don’t know how far you’ll get.”

She’s not in the mood to argue with someone dumb enough to try to bullshit his way INTO an avalanche zone. I keep driving into huge wet flakes and fog. I imagine her going back to feed her kittens.


Mike Nyuis lived in Whistler for years and, like many people who live in a resort town, became disillusioned with the polished faux-reality and went out looking for something more. He has enjoyed some success acting down in Vancouver’s busy film scene, but he found something good out here in the bush, away from the crowds, in a little spot that gets snowed on more than just about anywhere else. So he built a cabin, bought some snowmobiles, and set out to explore the massive backcountry at his front door. Now he runs a tour company called Fresh Adventures, spends his summers chasing acting roles in the city, and spends his winters with a giant, shy husky named Nemo, chasing powder.

Mike’s cabin is on the wrong side of the second roadblock. Luckily it’s only two or three hundred yards past. The second lady at the second roadblock rolls her eyes when I tell her where I’m going. “Mike sure does have a lot of friends.” she says.

I grin at her and say, “He does tonight.” She lets me pass. I roll past a dozen or so semis parked for the night, waiting for the road to re-open. The normally sleepy truck stop will stay busy tonight


At about seven in the morning I wake to the sounds of new voices in the cabin. Dave and Ryan couldn’t find the place when they rolled in at four, so they slept in their truck as long as they could stand it. Ryan is recalling the horrors of waking up to a panoramic view of WAY too much of Dave’s anatomy as he was getting out of his sleeping bag. They stoke up a fire and warm themselves. We chuckle under our breath at their adventure. It’s lightly raining out so we all roll over and steal another hour of sleep.

When we finally get up it’s decided that we’ll head down to the truck stop for some breakfast. The road is still closed and the dozen or so Big Rigs have turned into fifty. The trucks are lined up like a train down the road and around the corner and fill the large parking lot at the truck stop. Truckers are packed into the restaurant, milling around by the pumps, flipping through cheap porn mags at the store newsstand, and generally doing whatever they can to waste time. We manage to find enough seats at a table with a couple three hundred pounders. Truck stops around the continent all smell the same: overcooked fryer oil and stale sweat mingle with burnt coffee grounds and waitress perfume. The background noise is a blue-collar symphony of low-grade racism and trucker stories. When one of the truckers becomes curious about us and strikes up a conversation, his language is all cursing and sexual innuendo. Cheap bigot jokes he’s told a hundred times. Making a trucker sit and wait is the best way to piss him off, and these men with their huge bellies and methamphetamine farts have been waiting for the road to open for half a day and a full night. Everything that comes out of their mouths at this point is a dare and—like any encounter with a wild animal—it’s best to keep quiet and back away.

Our waitress, Joan, could be anywhere from twenty five to forty years old and looks like she’s been bringing coffee to these monsters her whole adult life. She flashes an easy smile when she recognizes Mike. The service is surprisingly good considering how packed the place is, a testament to Joan’s experience, no doubt. We are almost disappointed when the food isn’t greasy, but actually really good. As time passes, the sky seems to become a slightly brighter shade of grey, so we finish up, buy gas for the sleds, and leave the truckers to wait for the avalanche to be cleared.


It’s an hour later now and Mike has stopped his snowmobile ahead of me on the trail and is waving frantically. I flinch for a split second thinking something is wrong. We’ve already had to stop twice for sled problems this morning. I press the kill switch and my machine grumbles quiet. “MOOSE!” Mike half shouts, half whispers. I don’t know how I missed it because it is huge and only sixty feet up the road. If you’ve never seen a real live moose in the wild, think Clydesdale, only twice as big, and perched on long gangly legs like a potroast on four chopsticks. It has been startled out of its moosey sleep by the racket of a pack of snowmobiles and is beating a clumsy retreat down the snowy logging road. As the rest of the boys catch up and stop, the moose disappears around a corner and we walk forward to check out the spot where he had been bedded down. It’s an (enormous) impressive impression in the snow. Moose are no joke. I decide to name him Milton. We pass Milton a hundred yards down the road as he is crashing into the forest. The guys bringing up the rear never see him at all but his tracks and scat are everywhere.

Soon we are swapping the logging road for single sled track, pushing forward into the clouds, hoping for a break. The snow is steadily improving but the visibility is not. In between clouds I get my first glimpse of this new place. A long ridgeline is dotted with cliff bands. I ask Mike if we can get there.

“ I guess,” he says. “But that’s nothing, really.”

