True tastemakers move the needle and Jeff Pensiero, the owner of Baldface Lodge in Nelson, B.C., is a perfect embodiment of the characteristics required: Passion, drive, ridiculous enthusiasm and an inability to hear "no" as anything more than some slightly-annoying Charlie Brown teacher noise.
Baldface isn't your run-of-the-mill backcountry snowcat operation. Under the guardianship of Jeff and his wife Paula for over a decade, it's a place where guests can experience every single thing that's great about snowboarding, in travel size: Blower pow, smiling faces, camaraderie, true culture, and no other fools' tracks in your lines.
"Of the more than  backcountry guiding outfits on the 'Powder Highway,' none of them have catered to snowboarders like they have at Baldface," says J.P. Martin, one of the lead park builders of Travis Rice's Ultra Natural snowboard contest, which runs on Baldface's "Scary Cherry" face each February. "The place has a way of becoming a home away from home for every snowboarder that has ever been lucky enough to make the trip."
"Jeff thinks very highly of people who are themselves and are motivated to explore life on their own with a passion," adds long-time snowboard cinematographer Tim Manning. "He has always opened his doors to quality people. Through creativity, desire, and passion, he has basically built a house in the mountains with his family and friends to pioneer, explore, and continue writing onto the blank pages in the book of snowboarding…"
XGames.com: Tell us how this all started.
Jeff Pensiero: I have always enjoyed taking people out and either helping them have their 'best day ever,' or showing them an amazing day in the mountains.
When I decided to go to a heli-skiing lodge for the first time it was a big, big thing for me. I had seen all the movies and magazine stories of B.C. pow and the pillow lines and chutes and I was just amping out of my mind.
But when I got there I found that the guide cared more about keeping us tight and conserving terrain, counting vertical and being efficient with the heli. He didn't seem to give a s--t if it was fun or not. And he wasn't sharing the zone with me.
He was like, NOT taking me to the goods. It was really disappointing. And [the heli] was full of rich skier dudes who were perfectly happy to follow around some skier guy who was, frankly, a douche to me as a snowboarder.
So I left with the idea that there was an opportunity to connect people with a great time, with "the infinite wisdom of the backcountry," and to be cool about it -- to somehow bridge the gap between "local yokel" and "super pro mountain master guide dude."
I saw how snowboarding was exploding in the late '90s and I really thought that my friends, and the people I knew in "the industry," just wanted to shred fun lines and have good times without all the BS that I experienced at [that] heli lodge.
How would you summarize Baldface's cultural influence on snowboarding?
I honestly think snowboarding, the act of snowboarding, is a soul-saving act. I mean, yeah, you can count your vertical, and like look for the gnarliest lines on the planet, and compare this snow to that snow and all of that. But my question is: "Did you have a good time?! Was it awesome?!" That's what I want to hear people saying as they leave Baldface!
I could give a s--t how much vertical you get on a trip, and I don't think you should either! I think you should care that the guide took you to a sweet little zone and allowed you to send it off a rad pillow line to a steep landing that you will never forget. He called you out, so you did the method of your life off of the last pillow…
I want people to remember that they are taking a few days out of their life and checking into a place where they can get back to just being a shredder, or skier, or just check into the moment on each run; not worrying about yesterday, or tomorrow, but just being here, now, and enjoying the hell out if it.
You're a Tahoe guy, right? What made you decide to build a lodge in Nelson, B.C.?
I came to Nelson 'cause I was in love with Paula and I wanted to be with her. All of this just followed that simple leap of faith. Paula is super smart and once we joined forces for good it was an incredible amount of horsepower. But Nelson is a rad town with rad people. And the mountains are great. The snow is just abundant and of such a high quality that it's just a perfect place for an operation like Baldface.
You also joined forces with some other "right people" while building the lodge, didn't you? Namely, Craig Kelly?
I had a partner, Jim, who was willing to move here and do tons of the hard work needed to get things done on the government side. And of course [legendary guide] John Buffery was here. It was like meeting the right guy at the right time.
I can't say enough about Buff. Without Buff, there would be no Baldface. And with Buff came Craig. And with Craig came the rocket fuel. And with the rocket fuel came the motivation to work a little harder each day, get the project a little further each day, to work the extra hours, to hike the extra runs, and to just push it that much harder.
Craig was a magical man; I just can't say enough how fortunate I am to have been able to have him in my life, and how harsh it was to have him taken away when we was, and how he was.
How does Travis Rice's Ultra Natural reflect your values or those of Baldface?
You know, competition just kinda repels me. I'm not a competitive person at all. X Games, Olympics -- all that judged stuff holds very little interest to me.
I had worked a very little bit with Travis when they were filming "That's It, That's All" up here, and then a bit more for "Flight." And, while they were flying around, we just had the chance to hang out and freeride a bit. It was really fun.
I really like Travis a lot. He's got amazing ability, but he is just a fantastic guy. So after we had been riding one day, he starts asking me about, you know, if I knew any slopes nearby that might be good for another project he wanted to work on. He wanted to do the Natural Selection again, but on a much, much bigger platform.
So we talked and talked and conceptualized, and sure enough the perfect slope was right near the lodge on Scary Cherry. It was the ultimate anti-competition that was actually the ultimate competition!
Then we got to create the course, which was just next-level stuff. The original build was so awesome and fun. I put together such a rad crew of people to do that job, it was like the Kootenay All Stars on the slope: Loggers, carpenters, homies -- all of them building these insanely large features and glading a face that was rarely ridden 'cause it was gnarly steep and had a dense tree band ... right after the drop in. It was an incredible thing to witness and be involved with as it came together.
The contest itself is a true reflection of what I love about snowboarding. I feel like it's bringing snowboarding something that it desperately needs. The riders seem to love it.
And while I feel the TV show doesn't really do it justice, it is the coolest thing I've ever witnessed, just to watch these guys ride it interact with each other between runs is incredible.
So hats off to Red Bull for pulling it off with me. Those guys take a lot of s--t for being "sugar water," or whatever, but they gave Travis the opportunity and cash to create something incredible and I'm really glad they value creativity as they do.