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Two kids from the Canadian Rockies come full circle in the Land of the Rising Sun hed and dek
Featuring - @Carter McMillan & @Adam McCraw | photos by @Reuben Krabbe
Carter McMillan grew up in Calgary, Alberta, the eldest of two sons in a working-class Prairie family. From a young age he showed huge promise both on the race course and in school. He went on to earn a degree in biology, but like a bohemian scientist, was compelled to take his acute focus out of the structures of normal society. He instead competed in freeski contests that he often won, and made his own edits in between, living out of his van while travelling from ski area to ski area in Western Canada . In 2016, Candide Thovex handpicked McMillan to come ski with him in France from a video contest he’d put on, and the experience launched McMillan’s ski career. He now spends his winters following storms through backcountry locales like Monashee Powder Cats to Japan. That, and speed flying—a daredevil mixture of paragliding and skiing that lets him soar over 300-metre cliffs. When he’s not on the road, he shares an apartment in Calgary, Alberta, with best friend and fellow adventure skier Adam McCraw.
“When I was about 18,” he explains, “all my favourite lines at Lake Louise started getting tracked. Nobody else used to ski that stuff, so I was like, ‘Who’s hitting all my lines?’ Then I was riding the chairlift with some friends, and sitting next to this new guy. He pointed to one of my tracks and said, ‘Who’s hitting all these same lines?’ I looked at him and said, ‘No way, are you the guy?’ And he looked at me and asked, ‘Are you?’ And then I said, ‘Did we just become best friends?’ And it’s been that way ever since.”
Nearly a decade later and a world away from Alberta’s hardening cold, the snow falls all but nightly on the spiked peaks of Hakuba thanks to Siberian storms that regularly smash into the Japanese Alps . As the most recent of those dumps settles and the sky clears, McMillan works roaring smear turns down a prominent rib at Goryu Snow Resort under McCraw’s watchful eye. They’ve had each other’s backs for years.
A group of Australian tourists sunbathing adjacent to the 500-metre face is transfixed on McMillan, oohing and aahing as he laces a flawless run together while sheets of loose snow course beside him. His tight style is signature—working his edges as though he’s still on the race course, with air awareness that would also put him in the running for any slopestyle contest. He pushes his hips deep into every turn, keeping his eyes and head glued on the fall line. It’s more about grace than power. He milks the lengthy, snaking line’s unending rolls with practised confidence, glued to the feature. A series of five- and six-metre drops only amplifies his fluidity as he stomps the final cliff and pauses in the forest to catch his breath. McCraw greases a similar run to meet him, high fives mandatory, and they bounce back down to town over another 700 vertical metres of tree-lined playground.
From here, they cruise the walks of the mountain village of Hakuba, whose roofs are buried in snow, and cobbled streets are cleared by natural geothermal water. The conspicuously loud friends issue bows to exceedingly friendly shop owners, and Photographer Reuben Krabbe, tries to say thank you very much— arigato gozaimasu —but instead says arigato gomae—a word for a Japanese spinach or seaweed salad. “You’re basically saying, ‘Thank you salad,’ McMillan tells Krabbe, explodin into laughter with McCraw.
Back on the mountain, on the broad slopes above Happo One Resort , the two skiers hedge their bets that they can beat an incoming storm to the area the Freeride World Tour uses. Approaching in increasing winds, they find broad lines that look like lizards’ backs leading into a glacier-blank white bowl without a single tree. The snow is chunkier than predicted, and stability is changing. As the wind whips up harder and the sky darkens, they make the calculated decision to retreat.
Krabbe follows the skiers with exhaustion back inbounds as they do spread and daffies off every subtle lip, boosting beyond what physics would deem possible. They poach a pre-set perfectly crafted mogul course before doing switch slalom between Japanese ski-school students , laughing like marauding hyenas.