When professional Kootenay skiers seek to break world records or shred new lines, they want this man at their side. By Ryan Stuart
A record-fast traverse from the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass with sponsored endurance athlete Adam Campbell. A new Sir Donald Range traverse with Mr. Vertical himself, Greg Hill. A first descent of the northwest couloir on Mount MacDonald with pro freeskier Christina Lustenberger. What do these three things have in common? Andrew McNab. If you read beyond the celebrity monikers in the headlines that recount impressive ski accomplishments in British Columbia, his name often appears. McNab is the guy who makes the awesome possible, and he’s happy to let other people take the credit.
“Andrew is one of the best skiers no one knows,” says Campbell. Lustenberger agrees. “He is the under-the-radar shredder,” she says. “[He] skis harder than the pros and [doesn’t] give a fuck. He’s capable of so much in the mountains. I really love that when I tell him my crazy ideas, he’s like, ‘Yeah! I’ve looked at that too. Let’s go try it!’”
McNab, 37, is tall and thin and has an omnipresent smile that shines from under a mane of shaggy red hair. He grew up ski racing in Revelstoke, British Columbia, before eventually switching to ski-mountaineering (skimo) racing, joining the national team and racing on the World Cup ski-touring circuit, though he says that was just a ruse to ski classic, steep European lines between competitions. When he grew sick of the spandex, he made a go of being a sponsored backcountry skier, but it was still early days in the ski-touring boom and he was never good at self-promotion. “I have a hard time saying, ‘That’s me, look what I’ve done,’” he admits. “I’m just into doing neat things and cool stuff.”
In 2015, McNab gave up on the sponsored program and became a ski guide. A lot of his friends thought he shouldn’t mix passion and profession, but McNab never lacks for drive, and the technical requirements of the job have given him the confidence to attempt more challenging objectives. For example, the Gold Card Couloir on Mount Burnham, which he did with Lustenberger and professional climber Brette Harrington, required three pitches of mixed ice and rock climbing. Other first descents, like Mount MacDonald and the South Face of Mount Thor, which he also did with Lustenberger, required navigating 55-degree slopes and mid-run rappels.
“I have a hard time saying, ‘That’s me, look what I’ve done. I’m just into doing neat things and cool stuff.”
Thanks in part to his skimo background, fitness is never an issue. On the Bugs to Rogers Pass epic, McNab, Campbell, and Hill navigated a complex 135-kilometre route that required 11,000 metres of elevation gain. They did it in 53 hours, smashing the old record by nearly 30 hours. “McNab’s ability to map out and read terrain, stitching together a masterful high route while on the go, was almost ninja-like and a huge reason we were successful on our push,” Campbell says. “He was also deeply compassionate to me when I was struggling, which speaks so much about his character.”
For McNab, being part of these firsts means more than check marks on a bucket list. They’re his way of helping progress the sport, whether it’s Hill’s efforts to combat climate change or Lustenberger empowering young women. “I’m just stoked to be a part of what they’re doing,” he says. “The running joke is I’m [Lustenberger’s] personal photographer. It’s kind of true. My photos of her have a bigger impact on skiing than my lanky ass ever could.”