By Drew Petersen
BCA ambassador Marty Schaffer has a strong reputation for his energy in the mountains: Powder Magazine even referred to him as “the perpetually stoked ski guide.” His passion and excitement for skiing are pervasive, even infectious. Seriously, good luck ending a day of skiing with him, or even a conversation, without feeling that much more excited about skiing, and life in general. Schaffer is channeling that energy into avalanche education and safe travel in the backcountry, and he is making waves.
He was the youngest avalanche professional in Canada when he became an avalanche forecaster and applied for his professional membership with the Canadian Avalanche Association at the age of 20. More recently he has become known as the founder of Capow! — a progressive backcountry guiding company that’s delivering a fresh look to the landscape of avalanche education. Still only 30 years old, he is already well on his way to building a legacy in the ski and backcountry community.
Schaffer was destined for this life path. His parents bought the Blanket Glacier Chalet in 1986, while his mother had Schaffer in her belly. Schaffer grew up in Canmore, Alberta, but it was the several weeks he spent at Blanket Glacier Chalet, situated in the Monashee Mountains near Revelstoke, British Columbia every winter that ignited his passion. His parents were both ski guides, or at least as formal as ski guides could be at the time. Schaffer just started showing his dad’s friends around their backyard, full of seemingly limitless options of the classic, playful and fun terrain that the Monashees are known for. Schaffer claims he was “tricked” into guiding, but even at this young age, he was hooked on sharing these experiences in the mountains with other people.
After he graduated high school, Schaffer immediately began working as a ski patroller at Revelstoke, quickly falling in love with throwing “charges” and being responsible for others staying safe and having a great time on snow. But he knew he was going to be a ski guide. So he took his avalanche courses as soon as he could. Once meeting the age requirement of 18, Schaffer completed his AST Level 1 course, and a year later his AST 2. After six years of patrolling, he made the transition from patroller to guide, when he became an ACMG certified ski guide at CMH heli-skiing.
After becoming a fully certified UAIGM and ACMG guide, he started Capow!, short for Canadian Powder Guiding, in 2011, with the help of friends, primarily Chris Rubens and Kevin Hjerthaas. Capow! was made to fit a niche in the guiding world. It broke the mold away from traditional avalanche education classes and centered more on freeride-oriented fun. The idea had been in Schaffer’s mind for some time, but the catalyst came in an odd form. Schaffer elaborates, “I saw a Batman napkin at a birthday party once. It said “Capow!” and I just thought, ‘that should be the name of a backcountry company.’ We need to create Capow!”
In his typical fashion, Schaffer keeps it light, fun, and stoke-oriented at Capow!, all while being professional and helping people learn to recreate safely in the backcountry. The names of the Capow! camps and courses range from Pillow Talk, centered on pillow skiing, to How to Hook Up with Friends, a camp centered on learning rope work and skills necessary for glacial travel and ski mountaineering. Another class, How to be a Young Person that Older People Respect, is a great example of how Capow! is breaking the mold. The camp is open to kids age 15 and older to teach them about avalanches and the information necessary to travel safely through the backcountry. Traditionally, youngsters can’t receive a legitimate education on these topics until they are 18 and eligible to take Level 1 avalanche course, but through this camp they not only get to learn at a younger age, they also get to ski out of Blanket Glacier Chalet with the likes of Schaffer and professional skiers such as Chris Rubens and Mark Abma.
As Schaffer believes, education has no end, and he hopes that Capow! can be a vehicle for everyone to keep learning in the backcountry, whether it’s for a novice or an experienced skier trying to expand their knowledge farther or in more specific contexts. Now, after the success of the Capow! camps and their Shreducation outreach and snow safety awareness events, Schaffer and the “Caposse” are going one step further with the Capow! Fund–an initiative to provide scholarships for those who need financial assistance to obtain avalanche education. The Capow! Fund also includes gear donations from BCA and another Capow! creation, Fun-Ed courses, that are free, guided, educational days open to anyone who wants to learn.
With all of his initiatives at Capow! and still maintaining a career as a full-time ski guide, Schaffer is a busy man. But through it all, the fire within him to share experiences in the mountains with others continues to shine through, and yes, he is still as stoked as day one. Most of the time you can find him back at the Blanket Glacier Chalet, which he now owns and refers to as the Capow! Clubhouse, sharing the same terrain and mountains with others that ignited his passion as a kid. He will keep giving back to the community, but more than anything, Schaffer will likely always just be the fun, stoked guy who everyone wants to ski with.
For more about BCA ambassador Marty Schaffer, Capow!, or the Capow! Fund, visit www.capow.ca.