Twenty kilometers from the nearest road in a snow cave carved from a windblown ridge, the intimidating expanse of the glaciated northern Coastal Range fading into dusky blue, Adrien Grabinski ravenously devoured couscous with a foldable two-meter snow pit ruler. Prepared in every other possible way for the objective and conditions ahead, he’d forgotten a spork.
My bivouac roommate and sous chef was a young ski patroller from Shames Mountain Co-op. His first season, Adrien pioneered a handful of cutting-edge first descents in the adjacent backcountry, several in the wee hours of the morning before a full day of work. The following season he was promoted to ski patrol director—at 21 years old. He dumpster dove for bulk groceries, spent nights camped just beyond the ropes, spoke with a quintessential Albertan accent, and may well be the boldest, hardest-charging skier you’ve never heard about.
Born and raised in Calgary, Adrien was on skis before he could walk. He skied Sunshine Village in his formative years and then, as most promising groms do, began racing.
A decade of racing honed Adrien’s meticulous eye for the subtle nuances of micro terrain, ski tuning adjustments, and changes in the snowpack. He became an erudite student of the sport. His racing progression—despite chastising from coaches for hucking cliffs and throwing backflips while at race camp—carried opportunities to rub shoulders with the national team and attend sponsored sessions in Switzerland and South America.
But the end result didn’t quite add up. His creative passion for skiing flourished beyond gates and manicured courses.
He walked away from racing and took his skills to big mountain terrain.
“Having an understanding of all the variables and being confident that your observations are accurate is the only way to truly push your limits [in racing]. And that’s something I’ve directly carried into my approach to the backcountry and freeskiing,”
Befitting of Adrien’s quiet prowess as a freeskier, Shames Ski Area—located outside sleepy Terrace, British Columbia—is a freeride Mecca most skiers have never heard of. By serendipitous happenstance, Adrien discovered the hill on his way to a summer commercial fishing job in nearby Prince Rupert—a few months after applying, he was offered a job.
“The terrain is spectacular, but I had no idea about the community,” Adrien said of his first season at Shames. “That’s what I really fell in love with. It’s a not-for-profit co-op and everyone here is part of this community trying to keep skiing alive. It’s a intrinsic feeling.”
Two seasons ago, Adrien made his film debut, shooting with Matchstick Productions. World-renowned skier Mark Abma, who was also on the shoot, was blown away—not only by Adrien’s skiing, but by the way he carried himself.
“He’s tackling all the biggest and gnarliest lines within eyesight of Shames,” said Abma. “He’s wise beyond his years and he’s got the skiing skills to match that maturity. He has a lot of confidence and he’s also humble which is a super important factor when putting yourself into that environment—it’s a winning combination for creating a great skier.”
“[Adrien] is the working class hero,” Abma continued. “He’s on the ground doing the work, living super humbly, plowing the parking lot, ensuring people are safe when they’re skiing on the hill. It’s pretty rare when you meet someone that well-rounded.”
But while Adrien is open to opportunities that come his way, the under-the-radar shredder has no plans to leave Shames.
“I want to grow with Shames. And it’s not the career opportunities and the experience; it’s more for the potential I see for Shames and the community. I hope to keep improving it.”
After a few hours of fitful sleep, we awoke to a carapace of frosted condensation and clear, dark skies. Adrien descended a steep rollover by headlamp, popped off his skis, and bootpacked the firm wind-sculpted arête to a glaciated col. He reached the base of a towering black rock fin, navigated the gaping bergschrund, and punched steps up a broad, exposed face. Alpenglow cascaded down the craggy skyline, the clock ticking on snow conditions. He disappeared for a moment, then a small solo figure appeared on the wind-scoured summit.
Adrien transitioned quickly. He took a moment to snap a photo of another peak in the distance that caught his eye, took a breath, and dropped without hesitation.
Wind buffing made for a couple good turns off the summit. He sent a slough over the sheer 500 meter rock face below. Abruptly, the entire line turned to boilerplate rime. Seemingly unfazed, he carved along the arête and down the face.
The line was a monster; a classic, probably, if repeated—even more impressive when picked off in a 36-hour door-to-door human-powered push.
“Got away with that one,” Adrien laughed as he returned, eyes alight beneath a zinc-coated boyish grin. “The mountain let me visit, but she didn’t lose her glory.” His youthful boldness is complemented by the humility a lifetime in the mountains cultivates. We shouldered our packs and looked back at the peak—no sign of tracks graced the impenetrable rime.
Ahead lay our way home—a rolling approach, uphill both ways. Tomorrow, save for a few close friends, Adrien’s escapades will be unbeknownst to the world. He’ll be back at work, opening the hill, scoping the next line just beyond the ropes.
He prefers to keep it that way.