words and photos: Mary Walsh
The snow started coming down just after 12pm. Clouds rolled in, flattening perceptions of transition. Looking into the distance for windows of sun was futile; gray stretched on all the way to British Columbia. And then it started snowing. Not just a few errant flakes swirling down from the sky, but a full on nuking snowstorm. It was the twentieth of April, far past the official start of spring, but make no mistake, it is very much still winter in Alberta. Holy Bowly, in essence, requires a certain amount of visual cues in order to make the quick motions needed to turn between transitions. It’s a course of ebb and flow. Shut down the light, throw in a winter storm and it’s pretty hard to see where you’re going. It would make sense, in the conditions, for a mass exodus from the Bowl-eh set up to the baselodge to try and wait out the storm or even head off hill, but on day four at Sunshine Village, no one shouldered packs and pointed it downhill. Instead, they unstrapped and hiked back up.
As the flakes started really coming down, a session percolated on a tiny tree snow planter at the very top of the park. Matteo Soltane was trying to land a no comply over the branches. Soon, he was joined by Miles Fallon, Cooper Whittier, and Milo Malkoski. They sat on their boards, dropped in, hung out. And one by one, the other Bowl-eh boarders began to join the crew. Soon, the entire Bowl-eh squad was circled up around the tree and a session was firing. The snow fell harder. Phil Jacques, Finn and JJ Westbury, Ben Bilocq, Forest Bailey, and Ian Keay started hiking the quarter. Visibility was zilch. No depth at all. And these guys were sending airs and handplants, landing, unstrapping, and walking back up hill. It was like a sunny, spring session, except it was dumping.
Formatting your winter around snowboarding demands a transient lifestyle, following storm patterns, hunting down snow. Most of the year is spent living out of boardbags, spending time in airports and logging highway miles. The benefit of location hopping is getting to know a bevy of other individuals who share the same affection for precipitation. The downside is you may not get to see them very often as you crisscross mountain ranges and city streets. And that’s the thing about the Holy Bowly. At its core, it’s a skatepark-inspired snowboard park made up of tranny finders, berms, bowls, and whales. It’s a paradise of transition, the kind any snowboarder who enjoys the art of carving dreams about. But beyond Titty City, multiple moderately sketchy transfers, and two alleys filled with hip-able waves, Holy Bowly is about the community created by the acres of transition. Every Bowly—from Japan to the US and now Canada—assembles a group of snowboarders who prize creativity, carving, and the lines less traveled. Holy Bowly is an opportunity to snowboard freely, sans pressure and expectation, with five days to pick out features, try out tricks, and return to the root of where most of us started out: training over any obstacles in our paths with our friends. To say that Holy Bowly is a unique and special week of snowboarding sounds trite, but it’s true. Standing in the middle of the course waiting to drop, watching others dropping, there’s a palpable vibe in the air: a collective, relaxed excitement. It’s easy to notice when it’s sunny and the snow is soft. Layers are shed and laps are fast. But when you’re lined up on hill in the middle of a whiteout, shaking off snow and squinting into the distance trying to suss out some sort of definition in the snow, and you’re surrounded by friends doing the same, dropping in again and again, just because it’s fun—you’re in one of those moments that doesn’t happen that often in a season. The kind that’s difficult to describe on the internet without sounding forced. Contrived. Maybe you just had to be there? Nah. It’s the Holy Bowly. And it keeps us hiking every day until it’s time to rake. And coming back every year, wherever the transition is built.