Eric Jackson's Bet­ter Halvey

Transworld Snowboarding - - HELMETS -

Snow is a sol­u­ble elixir. At el­e­va­tion it clings to the steep and jagged, pro­vid­ing the struc­ture for a back­coun­try ses­sion. When warm air forces it to come unglued, it feeds healthy rivers of new op­por­tu­nity. In North­ern Bri­tish Columbia, dur­ing late win­ter through early spring, these two worlds co­a­lesce. And al­though snow­board­ing and fly­fish­ing run at di­ver­gent al­ti­tudes, they fol­low a sim­i­lar time­line. It’s this phe­nom­e­non that flows through Align­ment, Eric Jackson’s new film that in­vites his two loves into the room for a full sea­son of bril­liant equi­lib­rium build­ing.

Nes­tled just south of Alaska’s Ton­gass Na­tional For­est, in the one-brew­ery town of Ter­race, Bri­tish Columbia, I find Jackson holed up in an A-frame at Skeena Spey Lodge, steps away from the broad Skeena River. It’s March, and Jackson has been squat­ting here since Jan­uary, break­ing trail, com­pil­ing footage, and, ap­par­ently, for­go­ing the ra­zor. Sport­ing what looks like a thriv­ing old-growth for­est on his face, the 30-year-old snow­boarder has a mid-sea­son fish­ing ad­ven­ture in mind. And that’s why I’m here, to sam­ple the wa­ter.

In the lodge, we or­der a round of Cae­sars, Canada’s spicy, clamjuiced ver­sion of a Bloody, and sit­ting at the bar we be­gin scratch­ing to­gether plans for our push into a re­mote stream that may or may not have ocean-run fish in it when we ar­rive. That’s the beauty and curse of steel­head fish­ing. Just like moun­tains, rivers don’t come with guar­an­tees. But for Jackson, af­ter two months in the alpine, they hold an­other kind of prom­ise—re­newal. Or at least a road to­ward it.

The path to Align­ment be­gan four years ago, dur­ing the lead-up to an­other an­tic­i­pated film. Travis Rice’s three-years-in-the-mak­ing The Fourth Phase project was about to go live, and Jackson, who would play a ham­mer-heavy role in the fi­nal prod­uct, had just been let go by two ma­jor spon­sors. “It was sup­posed to be one of the big­gest ac­tion-sports movies ever,” he says, “and through­out shoot­ing, I was heav­ily branded by those guys, which ended up hurt­ing me. For the next cou­ple of years,” Eric con­tin­ues, “I re­ally had no money and no travel bud­get. I was in limbo.”

It wasn’t to­tal obliv­ion. X Games Real Snow picked up some travel tabs, while Jackson col­lected a bronze for his com­mand­ing back­coun­try part in the ven­ture. He also teamed with his sib­ling, John, piec­ing to­gether a cou­ple of good sea­sons. But the spon­sor­ship melt­down left him feel­ing gut­ted. And with more down­time across the snow cal­en­dar, a re­cal­i­brat­ing of goals fol­lowed. Jackson thought hard about what his ideal win­ter would look like, and he cre­ated a men­tal map of the el­e­ments he’d need to make it hap­pen. “To be hon­est, all I re­ally want to do in life is have the abil­ity to fish and snow­board. If I can do those two things, and have my fam­ily, I’m cen­tered. And this story, of how snow­board­ing and fish­ing bal­ance my life out, is some­thing I re­al­ized I had to tell.”

Any hus­tle, whether rolling bur­ri­tos or vault­ing cliffs for pay­checks, in­evitably calls for a semi-reg­u­lar time­out. Since Jackson started his snow­board­ing ca­reer, at 14, fish­ing has be­come his off-sea­son salve. When he and John were groms, liv­ing in Crowley Lake, Cal­i­for­nia, on the out­skirts of Mam­moth, they de­ployed a cou­ple Wal­mart-bought rods to ter­ror­ize the trout in their back­yard pond. And dur­ing the en­su­ing years, as E-Jack de­vel­oped his pow­er­ful style in the moun­tains, fly­fish­ing came along for the af­ter­party. If a murky fore­cast led to a can­celed shoot, there was typ­i­cally a clear river to ex­plore. Whistler, in par­tic­u­lar, held an en­tic­ing du­al­ity. Late in the sea­son, when back­coun­try blower con­gealed into grout, you could find Jackson crit­ter­ing around Squamish-area rivers, fish­ing for steel­head with fel­low Align­ment rider Cur­tis Ciszek.

Jackson and Ciszek spent much of their youth to­gether in Mam­moth, earn­ing rep­u­ta­tions as a cou­ple of shits. Those mi­cros­tool sam­ples, dur­ing their em­bry­onic years on snow­boards, also pos­sessed over­achiev­ing tal­ent, shar­ing nu­mer­ous podi­ums on the USASA con­test cir­cuit. Ciszek and his fam­ily later re­lo­cated from Cal­i­for­nia to Bend, Ore­gon. In the shad­ows of Mount Bach­e­lor, Ciszek con­tin­ued his snow­board on­slaught and also fell hard for the same fly­fish­ing ex­pe­ri­ences that con­sumed Jackson, and he turned to the Deschutes River to feed the habit.

