“Mellow Joe” Lax and the Whiskey Tahoe Tool Kit


Words by Mikey Nixon. Photos by Brad Slack
Instagram can be the bane of the armchair forecaster. You’ll be scanning through the apps on your phone, having written off the day because “it’s not worth going out there, bro”. And then BOOM…Whiskey Tahoe (Joe Lax’s Instagram handle and adopted moniker) posts a pic from the Sea to Sky alpine saying something along the lines of “found some non-winded pow in this tube” or “beauty of a day out yonder”.
Whiskey Tahoe Foxtrot?!?! Even in the last two years, which have been unusually warm on the Coast Mountains, Lax has managed to consistently find his way into spined-up, beastly lines that look like they’re straight out of Alaska’s Chugach Range. And he’s managed to get them in good condition, which is no small feat in this seemingly-changing climate of ours.
“Mellow Joe, as I often refer to him, is one of my favourite people to shred with,” says fellow dragon slayer, Daryl Treadway. “It seems he is always one step ahead: waking up earlier, checking a variety of forecasts, getting intel on zones, and being ready to shred.”
As a Forest Protection Assistant in the summer, Lax has orchestrated a schedule that allows him to strike while the getting’s good in the winter. Not only that, he flies all over the Coast Range in the off-season and makes a laundry list of all the lines that he’d like to hit.
“It always seems that I am drawn to certain features, lines and mountains,” explains Joe. “If they speak to me, I feel like I obsess over them a little bit. I find a way to ride them in the conditions where the line can be ridden with flow. It’s all about timing and sometimes you might just have to wait a day/week/month or even years for certain lines to come into shape.”
“Joe gravitates towards complex mountain lines that take time to study and memorize, then drops in with humble confidence,” says Treadway. “He has a long list of runs on his current radar that he keeps tabs on.”
Hailing from Lumsden, Saskatchewan, it’s almost ironic that Joe’s so comfortable in massive terrain. But he’s been snowboarding for over 20 years now, taking a path that’s led him from the prairies, to Lake Louise, to Rossland and now Pemberton.
He and his wife Ulla have a three year-old daughter who spends time in ski school and is now learning to snowboard. “It’s been pretty fun watching her learn the sports we love,” says Joe. “And as far as how I look at the mountains and riding lines now that I’m a dad, the consequences haven’t changed—I feel like I approach them the same way.”
As an unofficial member of the Pemberton Big Mountain Hunting Club, Joe works together with a crew of hyper-competent backcountry partners—guys like the Treadways, Chris Ankeny, Dave Basterrechea, Delaney Zayac, Brad Slack and the late Jack Hannan—to push into aggressive terrain when the conditions allow it.
“He approaches the gnar with his mellow attitude, remaining calm and relaxed in the most gripping scenarios,” explains Treadway. “Usually by the end of a day with Mellow Joe I have skied beyond my expectations of vertical, pitch, and exposure, all the while laughing at Joe's comic monologue.”
If it wasn’t for a post like this one, most people wouldn’t know who the hell Joe is. He’s just one of those guys who’s out slaying within the shadows of the Coast Mountains. And since getting in the head of a big mountain rider can be as tricky as getting into a line whose entrance is spanned by 40 tonnes of cornice, I decided to run through a list of (mostly) backcountry items to see what Joe had to say about them. Hopefully there are some insights there. If nothing else, you might as well follow him on Instagram so you know when the high alpine lines of The Coast are coming into their own…
Splitboard: They have come a long way. So rad to be riding on such light bomber splitboards that are just as good as a regular boards these days. It’s hard to believe that we used to tromp around on snowshoes.
Ropes/Harnesses: There are a lot of man-eaters in the Coast Mountains. No one wants to carry the rope, but they sure come in handy.
Helicopters: Vultures! Obviously a good tool for getting access to the goods, but my friends and I always seem to be battling the big budget film crews for lines. Beat it, Warren Miller! Just kidding—you’re the best!
Alarm Clock: If you want to beat the vultures, you better have one. Helicopters can’t fly at night!
Snowmobile: Around Pemberton, the valleys are deep and the roads are long. Snowmobiles give us access to areas that would otherwise be unattainable.
Ascension Plates Billy Goat Technologies out of Pemberton has a pretty rad climbing plate that integrates with crampons. It is nice to have the security and purchase of a crampon when conditions change. These tools can punch a sweet staircase up steep terrain when otherwise you would just be swimming.
Airbag: I wear one, and there seems to be more and more cases where they have kept people above the snow during an avalanche. That said, keeping your head out of your ass can assist a person as well.
Seasons Pass: Quantity over quality. It can get a bit hectic up there, but if you’re on your game, you will get the pow.
Two Feet, Heartbeat: Best way to get after it, and is always the most rewarding.
Radios: Essential tool in the backcountry. I have seen a few situations fall apart over the years due to the lack of radios. For me, it’s a pretty key safety feature.
SPOT: It’s nice to have a link out and to have the ability to communicate if you are running late, and obviously in the case of an emergency. I can think of a few times when the homefront had a finger on the SAR button waiting for our return. It is definitely easier on relationships to be able to communicate!
GPS: I don’t really use one, but if you are trying to navigate a glacier in a whiteout, they can be quite useful.
GoogleEarth: It is a pretty unreal tool. I use it fair a bit, not for super fine details, but just for a general overview of an area I am planning to explore. Just yesterday I was checking out some mountains on the Sweden/Norway border…it is pretty cool to have the ability to do that. I used to scan topo maps the same way, but now it takes a bit of the guessing out of the equation.
Helmet: I never wore one until I became a dad. I was pressured into it by my family. But I’m used to it now and it makes a fair bit of sense to wear one.
Vehicle: 1982 Chevy Malibu - my first car.
First Aid Kit: Hot Swedish sisters sing country.
Airplanes: Vegan Meal? You need to order that six months in advance.
Pineapples: I really wish they would stop expressing themselves.
-Mikey
Mikey Nixon is regular contributor to Biglines.com and is no stranger to getting wild in the mountains on snow.