Our People | Sam Rousselle
Growing up, long-time Mica guide Sam Rousselle was called to the principal’s office on a pretty regular basis, and usually for good reason. A few times, though, he heard his name called over the loudspeaker and trudged out into the hallway thinking, Oh god, what did I do?... and came face to face with his father standing in the school office.
His father smiled. “Come on, kid. Let’s go skiing.”
Sam’s dad was a heavy equipment operator who opted out of working in winter in favor of chasing snow. And he was an enviably skilled thrift store shopper; every week, it seemed, Sam had new $1 skis to shred on cheap Sunday nights at the local ski hill, or on the little hill his father constructed in the backyard. As Sam drifted toward snowboarding, the family’s property became a homemade terrain park with picnic tables and railings. And from his roots in the French-speaking, pancake-like east, Sam began to dream of real mountains.
After finishing university, Sam hopped in with a buddy who’d loaded up his grandmother’s Mercury Topaz and drove toward the sunset. They had a thousand bucks apiece and zero plan. Sam assumed then that all peaks out west fell into two geographical categories: The Rockies or Whistler. The pair landed in neither—unless the very far edge of the Rockies that just touch Golden, B.C., where they stopped at a laundromat, can be classified as “in” the Rockies. While they washed their clothes, a friendly man offered Sam a job as a janitor at the local college. Sam barely spoke English at the time, and here was work where he didn’t have to talk to anyone. It was a night gig, the man said, so days could be dedicated to skiing. Sold.
Not long after, Sam heard that the Kicking Horse ski patrol offered free passes to volunteers who boot-packed the alpine bowls before the resort opened to break up sketchy layers and stabilize the base. He left dozens of messages in broken English until the ski patrol finally told him to be at the patrol shack at six the next morning. He showed up with the other volunteers, received a briefing he barely understood, and then a patroller asked him:
“Do you have all your stuff? Shovel, probe, beacon?”
“What? No, I did not have bacon. I had bagel for breakfast.”
That was Sam’s first introduction to the backcountry.
Not long after that, he discovered that heliski guiding was a real job—he’d always thought that helicopters were only for pro skiers to be dropped on top of impossible lines on Alaskan peaks for adrenaline-filled movies—and that his own neighbor was, in fact, one of these mythical professionals and started taking Sam under his wing in the backcountry. And soon after that, Sam heard about Mica, then a relatively new operation, at which one of his good friends was the maintenance guy, and he begged his way onto the maintenance team.
Those were the days when Mica was still so small that Sam would rise blearily in the early mornings, tired and perhaps slightly hungover from also bartending the night before, to help the pilot push the helicopter out of the hangar. Then it was on to dishes from breakfast, then shoveling snow, and—finally—to maintenance tasks. By summers, he was a hiking guide taking guests on three-week trips from Montana to California.
Over those years, he honed his backcountry skills. When not at Mica, he went on big traverses and multi-day missions with the heliski guides who’d become his friends, all on his snowboard—which meant that for Sam, becoming a guide would require a more complicated path. To pass exams, guide hopefuls had to be able to ski competently. Sam hadn’t skied since before he was a teenager. At 24 years old, he bought an old pair of skis and humbled himself falling down the Kicking Horse slopes for two years until he felt marginally competent—not good, he emphasizes—enough to apply to the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides training program.
Lucky for Sam, the ACMG announced that season that snowboards would be accepted.
These days, Sam is an experienced ski/splitboard guide, many years evolved from that young punk who scoffed at bacon for breakfast in the Kicking Horse patrol shack and holding the job that drops skiers on top of peaks from helicopters. That’s the thing about luck, though: it’s much more generous to those who put the determination into following their dreams.