By: Dillon Watt
It”s about everything else: Sean Busby and seven continents of backcountry snowboarding
Hearing the call to prayer over speakers in tiny mountainside villages in Morocco. Spending summer solstice riding downwards to Norwegian fjords located just above the arctic circle. Skinning past thousands of penguins who colonize the moonscape of Antarctica; these are the moments that have drawn Sean Busby to complete backcountry snowboarding expeditions on all seven continents. In fact, six continents have seen Sean and his splitboard pay them multiple visits. Highline blogger Dillon Watt caught up with him to learn more about these adventures and quickly found out that, as Sean says of a favourite trip to Kyrgyzstan, “It wasn”t about the skiing, it was about everything else.”
Q: Tell us about the goals you set that are driving these expeditions.
SB: Riding on all seven continents wasn”t necessarily a goal of mine. What I found is that I was loving the adventure and the culture of the places I was travelling. I wanted to be exploring remote mountain ranges, and love just putting my finger on a map and educating myself about a new place. The seven continents thing kind of happened more naturally from there.
Q: How do you manage snow safety in new places and unfamiliar snowpacks?
SB: This is and has always been the most challenging factor on these expeditions. In planning, I try to connect with people who know the area or have done similar trips, but for some of these areas that option doesn”t exist. I start watching the weather months before I leave, and the first week of a trip is always just getting a feel for the online casino conditions. It”s going back to basics, lots of pits, and treading lightly from there.
Q: What have you learned on these trips that helps inform your backcountry decision-making back at home?
SB: Being put in certain situations, like some of the worst whiteouts you”ve ever seen in Norway and Iceland, enforces the lessons of moving slowly and paying attention. You train and prepare, but something always arises, and often you”re a long way from help. Comfort can build in your home mountains, so I”ve learned to avoid complacency and treat my home terrain just like a major expedition far away. It”s the same deal.
Q: Travelling shows a place at a snapshot in time, but has there been anywhere you felt a glimpse into what life is like long-term?
SB: Kyrgyzstan. We were working in partnership with the Utah Avalanche Centre, staying with local families in remote villages, often with no electricity and no common language. Religion definitely plays a role in how they approach the backcountry, so you have to work with that. You can be from opposite sides of the world and now with these simple toys, skis and snowboards, you have something in common. I felt that I truly found the spirit of skiing, there were kids skiing on pieces of PVC pipe. This trip changed the way I viewed future expeditions, experiencing culture, and my own life.
Q: Any places you found were tough to get a feel for?
SB: Japan. There is a heavy influence from the west, but coming in as outsiders we found it difficult to connect. We still gained an appreciation for Japanese culture, though, and got to ride the famous “Japow”.
You can read more about Sean”s seven continents expeditions and new adventures with his wife Mollie (including living off the grid in a yurt at their home base in NW Montana) on their website www.twosticksandaboard.com.
Sean shares a Bow Valley connection, having led expeditions with Highline team member Chloe Vance. He is the founder (and Mollie is executive director) of Riding on Insulin, a non-profit organization that delivers action sports camps for people who, like Sean, live with Type 1 diabetes.