At 18 years old, Matt is fully submerged in wild island living. A ski instructor and fishing guide, Matt also has experience hunting, surfing, and mountain biking. “I just love the bush,” he says.
Matt started working in the shop at Mount Cain, waxing skis and tampering with bindings, before he progressed to ski instructor. “I started skiing around four years old,” he says. “My mom would drop me off with the ski patrol when she was the director up there. That helped me get pretty fast.” His current set-up is a pair of Alan Rip Sticks with telemark bindings that have served him well, but Matt admits he dreams of a new pair of twin tips for next season.
“It’s a great first job,” Matt shares about his responsibilities, being a high school student and working at Mount Cain every weekend throughout the season. “Everyone up there is kind of a mentor to me,” he says. As for the staff, everyone is really tight, and Matt still maintains a lot of the friendships he has made during his time on the mountain. These friends “mostly live up-Island, except for four or five boys from Campbell, so I don’t get to see them very often,” he admits.
The wildness of Cain is reflected in its community, attracting backcountry and touring style enthusiasts. I had heard tales of the infamous, rowdy parties happening up there. Matt laughed, cleverly sidestepping my inquiry, and sharing that “on normal weekends, when it’s mostly just the locals, it’s really fun.” He went on to share that “when [they] have a lot more events, like the backcountry festival and all that stuff, that’s when it gets a bit more hectic up there, [but] if you leave your skis out there all night, you don’t have to worry about your stuff being stolen. Everyone’s really nice and laid-back.”
When asked about the growth he’s witnessed at Mount Cain over the years, Matt expressed that he loves to see the business doing well without too much extra traffic, as he’s all too familiar with that in the fishing community.
“I don’t care for net fishing,” Matt admits. “The big gillnets come through and fish hard, killing tons of fish.” The alternative, Matt shares, are the trawlers because they don’t wipe everything out. “There’s got to be that sweet spot where businesses can make some money, but not have too many people out there.”
“The ocean [is] warming up too,” he says. “There’s not as much kelp in the water.”
Once you’ve been exposed to the diversity and abundance of life on the rugged coast, you can’t help but want to preserve it. “We’ve gotta be on top of it,” he says, in regard to the significance of ecological maintenance of these rural areas. It’s encouraging to hear young voices speaking up for the land.
I listen eagerly to Matt as he relives his past three seasons as a fishing guide in Bella Bella, watching orcas and sea lions feed from where he’s working on the dock. “It’s quite different than the coast here,” Matt shares. “It’s way more wild.” He describes the landscape of the North Coast, as the “trees up there are half the size, but just as old. They’re mangled,” he says, in relation to enduring the heavy storms of winter.
Back home in Campbell River,Matt explains there are seasons among the fishing season itself.“We get the pinks in August and just when the pinks get thick, we have the springs going up the river and that’s when I really hit the river hard,” he says. There is still the warmth of the sun during the late-summer months as days shorten and the forest prepares for autumn; that is the time of year for springs. With a two-handed fly rod, Matt wades the river, ready for the catch. “I just love catching big springs,” he says. “It’s my favourite.”
This Island is a paradise, a destination, and a home for those born with adventure in their spirit. From backcountry skiing in the winter months to river wading in the summer, “Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever leave,” Matt resolves.