By Steve Hubrecht
Invermere big mountain freeskier Ian McIntosh is back ripping gnarly slopes after recovering from two injuries in the past two years.
Ian grew up skiing in Invermere and has, over the last 10 years, earned widespread recognition as one of the best in the freeskiing world becoming a full-time, sponsored professional and appearing in top-flight ski films and magazines while carving first descents in Alaska and other big mountain skiing hotspots around the globe.
It was while skiing in Alaska in 2011, filming with renown ski movie company Teton Gravity Research (better known as TGR), that Ian took a spectacular fall, breaking his femur and shredding his quad muscles.
He took a full year to recover from the injury. Then, just four days into the next winter, he broke his ankle while skiing a mellow, easy run in flat light.
It was a pretty demoralizing experience, Ian told The Pioneer. It was more of a mental struggle than anything.
But the long recovery brought some lessons, he said.
My head space is in a better place I have more understanding of my own mortality, said Ian. You can get such a euphoric rush, such a natural high, that its easy to get clouded in the brain and not manage risks properly.
The breakdown of his big fall in 2011 is as follows: Ian had earlier in the day successfully skied a breathtaking line, more or less straightlining down a ridiculously steep flute. His confidence buoyed, he then attempted another exceptionally difficult line, one with no room for error. Part way down, just before launching a mandatory air off a big cliff, he realized his plan was impossible. He changed direction at the last second and landed on a snowy chute he thought would be a good escape route. Unfortunately, it was not a chute at all, but a frozen waterfall covered by a slight dusting of snow.
He couldnt stick the landing and began tumbling down the steep face. Rescuers managed to get Ian off the mountain in a skid.
The bone healed comparatively quickly but his quad muscles were ripped to pieces. Rebuilding them took a long time. Although Ian was able to ski a bit in the winter of 2012 after his ankle healed, it was gentle skiing compared with his normal standards, mostly because his leg wasnt in its usual condition. It is only now that he feels he has truly recovered.
My leg had shrunk back big time it literally took two years to get it back to where it was, said Ian.
Doing so took no small effort. He hit the gym several hours a day, doing cardio and strengthening workouts in constantly switching regiments, morphing his routine to shock his body and rebuild his quad muscles.
Its paid off and Ian said he feels that hes in the best shape of his life.
Its good to have my body and my mind back in the big mountains and confident, he said.
He capped his recovery by returning to Alaska for six weeks this winter with TGR and Sherpa Cinema, another top-level ski film company.
It was the trip of a lifetime, said Ian. The snow was incredible and on the last run of the trip, with the sun getting low on the horizon, he and another skier rode one of their best lines ever.
We were so elated at the bottom of the line that we were hugging and we never do that, he said. Compared with the last time I was in Alaska, when I left on a medi-jet, strapped in stretcher, pumped up on morphine, this was definitely a lot better way to end a trip.
The time off gave Ian an opportunity to re-focus his career.
People think big mountain skiers take unnecessary risks, but in many ways the opposite is true. I love taking risks, but I always want to make sure I come home at the end of the day, he said. Right now its about maintaining and longevity.
The 31-year old said he feels fortunate to earn a comfortable living one that allows him to pay the mortgage on his Pemberton home and take the summers off for as long as he has and wants to continue for at least another nine years. He is acutely aware his 2011 accident could have ended his career, if not his life, but added that his current emphasis on preservation doesnt mean hell take it easy. There is still a progression to follow, he said.
That progression began here in the valley. Ians dad started to take him backcountry ski touring when he was just 10 years old. Ian was initially a ski racer, but eventually the lure of fresh snow was too much to resist. Some of his family members on his mothers side (Ben Stokey and Nick Morris) were well-known rippers in Fernie and he idolized them.
They had a huge effect on me, he said I was looking up to my cousins a lot.
As soon as Ian finished secondary school, he moved to Fernie to ski for a winter, before heading to Kicking Horse Resort in Golden the next year.
I wanted to somehow make my skiing lifestyle last a long, long time, he said.
While skiing in New Zealand he met some professional skiers from Whistler who convinced him that if he wanted to make his passion into a living, he needed to move to Whistler. He did and began entering freeski competitions, at one point funding a swing through European events with only his podium earnings. At each competition he was faced with being forced to return home unless he came in the top three and earned prize money. Fortunately for him, he just kept hitting the podium.
After a breakout year in 2004, sponsors and ski film companies came knocking.
All of a sudden the phone was ringing off the hook, Ian recalled.
The two latest films hes featured in TGRs Way of Life and Sherpa Cinemas Into the Mind will both be released this September. Sherpa Cinemas website has a trailer for Into the Mind which attracted 700,000 hits in the first six hours it was online. TGR will release a Way of Life trailer soon.
When the films come out, Ian will be on tour, promoting the movies and signing posters across North America and Europe. Until then hes busy enjoying the offseason by mountain biking, surfing, skydiving and doing some