Yukon Backcountry Skiing’s owner, Claude Vallier, introduces his two girls, Kiona and Heidi, to the world by making a movie of skiing the wild Yukon mountains. “I didn’t really want to make a movie, but after participating in other movies and TV shows, I wanted to show more what I want,” said Vallier. “People always say, ‘How do you do that with your girls? How do you motivate them, when it’s cold and dark?’”
The movie features his teenage girls battling the elements in remote Yukon mountain areas, such as White Pass, Haines Pass, Kluane National Park, and the Saint Elias Mountains. “You don’t have to be a professional skier. You don’t have to be the fastest or craziest,” said Vallier. “You don’t have to be super good … Ski movies, these days, are all showing this crazy kind of skiing. It’s about having fun.”
And you can see the fun they had by watching the movie—the smiles on the girls faces, even after they’d been dragged outside while complaining that they wanted to stay home in dark, cold winter.
“The goal of sport is to be outside and to have fun. It brings fun, joy, trust and better balance,” said Vallier. “You get to know people better that you are going with. Even if it’s your family … when in the wild environment, you have to manage things—like, if it gets cold or dark—how to manage these things together.”
Like any sport, backcountry adventures are even more paramount to danger, and getting his daughters outside teaches them a healthy respect and develops their understanding of the mountains. “It’s important to learn a lot of things.
“The best schools don’t have doors, walls or windows … it’s outside. It takes away interference like cars, TV, phones … t’s you, the people you are with and the environment. A better connection. When you want to get to know someone, you can see a lot [about them] in the wilderness. It can push your boundaries and [help you] to know what your limits are. You don’t really know what you are capable of doing. Even if you are tired or cold, you have to go.”
The movie features some stunning terrain, highlighting how wild and isolated the Yukon is in winter. The Vallier family moved 10 years ago to Whitehorse from Le Grand-Bornand, France, because Europe simply is too overcrowded. Over that 10 years, Vallier, with his company Yukon Backcountry Skiing, has been documenting and highlighting previously unknown areas.
Each year, Vallier travels to the Saint Elias Mountains, a popular spot for spring skiing and sledding near Haines Pass. So this year he took his girls to the location where it has float plane access. “It’s so unique and nothing like anywhere else in the world,” he said [which you can see in the visuals of the movie].
Vallier’s daughters started ski touring when they were seven and nine years old, and to do this, Vallier had to create their skis. Ski companies don’t making touring skis (yet) for children. “If you think touring is hard for adults, it’s much harder for children,” said Vallier. “They are smaller, and even with the lightest equipment, it is a lot of work for them. For now, they learn to ski, but it’s more about fun than technical stuff now. They can ski well down anything autonomously.”
Meeting “Les Filles”
Kiona, 13, and Heidi, 11, have been skiing since before they can actually remember. Kiona was one and Heidi was 11 months old when they learned to ski. So I got to chat with the two lucky girls who get to go on adventures with their dad, in the Yukon’s backcountry, and found out what they thought about making a ski movie …
Do you remember learning to ski?
H: No, not really. There’s a video of my dad holding me and skiing down [Heidi demonstrates, pretending to be her dad holding her skiing]. I don’t remember, there’s evidence of it.
Do you like ski touring?
H: Downhill is better. You can go faster and don’t stop.
K: I like to ski tour if I go up, and it’s worth it to go down. It’s nothing worse than you go up and you have to go stop to go through trees, or it’s icy.
What was it like to make a movie with your dad?
H: It was fun when we got to go eat [laughs], but, at the same time, it was tiring. We had to do it again and again for the right shot. When we got to just do our own thing, it was more fun.
K: You would go up to one spot to get the camera gear out, be told to do this … it was lots of waiting. It seemed to be when we were getting there [to Elias camp], the weather was nice, but as we started to ski it would always get foggy. Seemed to be all the time.
What was your favourite part?
H: The one-ski race. You put one ski on and go as fast as you can; it’s really fun. [I ask who won and Heidi points to herself with a prideful smile.]
Claude: I didn’t ask them to do any of it. They came back exhausted from our day, and then a couple hours later they were doing this race … I don’t know where they found the energy.
K: You can find energy for things you really want to do.
H: Like having fun.
K: My favourite part … I enjoyed drawing and listening to music.
[Mirjam, their mother, interrupts with a laugh: So going home …]
Claude: This winter was terrible skiing. It was the worst conditions anyone could remember.
What was the worst part?
K: Worst part was the flat area for camp [Elias camp]. It would take 30 minutes to go on a flat area carrying stuff.
H: We had to get up at 5 a.m., get on a plane and had to carry all the stuff, and we were tired and the tent wasn’t ready, so we had to build our tent. I just wanted to lie down.
Have you seen the movie?
H: Too many times.
K: I don’t enjoy watching myself … I don’t like hearing myself.
Do you think it’s good?
H: It’s a good movie, we could win an Oscar [she says, triumphantly]. Best actress. Dad did a good job of editing it. It’s cool, because now we will get invited to do more things … to do more projects.
Do you think you will be a future ski movie star?
K: I like being in the background skiing.
Is skiing your favourite sport?
H: No, I’d rather do other sports, like skating.
K: It’s my second-favourite sport. Skating is first. I think ’cause I chose to do it [skating]. I was born into skiing. I like it, but skating is my favourite.
The official international premiere of the film was at the Winter Film Festival in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, France on November 11. An advance screening was shown in Ville-la-Grand, France on November 9 and an additional showing will occured Zag Skis in Argentiere, France on November 14.
The Canadian premiere will be in Whitehorse at the Yukon Avalanche Association movie night on December 6 at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. Visit the Yukon Backcountry Skiing website to follow their story, www.YukonBackcountrySkiing.com.