“What happens at Whitecap stays at Whitecap.”
That may not be a saying, but it ought to be. With 2000 days of backcountry guiding over 20 years, 10 of them at Whitecap, you'd think owner/lead guide Lars Andrews would have seen it all. But every day in the backcountry presents new challenges and surprises, and like snowflakes, no two days are alike. With ever-changing snowpack, unpredictable coastal weather, and new terrain always being uncovered, Lars' winters keep him plenty engaged. Then add a new cast of characters every 3-5 days for 10 years – you know it's been a wild ride.
This constant evolution is what keeps Lars in the game. “I keep going for different reasons and my inspiration for doing what I do is constantly changing and evolving. There are many rewards. I love to be physical, I am constantly challenged by conditions, terrain and placing, moving people through it. I love seeing the rewards shining across the faces of the people I work with and for. I love to mentor and teach newer guides and try to pass along inspiration to those just discovering this world.”
Backcountry ski guiding wasn't something Lars was looking for. It found him. His father Ron Andrews, a life long skier and mountaineer, had been ski touring in the McGillivray Pass area north of Whistler since the early 70's. Lars was 6 when he got the first taste of the terrain that would later become his primary passion and livelihood. He was in Grade 1, already super committed to XC and downhill skiing, and backcountry was just a natural part of it.
“Backcountry skiing wasn't a 'thing'. Sometimes we skied lifts, sometimes we climbed and skied. A group of families winter camped and skied each winter, exploring the Sea to Sky region, even documenting it in 'Fresh Tracks', the original area guide book.”
Years and miles in the backcountry naturally left him poised and ready for a lifelong career.
"Through my father I met Hans Gmoser and Kobie Weiss, two of the most influential Austrian and Swiss guides in world at the time. Kobie and I became pen pals and I was definitely inspired by his life and what he did for a living. Pretty early on I knew that being a Mountain Guide was something I thought would be pretty cool. Truthfully I never made a conscious decision to be a guide. I loved to climb and ski and I had been doing that my entire life. The actual guiding was just a natural extension of what I was already doing.”
“I made money by being a porter to mountain huts and portering and breaking trail for guided groups on some of the Grand Traverses in the greater BC and Alberta Mountain Ranges so it was pretty easy to slide into the Guiding world. At a very young age I already had a massive amount of mountain miles and many of them working with actual Professional Guides. Oddly enough, It was my grandmother that introduced me and got me my first real full time paying job as a guide.”
When an opportunity came up to buy into the original McGillivray Pass Lodge, one of the earliest backcountry lodges in BC, Lars' father dropped in with both feet. For the past 20 years, the Andrews family have called the McGillivary Pass Lodge their ‘winter home’. As a certified IFMGA/ACMG guide, Lars was 'right at home' in this new home, and a decade ago spawned Whitecap Alpine, the operation that runs international trips world wide and offers guided and catered trips to the Lodge all winter long. Well, except Christmas. The Andrews family still gets dibs on that.
“The winter world has so many layers, the people the snow and the mountains. British Columbia is so unique in the world. There is no better combination of terrain and snow in the world.”
You can safely say Lars loves what he's doing. But it doesn't come without it's risks and challenges. An entire season at the Lodge means Lars' friends, community and loved ones are a part of the fold, or absent for half the year.
Heck, Lars has spent so much time back there he's even anthropomorphized the snow pack and made friends with it.
“The most interesting thing to me is creating a relationship with the snowpack. Learning the personality and character of the seasons' snowpack is amazing. Giving the snowpack human qualities helps me understand the opportunity and limitations that exist when working in it. It can be simple and stable, easy to read and understand, where you can do anything to it. Or it can be mysterious and hard to understand, when you never really know what kind of reaction it will have.”
“You have to be calculated with your approach, or it can be sensitive and emotional and hard to work with. Those 'High Maintenance' or just plain saucy snowpacks can be fun to play with, on their good days.”
And as they saying goes, “There's old guides and bold guides, but no old bold guides.” Surviving a lifetime of backcountry ski guiding in aggressive Coast Range terrain demands a serious respect and appreciation for the mountains and snow conditions.
“I've managed to keep happy and alive by both chance and diligence. I was very lucky early on, with lots of close calls in my teens and early twenties by pushing too hard in inappropriate times. Learning through great mentors with experience about when to push and when to pull back, I gained an incredible respect for the mountains. I have a healthy amount of fear, and a good understanding of my limitations and tolerance for risk.”
So has he seen it all?
“Having the amount of experience I have amassed you end up seeing all the great and wonderful and horrible and tragic moments that being in the mountains this much creates. In the end we do this for fun and reward. Fun in the mountains can mean so many different things, but I've learned over the years you don't get to dictate what type of fun you get to have, the mountains do.”