Ore­gon’s Deschutes is a kalei­do­scopic mas­ter­piece com­plete with emer­ald flows framed by rust-hued hill­sides and tall basalt walls, as it pours to­ward its con­flu­ence with the Columbia River sys­tem. It’s also a haven for steel­head—a su­per­charged rain­bow trout born in rivers, but wired for ocean trav­els. This su­per­abil­ity to live in both fresh- and salt­wa­ter makes a steel­head, by def­i­ni­tion, an anadro­mous fish—much like a sal­mon. The dif­fer­ence is that sal­mon spawn and then al­most im­me­di­ately die. Steel­head, in­stead, can throw a froth­ing river orgy with­out the fear of im­mi­nent doom. Af­ter cou­pling, they even­tu­ally re­turn to the Pa­cific for a good long feed, trav­el­ing as far as Rus­sia’s Far East and the shores of Ja­pan. This for­age-rich lap al­lows steel­head to quadru­ple the size of your av­er­age stream-res­i­dent trout. Pink-cheeked fish push­ing 12-plus pounds are caught sea­son­ally from coastal NorCal up through AK’s Aleu­tian Is­lands. Near the up­per swath of that range, the wild rivers of North­ern BC form a zone that feral an­glers call Steel­head Par­adise.

Ter­race is a hub in that holy land. Jackson made his first pil­grim­age there at 18, to shoot with Stan­dard Films. He re­mem­bers ar­riv­ing to near-per­fect con­di­tions: fresh, sta­ble snow, and am­ple sun. But just as he was about to board a chop­per with shred leg­end Mads Jon­s­son, an of­fi­cious Cana­dian pulled his ID for closer in­spec­tion. “They told me I was too young to fly, so they crossed my name off the list and ba­si­cally said, ‘Fuck you.’” Jackson, pon­der­ing his op­tions, de­cided to fish through his sor­rows. “A guide at the lodge hooked me up with a sixer of Mol­son and some fish­ing gear,” he says. “I walked out to the Skeena, drank all the beer, and didn’t catch any­thing. But look­ing back, it re­ally is the most beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of what fish­ing means to me.”

Af­ter a ma­jor let­down, im­mer­sion in a flow­ing river cured his ills. The beer didn’t hurt ei­ther. Re­demp­tion came full cir­cle when E-Jack re­turned to Ter­race the next sev­eral win­ters, hon­ing his on-snow craft with the Stan­dard crew. Those ex­pe­ri­ences have come to mark a sem­i­nal time in his rid­ing ca­reer. “It’s a spe­cial con­nec­tion to the area for me,” Jackson notes, “I learned so much dur­ing those years film­ing. It re­ally helped de­fine who I was go­ing to be as a back­coun­try snow­boarder.”

Jackson has now been ex­plor­ing North­ern Bri­tish Columbia—the Coast Range and the rivers it feeds—for more than a decade. But it’s of­ten been a one-fol­lowed-by-the-other af­fair. Af­ter a high-mileage win­ter in the moun­tains, he’d re­turn home to chill for a cou­ple months. And when early fall re-en­tered the pic­ture, he’d drive back to Canada with a tight crew of fish­ing friends, spend­ing weeks liv­ing in tents, chas­ing steel­head on the Skeena and its trib­u­taries, with­out snow­boards. Align­ment re-wrote the pro­gram, and with it in the works, Jackson’s dream of blend­ing his two pas­sions into a sym­bi­otic, Cae­sar-filled sea­son fi­nally had liftoff.

TransWorld SNOW­board­ing Se­nior Pho­tog­ra­pher Darcy Bacha has been one of Jackson’s steel­head­ing co-con­spir­a­tors ever since they met at a bar in Pem­ber­ton and learned they both suf­fered from fish­ing ad­dic­tions. When Jackson shared his de­signs for Align­ment, no sur­prise, Bacha wanted on board. But as the sea­son be­came a re­al­ity, the chal­lenges came into fo­cus. With a lim­ited heli bud­get, most of the rid­ing would be ac­com­plished via blood, sweat, split­board, and sled. And most of the ac­cess points they un­locked led to even more ques­tion marks. “There were no easy routes,” Bacha ex­plains. “Once we found the alpine, we’d re­al­ize that hit­ting the next peak would of­ten mean sledding back down, maybe cross­ing a gnarly gully, and start­ing from scratch.” Some­times it paid off. Other times it didn’t.

