Behind Extremely Canadian
Behind Extremely Canadian
It all began in 1994 when renegade freeskier Peter Smart and comrades introduced a new kind of ski instruction to Whistler, BC. They set out to teach adventurous skiers how to attack the steeps with more confidence and control, but revolutionized ski instruction while they were at it; bringing clients to places and doing things that a traditional ski school wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Extremely Canadian is still all about big-mountain skiing. Specializing in all-mountain guiding and coaching on the twin giants of Whistler and Blackcomb — with 5,000-feet plus of vertical and a combined 8,000 acres of skiable terrain — Extremely Canadian’s Steep Skiing Clinics are all about improving and refining your off-piste technique. They’re also about finding the wickedest terrain and best snow: chutes, bowls, couloirs, trees and steeps will all become second nature to participants. Diving head first into the increasingly popular backcountry realm, they are also dominating the limitless expanse of ski touring and split-boarding options in the lift-assisted Coast Mountains surrounding the resort. Conquer the Spearhead traverse, or catch a full day of untracked runs with our vast knowledge of the area. None other than the legendary ex-president of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG), Keith Reid, spearheads this program. Of course, to round out their repertoire they are also offering Avalanche Skills Training (AST) Level 1 & 2 courses to better prepare skiers and riders for their backcountry independence. With guides hand-picked from the pantheon of Whistler ski luminaries: film stars, ex-national team members, and free-ski heroes, you can’t go wrong.
Now that seems like a simple formula for success, right? Well, it wasn’t all that obvious back in the summer of ‘94, when life-long ski freak Peter Smart read about the Egan and Deslauriers brothers bringing their steep-ski clinics to Whistler from Vermont. “Hey,” he grumbled, “we have plenty of local talent around here who can do that job, and they know the mountains.” Jill Dunnigan, playing her usual role of motivator while Pete lounged in the summer heat, gently urged him to “put up or shut up”. Smart wrote a proposal letter to both Sunshine Village and Blackcomb Mountain, and they pounced on the idea. The next move was a cross-country drive to kidnap cohort Greg Dobbin, who grew up racing and skiing with Smart at Quebec’s esoteric Mont Glen, and was currently playing municipal politics in Cowansville, Quebec. Having lived in Whistler for three seasons, Greg was known as a local mountain goat; a go anywhere, do anything guy. Add this to his political diplomacy credentials and it fit in well with what Pete and Jill were thinking of. Pete’s other background in motorcycle racing, it should be mentioned, has had no — well, little — effect on how he runs his clinics.
Back in Whistler they wrestled free-ski diva and Warren Miller star Wendy Brookbank into the fold, set up shop on a handful of borrowed change, and ran five clinics that winter on Blackcomb and one at Sunshine. Peter, Greg and Wendy all had the same ability to ski long, fluid big-mountain off-piste lines and communicate the hows and whens of this kind of skiing. Plus a ton of local knowledge. Skiers took notice and in the 95/96 season, the number of clinics climbed to 15. The Extremely Canadian train had left the station. Not everyone was happy of course. Locals razzed Extremely Canadian about showing tourists all the good lines and secret spots. In fact, one friend’s displeasure made Wendy cry. She got over it. Everybody did. Nowadays local mountaineers and hotshots call Extremely Canadian asking if they can guide for them. It’s an indication of changing times: ski bums creating a career for themselves by doing what they love, and loving what they do.
Sponsors and partnerships followed with Rossignol and Columbia Sportswear, who’ve been committed ever since. Still, there were the usual business growing pains. An excerpt from Jill’s 1996/97 diary: Did a deal with Whistler & Blackcomb (one year prior to the merger). “Sold our soul and paid double commissions to the mountains and offered clinics twice weekly (36 in total). Worked our asses off. Hired more people. The Whistler/Blackcomb merger was announced. Pay-off came when the mountains cut their specialty programs (outside contractors) from over 18 to one — us. Still growing; up 20%. Ate a lot of Kraft Dinner that year.”