Eventually we gain as much altitude as the weather will let us. The fog and snow join together to make an impassable white wall, so we regroup, practice some transceiver searches in a small meadow and play around on the sleds. Lukas and Dave get to the top of a nice face and each make some turns. There is plenty of terrain here, but plenty of snow too, making hiking slow going. We are running out of daylight and all the terrain within hiking distance will take too long to get on top of. Satisfied with our first look, we start the long ride back to the valley. Day one is chalked up to recon and the cameras stay in their bags.

As we leave the sub-alpine I take one last look back, just as the clouds split. A gorgeous orange glow is painted on a cloudbank behind a ridgeline causing us all to stop and look. It’s impossible not to smile. The orange deepens to a red and finally fades back to grey. The whole ride down I keep repeating in my head:
Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.


Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Grey sky at morning, snowboarders go back to sleep. Whatever—Who listens to sailors anyway?


By noon we’ve come to terms with a couple of hard facts:

  • The rainstorm that was in Whistler is now here.

  • There will be no sledding today. We need to find something to do.

The road is open at last, and the truck stop is mostly ours. We get the full attention of the staff today while we try to decide what to do. The world seems far away as we take our time with eggs and bacon and sausage.

Back at the cabin, a couple OF people fire up sleds to see what there is to be done near by. There is a gravel pit a couple hundred yards down the road and, after some careful consideration, the shredders decide that we could make a pretty cool hip/gap with a snowmobile tow-in. What else are you going to do? It takes half an hour to build and another half hour to get the track right on the inrun, and then Dave and Jon take turns launching into the mashed potato landing while Nemo chases them. Dave is having fun, chucking backflips, but the rain starts to come down hard and before long everyone is soaked. My cameras decide that it is time to take a break and we retire to the cabin for some “Big 2”(it’s a card game).

Card games can get pretty competitive.


The summer of 2003 was hot and dry in BC; the inevitable result of hot and dry in a province full of forests is fire. Forest fires hit hard and lasted long, some of them smouldering stubbornly through the fall, extinguished at last by winter snows. We lost over 330 homes and over 50,000 people were evacuated. In the end it cost more than half a billion dollars to fight the fires. It all sounds pretty bad, but there is a silver lining if you look hard enough.

A forest fire is a cataclysmic event, leaving in its path a wake of destruction. Where a forest once stood, all that is left is a collection of black tree trunks and soot. There is a really creepy dead feeling in a burn, it’s like traveling through some post nuclear landscape and it’s easy to feel isolated and odd. For a snowboarder though, this lack of branches means that more snow makes it to the ground, and what used to be a hillside covered in trees becomes a wide open glade, perfect for weaving through at high speed. It also makes sled access really easy.


Mercifully the clouds have broken and we are making our way through clearcuts, then forest, then burns, and into the alpine. Thank goodness Mike knows his way out here because it is easy to become disoriented. We are in and out of the fog and I can’t kick the alien feeling I get in the burns. Soon we are into good snow and everyone takes turns getting a few shuttle runs in after a few days without riding. Lukas is coming back from injury so he is taking it easy.

We find a nice little outcropping of rocks and set to work. Dave launches a method into a narrow landing, then Cartwright frontside half cabs a thirty footer. Roth shocks everyone by throwing a smooth frontside five off the same drop. He goes past the landing and doesn’t get his feet under him, but serves notice that he has left the park behind and is ready to take on the backcountry. Dave is landing everything he tries.

The clouds have been in and out all day, and at last they close in again. We are stoked to have some shots under our belt, and head back down. I almost run over on the logging road down. I still can’t get over the size of him. I let turn off my sled and watch him in the fading light. He watches me for a moment too, before turning and disappearing into the forest.

Back in the cabin the weather forecast is looking grim. Nobody is ready to turn our back on this place, but sometimes you just have to accept the cards you’ve been dealt and fold. We all plan to get back here as soon as possible to finish what we’ve started. I’m thinking maybe a month or so from now. Little do I know it will be a lot longer than that. Milton will have his logging road back for awhile. I wonder if he’ll still be guarding it when I get back.


It takes us three months to get all of us back out to Fresh Adventures together. Winter schedules clash and everyone has a hard time coming up with good dates. When we finally get back, Lukas is out, his season cut short by injury, and Annie Boulanger and Martin Gallant are in. It’s spring now, and we have to drive our trucks up long logging roads to get to the snow. It’s not long before we run into Milton again. Like an old friend greeting us he is waiting on the road. He turns and runs in front of the trucks for almost five minutes. We are driving a steady fifty kilometers per hour and Milton is leading us like a pace car. Ryan is hanging out the window of the truck, filming him from about ten feet away. When he turns off into the woods at last we stop the trucks and laugh for five minutes straight. Nobody has ever seen a moose running down the road leading five trucks filled with snowboarders before.

