What’s the biggest barrier to backcountry skiing and snowboarding? Gear. Skis need specific touring bindings. Snowboards need to be able to split in half to allow ascent. Then there’s the transceiver, shovel and probe for self-rescue, plus a backpack to carry it all.
Sounds expensive, doesn’t it? You’re not wrong. All the aforementioned gear adds up to thousands of dollars when all is said and done, which can make the backcountry discipline of snowsports a tough sell to those wishing to try it for the first time.
Begging and borrowing from friends will only last so long. After all, these are the people you want to be in the backcountry with. The solution? Try before you buy with equipment rental.
Enter the Escape Route Alpine Demo Centre
The word “demo” was adopted by the action sports gear industry as another way to say “fancy high-end rental.” Rather than simply rent a stock pair of skis, one can “demo” the top-of-the-range model. But when you walk into the Escape Route Alpine Demo Centre in Whistler, there’s a lot more going on than fancy gear adorning the walls.
Escape Route owner and volunteer ski patroller James Retty has had a longstanding relationship with local guiding operators, most notably the Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau (WAGB), which he founded with local ACMG guide Keith Reid. Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures acquired WAGB in 2015.
“When we formed WAGB in 1991, we based the concept on what we saw in Chamonix where the guide bureaus and local ski and mountaineering shops had a close relationship,” says Retty. “It’s integral for a guide to know all their own gear, but a guide doesn’t necessarily know all the gear. Our job (as retailers) is to canvas the market for the best gear for our mountains, our weather and our conditions here in the Sea to Sky.”
If gear is the gateway to the backcountry, the guide is the shepherd. The two go hand in hand to provide a safe and enjoyable experience. For this reason, MSAA has chosen the Escape Route Alpine Demo Centre as a meeting point for all of its Whistler courses and adventures. Guests enrolled in those courses are able to pick up their pre-booked equipment before their guide arrives. Through a partnership between the two local companies, those guests also receive a 20% discount on gear rented from the Alpine Demo Centre.
By expanding Escape Route into the new location in Whistler Village, Retty hopes to make the Alpine Demo Centre a hub for backcountry culture. The floor space is clean and uncluttered, unlike most retailers that have to maximize the value of every square foot with product and inventory. The Alpine Demo Centre is also the perfect spot for hosting gatherings, which Retty hopes to do with speaker events this winter. The first such speaker event takes place this Saturday, December 2 at 7 p.m. with Sea to Sky touring veteran Matt Gunn sharing some of his favourite skiing locales.
If you’re interested in trying out the latest and greatest skis, splitboards, bindings, avalanche safety equipment (including electric fan airbags) and backpacks, stop by the Alpine Demo Centre at 7-4433 Sundial Place in Whistler Village (behind FantaykCo).
Written By: Vince Shuley