Since then they’ve run full tilt every winter from December to mid April. Sunshine was dropped due to lack of numbers, but exciting Extremely Canadian guided ski trips to mountain resorts around the world were added starting in 97/98. Now the ‘Extremely Canadian World Tour’ as it’s dubbed has grown into it’s own, offering epic week-long guided ski trips to the best freeskiing meccas around the globe, always seeking the next untapped powder haven. Spin a globe with your eyes shut and put your finger on it; odds are you’ll hit an area Extremely Canadian has guided a trip through, or will be soon.
99+% of clients claim they will be back for more action (and this apparently has nothing to do with their infamous après-ski at Merlin’s bar). Kudos pile up for both the clinics and its guides: Wendy made North Americas top 50 skiers in a 1999 POWDER magazine. And the same year, for the first time, Peter, Greg and Wendy all appeared in the prestigious POWDER Photo Annual. In 2000, Peter was voted one of the top 100 ski instructors in North America by SKIING magazine. And in 2005 MEN’S JOURNAL voted Extremely Canadian best ski school. In the years to follow, their growing staff has been plastered throughout international ski publications from cover shots to articles, biographies and more; too many to name.
Not bad for a little summertime notion. Care to join us?
In 1994, we set out to teach adventurous skiers how to attack the steeps with more confidence and control, but revolutionized ski instruction while we were at it.
The story behind Pete and Jill has been repeated a number of times, so this time around we thought we would share a new light on an old tale. That summertime notion that changed the ski industry in Whistler was made a reality based on the hard work of an indomitable couple. Pete taking the front lines of Extremely into his hands with Jill powering through the nitty-gritty behind the scenes to make this business really work.
Starting Extremely Canadian together over 20 years ago and being married for most of those years is not always easy. Through all the ice storms and dust on crust, they’ve stuck it out together. This dream team has all the bases covered in a two-person package.
For Pete, no undertaking is out of reach. If it can be skied, it will be skied. If you can build it yourself, screw paying somebody for it. Full of character and confidence, he will have you hucking your meat down Blackcomb’s craziest Couloirs without you even second-guessing your confidence. Being voted top 100 ski instructors in North America is a pretty big deal if you consider that there are over 31,000 in the US alone.
Problems don’t exist for very long in Jill’s world. She likes to think she’s a mob boss, but her connections won’t wrap you in a carpet. They may hook you up with free ski passes and some sweet threads, though. Before her Extremely Canadian days she had done PR for countless events hosting thousands of people, including the World Ski & Snowboard Festival. Together though, is where the story is. These two have battled everything that dry seasons, economic downturns, and climate change have thrown their way. If they had emerged from their respective wombs somewhere the snow didn’t fly, they’d likely be ruling a multibillion-dollar corporation together. Instead, they followed their dreams and roughed it out living in parking lot 5 and before they knew it, they turned the thing they loved the most into a full time job.
If there’s something spectacular to highlight in the Pacific Northwest, Wendy Brookbank’s smile alone could have two books and a feature film written about it. Wendy is one of those people who could be photographed from a helicopter three mountain ranges away, and still be recognizable by her gleaming Chiclets.
Wendy moved to Whistler from Ottawa after a pretty intensive racing season in 1988/89 “to get skiing out of my system”. Shredding the mountain in her “no way that’s a girl” kind of way, she was “discovered” by Glen Plake and Greg Stump in the spring of that season and they opened her world to being a Pro Skier. With countless films including 10 years on the Warren Miller roster, she definitely made it big as one of the debut women freeskiers. When asked for her resume for this media kit she said “I have not made out a resume in about 21 years (since I have worked for ExCan!) I can not really remember all of the things that
I have done but I will try.” Being voted one of Powder Magazines top skiers, and doing a backflip on Mother’s day 2015 were some of the more notable entries.