Eric Pehota: Profile of a Mountain Man
Photo by Dave Steers
Every town has a legend. Pemberton’s got Eric Pehota. Widely considered one of the most accomplished adventure skiers in North America, Pehota embodies the spirit of the local mountains -- mountains that have helped make him the man he is today. Big mountain skier, pioneering mountaineer, professional kayak, raft and jet boat guide, builder, hunter, farmer, father, husband, volunteer — they're all part of this mountain man and his many accomplishments.
“I feel pretty grounded here,” he says. “It's a close community. There's farmers, loggers, natives I call my good friends. I'm a small town boy. I feel really at home here. I'm just a normal guy, raising a family, enjoying life to its fullest.”
Normal is a matter of perspective. Those who keep count of such things say Pehota has made more than 40 first descents from peaks across the world -- but Pehota himself doesn't keep count. He'd rather just keep things simple, much like the life he's carved for himself in the Pemberton Valley.
Pehota has called Pemberton home for the last 16 years. He remembers standing on the summit of Mt. Currie on New Years Day in 1987, awestruck at the valley laid out in front of him far below. He remembers taking it all in with sharp focus. “Everything down below was so tiny. It really gave us an appreciation for these mountains and for where we were.”
With all the little mountain towns nestled in hidden valleys, why Pemberton?
“The Coast Mountains are definitely my favourite zone in the world because of the stability and diversity of terrain, and the remoteness. It's like none other really. I love West Coast snow. We're able to ski things here that are out of the question in the Rockies or the Kootenays. You can push the limits of steep skiing here in relative safety.”
Watch any ski film featuring Pehota, and you'll see fluidity in motion on the steepest of slopes. Aggression with grace. Speed with control.
“Virtually every skier has some weakness," says ski photographer Paul Morrison, "You can't see it with the naked eye, but it shows when you look frame by frame through a camera. Pehota is different because he doesn't have a weakness. He looks good at every point during a turn."
“There's nothing like being first,” Pehota says. “In this day and age, you've gotta push further to be the first. Whether it's on the river or high up on a peak somewhere, it's what keeps me alive. I love that feeling of doing something that nobody else has done before.”
Although he doesn't push the limits anymore like he did in his ski-pioneering days in the 80s and 90s, Pehota still skis 100+ days a year, most of the time ripping around with his sons Dalton and Logan (both named after mountain summits) who can now ski the same lines as their father.
“Back when the boys were really young I would drop them off and go touring or sled-skiing. Now they can ski pretty much anything I can, if not more. It's pretty funny. We'll get to a spot on the mountain and they'll air it. I just ski around it.”
In summers, Pehota and his wife Parveen own and operate Pemberton’s jet-boating tour company, and guide visitors on thrilling rides up the Lillooet River. Throughout the year, Pehota shares his hard-won mountain experience with his family and close community, exemplifying values of simplicity, subsistence and hard work. As ski filmmaker James Angrove says, "Everybody pretends to be a mountain man, but Pehota actually is one."
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