Early trial runs pro­duced the kind of lines that re­quired shov­eled run­ways into mostly jump spots. “Eric is re­ally keen on find­ing nat­u­ral fea­tures, so we don’t have to build half the day. But you also have to take ad­van­tage of what’s given to you. When Eric was here with Stan­dard, it was all heli-ac­cess. This was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal.” E-Jack, Ciszek, and filmer Connor Win­ton spent one hel­la­cious morn­ing scout­ing the Kiti­mat area in the piss­ing rain. While their sleds were los­ing bat­tles against sticky, top-heavy con­di­tions, a snow­cat came tear­ing up the trail. The cat hit the brakes, and the con­ver­sa­tion that fol­lowed re­sulted in some solid in­tel. More would come.

“Un­like Whistler, with a ‘build a jump here, ev­ery year pro­gram,’” Ciszek says, “This was more like ‘launch the sled here, try to ac­cess the alpine there, and hope­fully we find some cool stuff to ride.’” The crew also spent hours deep-div­ing into Google Maps, search­ing for old log­ging roads and cut­blocks good for punch­ing through the tree­line. “But the lo­cals were help­ful, too,” Ciszek con­tin­ues. “It’s a pretty small sled com­mu­nity up there, and guys like Mikey Ped­er­son took us out and showed us some great spots.”

If lo­cal sled­necks were gen­er­ally friendly, the steel­head­ers they en­coun­tered while shoot­ing the fish­ing seg­ments for Align­ment were gen­er­ally saltier. Own­ing the la­bel Steel­head Par­adise, af­ter all, presents a thorny para­dox when over­crowd­ing turns utopia into a free-for-all. “Peo­ple would be like, ‘How’d you get here?’ Ciszek says. “And, ‘What are you even do­ing here?’ They’re not nec­es­sar­ily rolling out the wel­come wagon.”

That “wel­come to par­adise, now shut-the-hell-up-about-it” sen­ti­ment is stan­dard on cov­eted wa­ter. While blueprint­ing our sled-ac­cessed fish­ing shoot, Jackson, Ciszek, and Bacha tell me that our beyond-the-beyond river goes by a co­de­name: The Moose. It’s called “Moose”, I learn, be­cause on an ear­lier re­con trip Jackson found Bull­win­kle’s sin­gle hind-leg sit­ting in the snow, still steam­ing. The rest of his body likely hauled off by wolves or bears.

Does the river have a real name? Sure. But that name is hard-won, and you’re not go­ing to find it cov­ered in glit­ter and splashed across the In­ter­webs. Which may seem ironic, con­sid­er­ing the to­tal num­ber of fish we hooked at this top-se­cret lo­cale was ex­actly one. A sin­gle steel­head be­tween four an­glers over the course of three long days. Steel­head­ing’s al­lure, when based solely on met­rics, can be a head-scratcher. But what mea­ger num­bers fail to cap­ture is the elu­sive ex­pe­ri­ence—the fire­side ca­ma­raderie, the mys­te­ri­ous an­i­mal-parts en­coun­ters, the mind-calm­ing si­lence that comes with the search. Whether or not the fish want to co­op­er­ate in the river, and whether or not the snow wants to co­op­er­ate in the back­coun­try, it’s the pe­riph­eral el­e­ments that com­bine to make a trip mem­o­rable, or in this case, to make a movie that’s worth watch­ing.

On our third fish­less morn­ing, we woke up un­der a fully cratered tent, en­tombed by a cou­ple feet of fresh snow. It would have been the per­fect sce­nario had we been gear­ing up to blast into the ad­ja­cent moun­tains. In­stead, we dug out and warmed cold hands over a wad of ba­con siz­zling in the skil­let. If Jackson was wor­ried we were miss­ing out on some­thing at higher el­e­va­tions, he hid it well. And af­ter the cof­fee was drained, we pointed our sleds through snow-laden trees to­ward a sec­tion of the river that hadn’t yet been ex­plored. That’s when the bal­ance sud­denly tipped in our fa­vor. A mir­a­cle steel­head ap­peared, but­toned to a bar­b­less hook at the end of Jackson’s line. An ocean-bright, eight-finned lev­el­ing agent. Align­ment in­car­nate.

Snow­board­ing is fu­eled by the pull of grav­ity. Steel­head­ing hap­pens at a much slower pace, a me­thod­i­cal shuf­fle as you work through a piece of wa­ter from top to bot­tom. Dis­cov­ery runs through both.

“Eric’s end­less cu­rios­ity is re­ally what made this film pos­si­ble,” Bacha says. “We spent a lot of blank days in good con­di­tions, just try­ing to find that new in­cred­i­ble place. Peo­ple go to ski re­sorts and ride their fa­vorite trails, or go to the river and only fish their fa­vorite runs. Eric is dif­fer­ent. He’s al­ways look­ing beyond the next ridge.”

...and the cast is the yin. It’s all about bal­ance.

Launch­ing like this has made Cur­tis a house­hold name in snow­board­ing. This took place at a point on the trail that would be easy to sled past. Some­times it’s right be­low your nose.

John and his brother Eric have wan­dered a sim­i­lar path—one that al­ways leads back to the moun­tains, ide­ally with a river nearby.

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