Accessing the alpine is a whole lot more challenging than before, we have to wait while government road crews repair washouts, and once we are on our sleds, we encounter long stretches of road where the snow has already melted, forcing us to ride over dirt. Snowmobiles don’t like riding on dirt. After the first hour my sled dies for no particular reason. One minute it’s running, the next minute it is dead. We suspect it is the computer, a suspicion that is proven the next morning at the repair shop. When your computer goes there is nothing you can do to fix it on the hill. After finding a decent jump and shooting awhile, I suck it up and we tow it out. I’m glad Cartwright was stomping sevens, because on this day I’m looking for some good news.

The second day seems like it may end before it even starts. At the end of a long stretch of snow, we come to a portion of the trail through a clearcut that has completely melted away. The spot where the trail was is vaguely visible but it is on a sidehill and snow machines aren’t made to sidehill on dirt. We send Mike walking ahead to scout where the snow begins again, and after some debate decide to actually build up the trail with logs, dirt and rocks until we can tug our sleds past. It is a long morning.

Once in the alpine it’s as if we’ve traveled in time back several months to winter. The snow is good, the terrain is amazing, and the only problem is that we’re running out of light. In the space of an hour we hit two jumps and scope several others. This place is a playground and these guys are professional kids. Roth shows off his amazing style while Martin, excited to be a part of the trip, hikes up a ridgeline to explore the steeps in between hitting the jump. Then on the way down he finds a burnt out log to use as a launch ramp. Just as he hits the peak the whole thing cracks and falls to the ground. He lands on his feet to the cheers of everyone.

The trip back down is less stressful now that we have a trail built in, but by the time we reach the trucks people are skeptical about coming back to this area. It’s not worth the cost of a blown engine to return tomorrow. Luckily Mike has another plan. On the way down Dave and Ryan almost run into Milton. He races ahead of them for a short while before launching off the side of the road into a creek. It’s dark and they can’t see him, but they hear him thrashing around. They have guilt written on their faces when they finally reach the cabin. “I think we killed Milton.”


Sitting around the campfire with a couple guitars and a bunch of friends sounds like a scene from a different story, but spring in BC is nice like that.


After our last two days, I’m nervous about what kind of crazy road we’ll have to drive up next. Mike isn’t giving any hints as we drive down the highway to the next zone. I ask him how often he sees other skiers and snowboarders out here and he tells me that nobody who sleds here regularly can ever remember seeing any. Ever. As we start to climb higher and higher towards the snowline, I am just waiting to see what crazy obstacle the mountain will throw at us, so when we arrive at the snowline without incident I am more than a little relieved. We unload and drive straight up a really good, snow covered road that takes us straight to the alpine like a snowy escalator. I’m no longer relieved; I’m shocked and elated. The alpine here is good too, really great terrain all compacted into a relatively small area. The kind of place I would create if I were making the perfect backcountry area. I see the most perfect flat top cliff I’ve ever seen, but it is already in the shade and will have to wait until next year. We fight the urge to race all over right away checking everything out, and set to work on a perfect blind stepdown. Dave goes first and throws a nine that gets away from him. It’s big and the landing is forgiving and we are all smiles. Well…everyone except for Dave.

Once again I’m stunned by Roth’s style. He makes a cab 5 Japan into the best trick ever. The months since we’ve been here last have given Roth some valuable experience and his sledding and backcountry riding are way more confident.

Cartwright has scoped some lines and, when we are done with the jump, he makes his way through a couple of tight chutes. Again we are losing light, and there still much more to see. It has become warm and the snow conditions are getting worse. In spring the snow can change in a matter of hours. We know that there will be no tomorrow for us to shoot and we decide that in the morning we will pack up and head home. Now that we’ve got a good grasp on this place nobody is too keen to leave it behind. Eventually we slowly start to make our way down. I stop for a second to check out a cool looking hip in the woods. It seems like the landing is too flat, but when the shredders check it, they are more than willing to give it a go. Anything to put off the end of this trip it seems. We dork around on the small jump, everyone having a good time in the late daylight. Cartwright pulls off his shirt and abuses the foliage with the tail of his board. Ryan takes a break from filming and hits the jump on Roth’s board. The session reminds me of the good times I had with friends when I first started riding. A bunch of friends hitting a fun little jump

As we hit the logging road on the way down, the sky erupts with fiery clouds.
Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. We stop for a few minutes and take it in. Too soon, the red ball of the sun dips behind the horizon and the moment is over. It’s a good ending to our trip, and to our winter. Somewhere in the woods, Milton the Moose is watching us, waiting for us to leave so he can resume his duties as guardian of these forests. “See you next winter Milton” I say to myself.