There are some secrets you keep, even from your brother. Exhibit A: a perfect location for a jump located somewhere within the vast, 300-square-kilometer backcountry rider's delight that is British Columbia's Pemberton Icecap. Located west of Whistler, north of Squamish and south of Pemberton, the Icecap is the sort of snowy expanse where you might not bump into anyone else at all, let alone your brother.
There was a time when the Pettit brothers19-year-old Callum and 16-year-old Seanwere inseparable. This winter, in fact, marked the first time they'd spent more than four days apart. But more and more, they are going their separate ways: different sponsors, trips, film projects and overall trajectories. Such was the situation out on the Icecap one day this winter, when Callum was sessioning his "secret spot" with Dana Flahr and a Teton Gravity Research film crew. Or it was the situation, until Sean snowmobiled up with a crew of his own, from Matchstick Productions.
"I don't even know if he knew about the jump before he saw us up there, because sometimes we do try to keep stuff secret because we're filming. But whatever, here comes Sean," Callum recalls.
Ski film production etiquette dictates that Callum and the TGR crew had dibs on the spot. So, in what provides a tidy metaphor for the brother's current situation, Callum and Sean said their hellos before Sean and the MSP crew went on their way.
The Brothers Pettitwho knew each had a first name apart from "Brothers"?are now very much of "different team," according to Callum.
After gaining recognition in Whistler six years ago as the two tiny kids who wouldn't just straight-linebut tuckinto the biggest features in the terrain park, the brothers Pettit began to acquire a host of sponsors. This meant free skis, some pro cred and travel budgets for films and competitions. Tanner Hall, underrated as a talent scout, invited both brothers to ride with him for "WSKI106," Hall's first in a series of films, and they've both appeared in every Hall movie since.
"I was probably 12 or 13 and [Sean] was 9 or 10," Callum says. "Or maybe we were older. I can't remember exactly. It all blends together. But we both got sponsored by Oakley, and then got hooked up with K2, basically through word of mouth, and it just kept building from there."
But 2 years ago, when Sean added Red Bull to his sponsor list, Callum was left out of the deal. Oakley stood by him, but not long after, K2 reduced his contract from paid to product only. There are several possible reasons for it, but consensus suggests Sean, as the younger and smaller one, was the better fit at the time to represent junior-targeted skis and products.
Mike Douglas, the 2003 Powder Magazine Skier of the Year and a Whistler mentor to the brothers, says, "Whether it was in the park or out on the mountain, Sean and Callum were always pushing each other. So when Sean took advantage of the sponsor situation, it was a tough time for Callum to find his confidence."
With his brother suddenly on a more travel-intensive program, Callum spent a full season in the proverbial wilderness. While he and Sean first made a name for themselves in the terrain park, the rejiggered sponsor situation served as a sort of permission slip to leave the park behind. In fact, it turned out there was nothing "proverbial" about the wilderness at all: Callum started to find himself in the backcountry more and more, with the likes of longtime friend and contemporary Kye Petersen, 19, as well as older Whistler big mountain vets like Flahr and Ian McIntosh.
"I don't think he really liked skiing park in the first place," Sean says. "I think what made him go to the backcountry and ski powder was, first off, that's where we live. Whistler has a lot of good backcountry terrain. Kye definitely played a big role, [because] Callum was hanging out a bunch with him. And Callum kind of wanted to get back at his sponsors, like, 'Screw you. I'm going to ski powder instead.'"
It turns out Callum had a natural aptitude for the ever-changing terrain and conditions he found beyond the ropes. His segments in Hall's "Believe" and last year's "The Massive" display a steep learning curve that begins with creative use of natural terrain features and ends with legitimately hairy mini-golf lines through exposure with mandatory air. It didn't take long for sponsors to notice.
"I just kept skiing and worried about sponsors second, and eventually it all just worked," Callum says. This season, he lined up deals with The North Face and Black Diamond, which made him the first crossover freeride skier for the hardcore mountaineering brand. Considering how his skiing has evolved, the move makes a lot of sense.
"Callum's more of an adventure skier than Sean," Petersen says. "Me and Callum, when we're out there, we end up blending every category of skiing together. I don't know what to call it: adventure skiing, big mountain skiing, tree skiing, ski alpinism, extreme skiing."
As Callum spent more and more time pursuing the multifaceted ski experience Petersen describes, he was introduced to a whole spectrum of potential pitfalls that don't exist in the cozy confines of the terrain park. Such was the case one day in February when Callum, out filming with Ian McIntosh and TGR on the Icecap, miscalculated a cliff-huck landing. Instead of cartwheeling down the fall line and eventually slowing down as he expected, Callum found himself simply falling straight down. "I fell into the mountain, pretty much," he says.
He had uncovered an undetected glacial crevasse known as a bergschrund, and was wedged awkwardly in a pike position, with his feet and head just below the surface and torso and legs beneath him. Then his slough came pouring in after him. Near panic, he tried to move, but he dislodged himself and was sent tumbling even further into the hole. Eventually, he found himself standing in the snow pile his slough created.
"It was 5 or 6 feet of hole, but then it opened into this whole room," he recalls. The rest of the crew was "a couple of hundred feet down the slope. Those guys were freaking out because they saw me just disappear. It was probably more scary for those guys, since they had no idea if I was OK or how deep I was."
Callum describes the ensuing rope rescue as calmly as if it they were searching for a lost ski and not a nearly lost person. It would seem to be just another indoctrination of sorts.
"Overall, it's really fun, the adventure part of skiing," he says. "The whole longer-line stuff, stuff you have to climb or hike for and face some exposure and riskit's way more worth it. You've done something way bigger than just getting a shot off a cliff or a jump. There's a very real reward when you've ripped something big and risky that you've worked hard for. You feel like you've earned it."
If that sounds like wisdom beyond his years, that's because so many of Callum's peers have yet to venture deep enough into the mountains to learn the lessons he's learned in the past two winters. He may not have initially chosen the path he was pushed down by the loss of his first sponsors, but he's clearly made that path his own.
"He was always in Sean's shadow," Petersen summarizes. "Since he went his own way, he's his own person. He broke out of his shell."
"We're both still going in the same direction," Sean says of his older brother. "We both have the same thoughts and outlooks on the kind of skiing we're doing. We're just on different teams now. So, it was cool when I was out in the backcountry the other day, sledding up. I didn't even know Cal was going to be filming and I'm at the top of the Pemberton glacier and see Cal there. It's like it used to be."
Etiquette might dictate that Callum and TGR had dibs on the spot that day, but once the spot's no longer "secret"well, etiquette doesn't have as much to say about that. And if you add a little sibling rivalry to the mix? Let's just say Sean and the MSP crew found their way back there before the end of the season.
"I was kind of pissed at first when he told me that because that was our spot," Callum admits, before adding with a laugh, "But he didn't land it anyway."