How did these kids get so good? Guy Mowbray.
For over a decade, Guy Mowbray was an icon in the Bow Valley ski scene. In lift lines at Lake Louise, his blonde ponytail would identify him, and skiers would whisper to each other, “that’s the guy I told you about.” Fathers would tell their kids, “go to college, or you’ll end up like him." Mothers would tell children to “stay the heck away from that guy.” He lived the ski bum’s lifestyle to the fullest and enjoyed it all. At some point, he woke up after a night of apres skiing (probably still in ski boots) and decided it was time to give back to our ski community. Two decades later, there are a lot of us that are glad he did.
Now that every ski hill west of Saskatchewan has a free skiing club, it’s hard to believe that in 1999 when Guy started the Rocky Mountain Freeriders (RMF) it was the first club of its kind in North America. Until then, teenagers who needed an excuse to get dropped off at the hill had to join a racing or a freestyle program. As a race coach, Guy had grown sick of watching kids quit skiing just because they didn’t fit into the competitive mould. So, with a group of eight ex-racers as students, Guy started RMF. The stated goal was to “create lifelong skiers by having fun while improving”. And, to this end, he’s been immensely successful. On any weekend, you can see ex-RMFers instructing, working at the hill, or just ripping up the mountains of western Canada.
One of Guy's first students was a talented 15-year-old named Eric Hjorleifson. After two years skiing with RMF, Eric landed his first sponsors and started the tradition of ex-students becoming RMF coaches. Next, the club pumped out Chris Rubens, Steve Hjorleifson and Justin Francis. They all honed their styles under Guy’s tutelage and went on to land sponsors and returned as coaches between their photo and film shoots. RMF later produced sponsored skiers like Carter McMillan, Jordy Kidner, Drew Wittstock, Garrett and Jemma Capel, and Noah Maisonet, to name just a few.
This kind of success and the fun everyone was clearly having led to rapid growth of the club in the 2000s. By the time ski schools got their red-suits teaching freeskiing, Guy had spent years developing techniques to coach a sport with no actual rules or guidelines. His coaching philosophy came both from his race background and his own life of freeskiing.
At the early age of three, Guy first strapped on skis. One can only imagine the hell a young Mowbray would have caused ripping around Marble Mountain, Newfoundland, where his family lived. Years later, he would watch the movie Hot Dog and have his first skiing epiphany. He saw himself moving out west and emulating his new hero from the film, Squirrel. So that’s exactly what he did; settling in Banff in 1994.
Guy enjoying pow in Revelstoke.
His real freeski education started at Lake Louise in the days when Andrew Sheppard, Kirk Jensen, and Marty Gautry would rule the hill between RAP Films’ shoots. Guy fought daily to keep up with the strongest skiers on the mountain in those skinny-ski days while he soaked up their skills like a sponge. Soon people were calling Guy one of the best skiers at the Lake, and any day he wasn’t coaching, he was up there proving them right.
Guy lived the ski bum dream to the fullest for longer than most people could stand negative bank accounts and living in squalor. He has now cut the ponytail and cleaned up his act, but he still tells great stories of the skiers, parties, powder days, and general craziness of that time. His life, ski program, and general stoke have encouraged a whole generation of skiers to leave the city and dive right into the dirtbag life instead of listening to parent’s cries of “college first, college first!”
Drew Wittstock, former RMF director/coach/student (and former FRESH employee!). photo: Malcolm Sangster
RMF continued to spread the “skiers for life” ethos for nearly 20 years. Now, past members coach for other clubs and continue to pass on the stoke. The best skier on the mountain any given day at Lake Louise is quite likely an RMFer. Still, the real legacy of Guy Mowbray and the movement he started is the handful of passionate lifers in any ski town working a variety of jobs, from nurse to engineer, to lift maintenance, to ski coach, who still make time in their lives for the passion RMF helped light.
Now living in Revelstoke, Guy is still a skier to his core. He runs a landscape business and spends his winters shredding pow with friends and showing his kids the way of the ski bum.