Here we are at the end of October, with mountains all across North America newly dusted with the season’s first snowfall—a mottled tease of the winter bounty yet to come. And so we wait as the natural rhythm of backcountry recreation turns, oh-so-slowly, from hard-won summer pursuits to the gravity-fueled joy of winter.
Hiking, mountain biking and whitewater sustain mountain folk through the snowless seasons, and while canoe-tripping is an outlier for most there’s no finer season for it than fall, especially in Canada where waterways stitch together country you simply can’t reach except by canoe. So it’s natural to come off the water still buzzing, look up at that thin dusting of snow on the town run, and think, What if?
What if you loaded a hot tent and a quiver of split boards into big green canoes, and escaped the ordinary confines of Revelstoke? What if you paddled a route pioneered by Canada’s greatest explorer, pausing to shred virgin powder all day and into the night? What if you did it with three of your best friends, and made an award-winning movie about the adventure?
Now you’re thinking like Nick Khattar.
But . . . what if there’s an historic cold snap and you get frostbite and lose your friends? What if you hike three days into the alpine only to find the snow is crap because it, and you, have been pummeled by 60-mile-per-hour winds?
Shut up. You’re supposed to be thinking like Nick. Nick is an optimist.
A self-described single father of a dog named Ernie, Nick left his native Nova Scotia for Revelstoke years ago to snowboard as much as humanly possible. A filmmaker, writer and part-time deckhand, he’s also a well-known instigator of hare-brained adventures.
“There’s kind of only two people that I know of, that I hang out with, that would be dumb enough to do this with me,” he says. That would be Johan Rosen and Seb Grondin, Revy locals hailing from Sweden and Quebec, respectively. Johan enlisted British cameraman and part-time Revelstoke resident Ben Howells, and the team was complete. In 2020, during the coldest January anyone remembers, the quartet paddled some 90 miles down the Columbia River to the Revelstoke Dam just north of town. The ten-day trip followed a portion of David Thompson’s 1811 route to the Pacific, on unceded territory of the Sinixt First Nation.
The team’s 40-minute film about the journey, Without A Paddle, combines plenty of shredding and winter camping hijinks with historical background and the cutting wisdom of Sinixt matriarch Marilyn James. In 1956, in order to clear the way for a spasm of dam-building on both sides of the American border, the Canadian government declared the Sinixt people extinct.
“They used the Indian Act to dismiss us as a people and to eradicate us from this landscape, by a falsely declared extinction of the Sinixt people,” James says in the film. “So you’re looking at an apparition here.”
This is heavier fare than normal for a snowboarding movie, but it works. Without a Paddle somehow melds nuanced history with the abject suffering of canoeing in minus-30 weather and hoot-out-loud joy of riding virgin powder through old growth forests.
It’s well worth a watch, as you wait for the snow to fall.