Starting Points: Heather Kellerhals-Stewart discussing SAR powderhounds

An ongoing series wherein CWILL BC writers and illustrators connect a picture or an item to one of their books.


This photo perfectly captures the ultimate dream of many skiers – the untracked slope draped in fresh powder snow. But where and how and under what conditions to capture that sensation so close to flying? In my recent book SAR powderhounds, a group of skiers and boarders are looking for that steep and deep slope beyond the patrolled ski runs. One of them in particular is more gung ho than the rest, even though weather is worsening in the mountains. On the same day, a Search and Rescue group down below is practising rescue techniques, hoping that they won’t be called out under miserable conditions, with a storm front moving in over the next 24 hours.

This sort of scenario may occur many times over an average winter. It struck particularly close to home while we were backcountry skiing in Skoki last winter. We started off from Lake Louise with reasonable visibility, but as the day wore on we found ourselves in a whiteout, so thick that I became dizzy and wasn’t sure what was moving – the slope or me. When we finally made it to the cabins we found that a group of Search and Rescue volunteers were also there for a few days of carefree skiing. No such luck! The snow kept falling and then a call came in that several skiers were lost on the high altitude Wapta traverse not far from where we were. Early next morning while it was still dark the head honcho headed back to Lake Louise to organize a search and rescue party. As we watched the snow coming down we wondered whether they would find the lost skiers in time.

While writing SAR powderhounds I talked to a number of Search and Rescue volunteers and avalanche forecasters. They have a wonderful term for the area outside the patrolled ski runs – they call it “slack country”, instead of back country, simply because skiers mistakenly think they are safe when they are close to a ski resort. Remember the husband and wife team who were lost near Golden for many days after they wandered off the patrolled ski runs? That expression “slack country” certainly describes the thinking or lack thereof of one of the skiers in my story.

SAR Powderhounds cover

SAR powderhounds by Heather Kellerhals-Stewart, published by James Lorimer and Company, October 2013

As well as writing a number of picture books and novels for young people Heather likes to try her hand at essay writing. The most recent effort appears in “Living Artfully” an anthology of writing and images from the West Coast, edited by Christine Lowther and Anita Sinner.

About Dan Bar-el

I am a children's writer. I write picture books, middle grade novels and graphic novels. Also angry tweets, once in a while.
This entry was posted in books/writing, novels, Starting Points, writing process and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Starting Points: Heather Kellerhals-Stewart discussing SAR powderhounds

  1. Love the photo and love the story. I hope everyone came out okay.

  2. Pam Withers says:

    Way to go, Heather. I can’t wait to read it!

  3. Heather Kellerhals- says:

    Thanks Suzanne and Pam. Unfortunately one of the skiers didn’t make it. He had fallen into a crevasse and they couldn’t get him out in time.

  4. Norma says:

    I really enjoyed reading SAS Powderhounds. The voice in this exciting adventure was truly authentic and believable. I loved the main character, 17-year-old rookie, Chic. The books showed just how dangerous skiing out of bounds can be, and the sometimes deadly consequences of taking risks. The Search and Rescue team performs amazingly heroic deeds every winter. It’s great to have such a well-written and dynamic novel that tells about them. Highly recommended.

    • Heather Kellerhals-Stewart says:

      Thanks for reading it Norma. I don’t think we give enough credit to these great folks who sometimes risk their lives looking after others.

  5. mobk says:

    Love it. Couldn’t put it down till I finished it!

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