words: Ally Watson
photos: Stephan Jende

It was in otherworldly form that Holy Bowly’s iconic course rose from the alpine landscape at Sunshine Village this past week. Banff’s favourite resort last hosted the event in 2017 and was expected to again in 2020. A two-year pandemic hiatus took place before Holy Bowly finally returned to the Canadian Rockies for Snowboy Productions’ 25th anniversary tour. “It took us five years to get back to here, and damn, it ain’t gonna be five years again,” expressed Snowboy founder and Holy Bowly innovator Krush Kulesza during his rider meeting on day one. The crowd responded vehemently with cheers and applause, validating that five years, had in fact, been too long.

Holy Bowly remains one of the most anticipated events of the year as it exemplifies the coalescence of creativity and community amidst the snowboard industry. Confused bystanders were demanding to know who was going to win, yet what Holy Bowly and Snowboy Productions have established is far from a contest. “It’s a jam. It’s like if we all showed up at the skatepark and we are just hanging out, vibing. I love that aspect about this because there’s no pressure,” said Austin Hironaka.

Building the course suffered true incalculable Rockies weather. Lucas Ouellette from Arena Snowparks explained, “[the crew] had at least three days of bad weather where the whole build process kind of stopped. We couldn’t see what needed to be built, what would line up, and what goes where […] when you start to see the last features come together, that’s when you know we pulled it off.”

Day one began with a classic speech from Snowboy’s ringleader, Krush, who introduced the course, its prominent features, and laid down the law when it came to conduct. After the rider meeting, the course was opened up by Krush, himself, and longstanding Holy Bowly attendees Jesse Burtner, Sean Lucey, and Austin Hironaka. As the Every Bowly Club took off to the sound of the crowd’s clapping and cheering. Holy Bowly was officially on.

The course was filled with features fantasized by Snowboy and brought to life by Snowboy and Sunshine’s collaborative team of diggers and cat operators. “The process is that Krush picks a feature, we push up the snow, get the shape 80%. Then the hand-shapers come in and get it to 90% and Krush will do final 10% shape,” said Ben Suurallik, Sunshine Village’s head builder. The top of the course was dappled with various Tenjin bowls inspired by early Bowly days in Japan. Following these were hips and cones of unique namesake. The volcanoes rose to intimidating heights in the top half of the course above Total Recall, a triple cone laid up to one gigantic dome. Panic buttons, UFO’s, and avocados filled in the rest of the run, creating an incredibly flowy canvas on snow.

Day one appeared to have the best forecast for the week, so sessions on the aptly named Big Fucking Volcano and neighboring Stretchcano hip went off almost immediately. Locals and legends such as Phil Hansen, Cannon Cummins, Darrah Reid, Finn and JJ Westbury, Yosuke Mizuno, Garrett Baker, Fridtjof Tischendorf, Jess Kimura, Jesse Paul, Jonathan Chew, Rob and Ryan Wells, Michael Hoy, Jordan Phillips, Tanner Davidson, Dustin Craven, and Louif Paradis shared the session in style, blowing up both volcanos. Long-time Bowly attendees Blake Paul, Forest Bailey, and Tucker Andrews kept the session going all week. A heavy presence from local and nearby shops Rude Boys and Rude Girls, The Source, Propaganda, Society, and The Easy Rider unearthed notable Canadian style throughout the days to come. The Easy Rider’s owner, Warren Currie, wrapped up day one by serving up beers and brats in the parking lot.

Day two put a hex on the poor forecast and brought out sunny skies for the majority of the day. The volcano sessions continued with a sizable population hiking the right side of the course and dropping into the BFV. The BFV became basecamp for capture-the-handplant as a full catalog of inverts were put down, including a synchronized double by Garrett Baker and Yosuke Mizuno. While the BFV suffered from coping erosion over the next few days, the rest of the course was earning some trenches as riders continued to lap. The Lib Tech, Gnu, and DWD teams were out in force, flowing through the set up with riders hailing from various crews; Pink Dollar Posse, Sensesse, SRD, BLP, Upper Management, The Uninvited, Wasted Youth, King Snow, and the assembled local shops were rioting through the course with a sense of camaraderie, sessioning features and creating content in the controlled chaos that is the heartbeat of Bowly.

That evening, an inevitable spring storm rolled in with fury, laying down 20cm (we are in Canada now, sorry) atop the course. Everyone went to work on the dig out on the morning of the third day, skipping out for pow laps as the cats cleaned up the course. The skies cleared for an afternoon session before closing in again. Lack of visibility eventually led to some fun, creative sessions lower in the course with Naima Antolin, Will Fraser, Tam Geefi, Eric Martin, Maggie Leon, Taylor Davies, Cori Stephens, Jenaya Jenkins, Jesse Burtner, Brendan Sullivan, and Matteo Soltane.

The storm cancelled the afternoon rake session making space to attend Laura Rogoski’s mental health session, We Are All Mental. Laura set out copies of her recovery zine and opened up the group meet-up, stating, “We are often interacting over a lot of skill-based things where there is a lot of pressure to perform and not as many opportunities to get to know each other for who we are off of our snowboards. This meeting is an opportunity to share our experiences and is a safe place to be heard so we can better support each other and normalize talking about our feelings.” The session was well attended and continued in the gondola as the attendees downloaded together at the end of the day.

Riders met the next morning for a morning rake at 9am which led into two more days of creative assembly. Bow Valley local Liam Gill set things off with a double on the Stretchcano, where Jonathan Chew and Jack MacDougall laid down some doubles with an over-under session. Casey Pflipsen of Pink Dollar Possy bombed into the stretch hip for a massive one-footed air while George Malcom went sci-fi on Total Recall with a Helgason-style inverted method. Cannon Cummins managed to air from one side of the Stretchcano to the other with one of the biggest airs of the week. Tanner Davidson sent a textbook back one over the BFV in similar fashion.

In the afternoon of the final day, all of the riders met at the top of the course for a closing speech and party lap led by Nick Herringa donning a Salmon Arms Canadian flag as a cape. As the party lap turned into one final rake session, everyone said their goodbyes, grabbed their shovels, and rode down to the parking lot before departing on the #roadfromholybowly.

Thank you to Krush, Smiles, and the entire Snowboy team, Ben Suurallik, Max Middlestadt, Lucas Oullette, Steve Petrie, Kendra Scurfield, and Lib Tech, and all the riders, photographers, and filmers for making Holy Bowly’s return to Canada possible.