The Rec League is an expression pro skiers and mountain bikers use. It’s a term of respect, sometimes even jealousy, but it can also be used as a slight when needed. They use this term to describe guys and girls who have real jobs that afford them the time and income to pursue mountain sports, nearly at the same level as their sponsored, unemployed friends, but without any of the same commitments. Long-time Fresh customer, Harley Hegnauer has perfected the role and been on the team for so long, that he now holds the title: Prince of the Rec League.
The key to the precarious title Harley holds is the ability to keep up with top athletes while also bringing the good times that get you invited on trips. Someone has space in a backcountry hut? Call Harley! Need someone to split basecamp costs with? They better help out around camp and not be a liability in the mountains. Call Harley! Going to bike the desert with some pros, but need a travel partner who can enjoy the vacation days? Harley!
His day (or night) job is at Lafarge’s cement plant in Exshaw. It’s a tough, physical job and the shift work wreaks havoc on your sleep cycles. He rarely seems to be at work though, choosing instead to maximize his outdoor adventure time. And perhaps it’s the hard work that keeps him up for any adventure and always ready to apres.
Harley with Hoji hitching a ride in Argentina.
Last month, he swung by for an apres-ski beer and offered some advice for any recreational skier wanting to live the Rec League dream.
KH: You grew up in Calgary/Canmore and started racing young, but when did you start backcountry skiing?
Harley: When I was 15 with the high school outdoor class would go on overnight trips on free-heel telemark ski gear. I guess that was 24 years ago.
You’ve skied in the Alps, Japan, Argentina, and all-around BC, but you’re mostly a Rockies skier. So what’s the best thing about skiing in the Rockies?
You are scared all the time. There are always so many scary conditions in the Rockies (thin snow cover, dangerous avalanche conditions, and rocks everywhere) that you are cautious when you go somewhere else. With the Rockies, you have to know what you are doing to do it safely. There are lots of days you just have to pull the pin, so you progress slowly over the years and learn humility.
That’s the good thing? I was going to ask you what the worst thing about skiing in the Rockies is, but maybe it’s the same?
Well… yeah. Actually, facets. That’s the worst thing about skiing in the Rockies. And the cold. It’s cold! I think it gives you an advantage when you travel to ski around the world because you are cautious. I’d rather be more cautious than not.
You’ve travelled a lot, so where’s your favourite place to ski?
The last few years, I’ve really loved skiing around Golden and Revelstoke. Because we have friends there and it’s unreal skiing.
I thought you’d say somewhere far-flung. That’s pretty nearby.
I’d love to go to Japan every year and Europe every year, but that’s not really in the cards. The skiing we have locally is unreal anyhow. Every place I’ve ever gone to ski, people ask why we are there. “Why did you leave home and great snow mid-season?”
What’s your favourite piece of backcountry gear?
My Dynafit Hoji Free 130 boots. They’re incredible.
Showing off his Hoji Free 130's
Any tips for new backcountry skiers?
Surround yourself with mentors and people more experienced than you. That’s huge for your education. Ski the resort a lot to learn how to actually ski. Don’t count on backcountry skiing if you really want to get good at the downhill part. You need to put in the time and miles for confident skiing, and that’s tough to get when you are just walking up mountains.
How did you learn then?
I grew up skiing and racing, so lots of training days and working on technique. Then we started going slack-country (the near backcountry off of ski areas) a bit. Then slowly started doing bigger days and bigger adventures. And I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by amazing friends that fed off each other and pushed me.
What are your summer activities?
Trying to climb with my fiancé (Nani Woollings). Trying to keep up with her in general. But mostly mountain biking. I think biking has really boosted my skiing. Just something that keeps me fit and sharp in the offseason. That’s been huge for me. I’ve really started loving biking. Like, it’s close to skiing for me now.
Behind the scenes on a MSP film trip.
I know you have the spiky running shoes now, and you’re xc skiing, too. You are getting pretty lycra these days!
Ha. Yeah, I got my tightest pair of pants last year - sort of a winter jogging pant.
Are those sports just to stay in shape, or have you started enjoying them?
Well, I’ve never gone cross-country skiing without Nani. It’s something she likes to do and it’s fun just to get outside. And it’s scary because I’m not very good at it! Which is fun. I’ve kind of enjoyed running, like max 5km. We did 9km, but that was too much! It’s nice feeling like you are in shape, though. It makes the other sports like skiing more fun.
I tweaked my back the other day, and it was a reality check for how I need to take care of myself. I couldn’t do anything for a few days. Lake Louise; it was ski hill skiing that did it. I was trying to hit all these jumps and stuff.
Wait, you just told everyone to ski the resort, but that’s how you get hurt? Maybe we should just ski the backcountry only?
It’s true. It is. I just think it’s funny. You get yourself into some situations in the backcountry where you need to be able to really ski. And you can learn those skills quickest spinning laps at the hill.
P.S. Harley almost always has a flask with some special hooch in his pack. So, if you see the princely 6’4” Swiss-Canadian at Lake Louise or in the backcountry, make sure you give him a high-5 before you steal his line.