Testing gear hard and staying safe in the Purcells with Colin Puskas

An old Friend of Fresh and OG of the Calgary freeski scene, Colin Puskas spends his winters exploring the BC interior on skis and snowmobile, but we caught up with him for a great day of early spring touring in the Rockies. We wanted to hear how his gear’s been working, where he’s finding good skiing and how he’s been staying safe through a difficult season.

It ended up being one of the best days of the winter as avalanche hazard had finally decreased, and the steep north faces still held fantastic snow. Under blue skies and no wind, we put in a solid effort that paid off with a dream run we’ll be talking about for a long time.

Colin Puskas:

For those who don’t remember, Puskas was one of the best-known Rockies skiers in the 2000s and 2010s—loved by photographers for his ability to make a pretty turn in almost any snow conditions and his unflappable air style (not to mention a willingness to huck huge). Puskas had photos in every ski magazine that existed during that time. He also filmed parts for Theory 3 Media and B4Apres back in the DVD days. While he doesn’t spend much time in front of the camera anymore, he’s still out there in the mountains more than most people and skiing as strong as ever. The amount of backcountry experience he’s amassed puts him in a rare league of skiers that can find, assess and shred remote zones all winter. And he’s been doing it safely for long enough that we could all learn a few things from him.

colin puskas canadian rockies

Colin Puskas, Canadian Rockies

Fresh: You’ve been skiing all winter, including lots of backcountry days, backcountry nights and resort laps. I know it’s just your typical winter, but can you sum it up for us?

Colin: Yeah, I’ve had seven hut trips so far this season and a full tent expedition, too. A whole bunch of sled days, touring days, and a lot of ski hill days on top of that. Quite a variety, really. But especially hut trips. That’s the real test for clothes. You’re basically living in the stuff. It’s part of your skin.

Fresh: I asked Colin about his Flylow kit after watching it perform well on the uphill, the downhill and even the parking lot apres scene. So I asked him about the brand.

Colin: Yeah, I’ve been wearing it for 60 days so far this season.

Flylow seems to be a crew of skiers that went from the ski hill to the backcountry, sled skiing and hut trips. That’s the pinnacle of skiing when it comes to developing great outerwear; the hut trip.

They have three different lines, and the Z Line that I’m using is the one that’s strictly touring stuff. They have some new fabrics that are really durable and last longer so that you buy less and there’s less consumer waste. That’s what they’re really after.

I like the function and style of it all but really like Flylow’s durability. Sled skiing and camping are extremely hard on gear. The sledding, dealing with machines, and sled camping beats clothes up. That’s the real test for clothes. You’re basically living in the stuff. It’s part of your skin.

puskas heule in a hut

Hut life with Puskas. pic: Heule

Fresh: Picture sitting in the snow while brewing your morning coffee, chopping firewood and getting breakfast on before fuelling up the sleds and heading out for a day of ski touring from the machines, all in your ski gear. Then getting back to camp and drying everything out while you have a beer and get ready to do it all again the next day. Your outerwear better work well when you are wearing it for everything - all day.

Colin: I like the systems Flylow has. They understand the layering you need to get the warmth and breathability. It’s not just one jacket that you have to wear and sweat in or take off. They have layers that work well together. They definitely understand the backcountry experience, and they’re also really into the freeride world tour. They have a bunch of athletes that compete, so you know they have that side of performance covered, too.

puskas salomon flylow

Puskas in K-Country: Salomon & Flylow. pic: Heule

Fresh: Puskas and Rob Heule spend a big chunk of their winter in the Purcell mountains. This season has often produced high avalanche hazard across western Canada, especially in the Purcells. Most experts have considered it the most dangerous snowpack around this season. So how did the guys stay safe while spending so many days in the Purcell backcountry?

Colin: Instead of having descent-based goals, we chose exploration-based goals. Our successes were getting out and exploring new zones and finding new lines to ski in the future.

Just because we spent the season out there doesn’t mean that we were out there pushing it. And the Purcells vary quite a bit. From Kicking Horse down to the southwest side of the range is a big difference. We were on snowpacks that were over 3 metres in some spots. Once you get into those glacier systems, it’s like a Rogers Pass snowpack. There’s the Horseshoe, Macbeth, Jumbo glaciers, and then you have the Bugaboos. It’s icefield after icefield. It’s one of the coolest places in the interior of BC.

Fresh: Luckily, our day with Puskas touring in Yoho National Park was a more casual mission with a much safer snowpack. Blue skies and boot top powder made it a lovely time all around. After a winter of avoiding hazards and working hard to stay safe, how was it? 

Colin: That was a dream day! Like a dream come true. Like when you are in a bad dream, and then the good part of the dream shows up. -laughs- The scary clown has gone away, and you’ve made it through the bad stuff, and finally, you open the right door, and there’s a rainbow inside.

It was a great day to explore and check out a new zone with a long-time buddy. We went up, got out early and, monitored temps, kept an eye on our exit routes. And we ended up on a very beautiful run that didn’t seem like it was real. I’m still shaking my head. On a year like this, you don’t get many of those. It will definitely be burnt into my mind and keep me thinking about skiing all summer.

puskas touring

Puskas exploring on QST Blanks. pic: Heule

Fresh: 30cm of light powder was easy to ski (and, of course Puskas made it look good), but even when we got down to some sun crust and corn snow, he was carving solid arcs on his Salomon QST 106s. Why is that the ski he takes for such a wide range of possible snow conditions all season? 

Colin: It’s super playful in all conditions on and off-piste. I think it’s the perfect ski for the Canadian Rockies. I use it for 1800 feet of moguls on the North American chair at Norquay or dipping into untouched pow in Delirium Dive. Plus, you can lay carves on the groomers or ski powder in the backcountry.