Valuable Lessons, Estelle Pensiero Shares Her Experience In BC's Valhalla Backcountry

Filming for Robin Van Gyn's Fabric, a five-part series, Estelle Pensiero shares her experience and learnings from her five-day snow camping and splitboarding mission in British Columbia’s Baldface-Valhalla tenure.

Estelle Pensiero Valhalla 2021Estelle Pensiero Valhalla 2021

Last winter, Robin Van Gyn invited me to go on a camping/splitboarding mission in the Valhallas with herself, Irie Smith, and Jessa Gilbert, along with a filmer, Ryan Kenny, an amazing photographer, Erin Hogue and our guide Joel Mcburney. We took a heli into a little frozen lake with all our gear and set up a base camp there. From our basecamp, we spent the next five days splitboarding around exploring the surrounding mountains and filming for her documentary series, Fabric, that chronicles the lives of an elite group of female athletes, artists, and activists across snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding.

Even though I had never done anything like this before, I was so excited to go, it ended up being one of those experiences that you never forget, the whole trip was so unreal. I have spent some time in the backcountry, but before this trip I had only spent one night out. Being out in the elements for that many days and nights was so humbling. I have never really experienced the fragility of being human so personally. It made me really appreciate all the luxuries I rely on for my peace, comfort, and even survival.

I have never really experienced the fragility of being human so personally

I was kind of expecting it to be a nice balmy trip because we went in mid March. But I was so wrong. Even if it was warm during the day, the nights still dropped to below -20°F. Having the right gear was SO crucial.

There were also a few tips I got from those on my trip as well as some from people before I left that made my experience so much more comfortable. If I were to pass anything on, it would be these tips:

Keep your tent dry on the inside and avoid condensation at night. I didn't really know about this before I set up my tent, so I dug it into a massive hole to avoid getting cold. I also closed off pretty much all the air supply so there wasn't anywhere for my condensation to go. I woke up with soaking wet gear and a soaking wet sleeping bag. I have heard that hanging a dryer sheet in your tent helps? I mostly just wish that I had more ventilation in my tent.

LAYERS! The key to staying warm is staying dry! I learned to drop a layer as soon as you get hot to avoid sweating. If you drop your layers early, then they're nice and dry in your pack for the way down. Layering is always important when splitboarding, but if you sweat through your layers when camping, you're stuck with the same wet base layer until you take it off to dry or go home. I was so grateful for my outerwear and my layering system out there. Having 3 layer Gore-Tex is crucial to stop moisture from the outside. Most of the time that I was hiking I would just be in my base layer, but if there was any precipitation, I would put my Gore-Tex shell on over top with the vents open to stay dry! Even though it sounds a bit spoiled, I really don't think that I would have made it through this trip without my high performance gear. There are so many features that I honestly wouldn't want to be in the backcountry without.  stretchy breathable fabric is a must, crotch vents and armpit vents and Gore-Tex as well. I prefer bib pants for touring because I like to put my beacon in the front pocket and they prevent snow from getting inside your jacket. If I have bibs they MUST have a butt zip for bathroom emergencies which happen a lot when you are eating dehydrated backpacking food for a week. If I don't have bibs, my pants and jacket have to have Zip Tech because there is nothing I hate more than getting snow up my back.

Put boiling water in your bottle then put it in your sleeping bag or your jacket to warm you up. Bonus is that if you wake up in the night and want water, it isn't all frozen! P.S. DO NOT bring a plastic bottle. I made that mistake and my bottle almost exploded when I put boiling water in it. :)

Sacred socks. Have a pair of fluffy socks that you leave in your sleeping bag and only put on in your tent. Having dry socks is heavenly.

Trust yourself. Most things I rode on this trip were pretty manageable, but I got so worked up in my head thinking about all the reasons I couldn't do it instead of all the reasons that I could do it. Over the course of this trip I learned to talk myself into things, instead of talking myself out of them. I learned to trust my group and especially our awesome guide, Joel, not to let me ride anything dangerous, especially because if something were to happen and we were to need help, we are so far out there. I learned to really trust my own intuition and skills, I just kept on telling myself ‘you can do hard things!’

Estelle Pensiero

Estelle Pensiero