Travel Journal — Smokey Mountain September 4, 2019 – Posted in: News, Photos
Words by Gabe Fisher
Photos by Dru Kennedy, Ian Burns, Alex Henniffent, & Sean Genovese
Growing up in Newfoundland, I’d always heard about a rumoured ski hill in Labrador called Smokey Mountain. Friends and I had often spoke about making the nearly 2000 kilometer trip up there from the rock (the island of Newfoundland), but things had never seemed to really line up. Relatively speaking, Labrador isn’t all that far from where I’m based at — but the travel options available were either a 24-hour drive and a ferry ride, or a costly flight (which you could fly to BC for less for). Located in Canada’s North East and riding the Quebec border, Smokey Mountain boasts a tremendous annual snowfall that extends their season way beyond any other Atlantic province. Needless to say, I was stoked to receive a call from Alex at VOLTFUSE inviting me to join him and a film crew up at Smokey to be apart of their cross-country #BiggestLittleHill tour.
After leaving my hometown of Port Rexton and catching four separate one-hour flights in a tiny Dash-8 plane, I was met at the airport in Labrador City by Toby Leon, Smokey’s volunteer president. I got a quick rundown of the town and mountain on the short drive from the airport. With a current population of around 10,000 people, mining has been the town’s mainstay since the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) first set up shop there in the 1960’s. Smokey itself was originally a parcel of land to be mined but someone from the IOC had the foresight to cancel the mining and develop the ski hill. A recent $16M investment into the ski club from the IOC has also created an attractive amenity for families involved with workers at the mine. Most everyone you meet in Labrador City is an employee of IOC or some other spinoff business.
It was mid-April when we arrived, so I was completely shocked to see the nearly 20-foot snow banks lining the drive up to the base of the mountain. Toby informed me that with Smokey’s ski season starting in November and ending in May, European skiers visit the mountain in the fall and spring to extend their Nordic season, some of which training for the Olympics. The average annual snowfall at Smokey is roughly three meters. They have twenty runs, a new quad, two poma lifts and a magic carpet — impressive for a town of this size.
As we pulled up to the lodge, I could tell that the place had good bones. The bar (aka home base) had a couch, chair, fireplace, and photos on the mantle that lent the feeling of a family living room. A sign over the bar read “Toby’s Place,” and old newspaper clippings posted on the wall reflected back on a strong ski-race scene. It was also cool to see some solid photos of rippers from the late 90’s. The main portion of the lodge had a huge communal open grill in the corner that attracted families each Thursday to cook their own meat. There were kids running around everywhere, it was a real family affair.
The day I arrived the hill was closed, but Liam Gallop, our host and the VP of Smokey, had the authority to fire up the chair. We lapped all afternoon in the sun with local shreds, Marcus and Aaron, in hot pow. Drops, side-hits, open groomers, bowls and glades, Smokey has them all, accessible without unstrapping your back foot. Just watching the way Marcus and Aaron burn around, it’s evident the mountain’s terrain has made its mark on them.
After a full day of shredding, Liam had informed us that there had been Labrador tents pitched at the top of the hill. We loaded some snowmobiles with bodies and beer and headed our way up. The tents were fully kitted with everything you could possibly need, each with their own wood-stove. We hung out with locals, crushed some beer and, of course, blasted a few fireworks. After cruising down the hill with headlamps, we headed back to our hotel for the night. Our hotel was called the Two Seasons Inn, aptly named, as Labrador City literally only experiences two seasons — winter and summer.
The Banked and Janked Slalom took place on Saturday with a giant turnout of all ages. A dose of hot pow the night before made the course playful but challenging, with extra effort needed to maintain speed through the turns. The locals had it dialed and dominated the podium with Marcus Gibbs on top, crushing everyone with a time of 30.74. Hugo Lavoie snagged 2nd and Conner Wall rounded out the podium. Bottom line, Labrador is damn fast.
Our last day at Smokey happened to be closing day for the season. The hill was full of locals and visitors who knew Smokey as the spot where you could catch late season turns after all of the other hills had closed for the year. At the end of a day packed with gates and racing, everyone catches last chair to the peak of Smokey. Shots of tequila are handed out. Everyone toasts to the mountain and the season gone by.
Our crew consisted of Alex Henniffent (founder of VOLTFUSE and the brains behind the whole project), Sean Genovese (co-founder of DWD), Dru Kennedy (Newfoundland shred and photog extraordinaire), Joey B (@icecoastkillsshit) and filmers Alex Mitchell and Ian Burns (Only Issue Co.). Rolling with these dudes for a week left me with a sore stomach from laughing so much.
My time in Labrador was memorable to say the least. The mountain was absolutely incredible but it was the people of Labrador City that made the trip so unforgettable. The town’s motto is kamistiatusset, a Naskapi word meaning, “land of the hard-working people.” That motto rang true throughout the duration of my stay. Every single day I encountered something that struck me; the president repairing a pressure switch for the lodges plumbing, the cat driver serving up a pig roast, the vice president loading beer into the bar. Everyone at Smokey is in it to make the boat go faster. I’m forever grateful to Alex for inviting me along and to everyone at Smokey Mountain and Labrador City for making it one of the best shred trips I’ve ever experienced. I will be making an annual trip, without a doubt. The big land is one for the books.
Stay tuned for the Smokey Mountain instalment of our #BiggestLittleHill series, coming this winter.