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Scott Niedermayer: NHL Legend, Backcountry Skier

The world’s most decorated hockey player on violating his contract to ski, the upside of losing, and fighting resort development in BC. As told to Jake Bogoch, editor of Skiing Magazine.

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To say that Scott Niedermayer plays hockey is like saying Shakespeare dabbled in theater. Niedermayer is the only hockey player to win every trophy possible for a North American, including Olympic gold, four Stanley Cups, the Conn Smythe trophy for postseason MVP, and the Norris trophy rewarding the best defenseman. But when the hockey season ends, the Anaheim Ducks captain pursues his other passion—ski touring in his native BC.

I grew up skiing in Kimberly, BC. It’s only 30 minutes from where we lived in Cranbrook. My parents would take us up on Saturday mornings and drive us back early in the afternoon because we had hockey games on Saturday nights.

If we get knocked out of the playoffs early I’ll go skiing, just not right away. Once the pain and disappointment are dulled, I’ll go touring with buddies in Cranbrook during May. It’s not chest-deep but it’s warm, the days are long, and it’s stable. Getting knocked out of the playoffs is how I got into backcountry skiing.

The NHL contract is pretty standard. Teams make a large investment in you and they want to defend themselves in case you get hurt because you were playing, say, pickup basketball. Basically the rule is “You’re not in trouble unless you get hurt.” So I’ve done very little skiing during the season.

During the NHL lockout in the 2004–2005 season, I took my family and spent the whole winter in Fernie. It wasn’t a great snow year, but we didn’t care. It brought back a lot of memories.

I heli-skied in Alaska for a week. I’ve also been to New Zealand twice. My wife and I skied on the South Island on our honeymoon. Since I have the summers off, and that’s when they get their snow, it worked out perfectly.

I telemark, snowboard, and alpine. I have four boys and, when they started skiing, I had to alpine. It’s easier to manage the chaos that way.

I hired a helicopter to photograph me with the Stanley Cup on top of a mountain in Cranbrook. I did it in 2000 when I won with the Devils, then again with my brother [Rob] two years ago after we won it together with the Ducks. We flew to Fisher Peak. On top, the heli had to hover about three feet up and we jumped out. The photos tied the Stanley Cup to the mountains and my home.

I’ve been outspoken against the Jumbo Pass development near Cranbrook. I know some of those fighting it and donated a small amount of money to their cause. These are scenic, beautiful areas. I’d like to keep it that way for my kids, and their kids. The Kootenays are special and there’s no sense in making it look like someplace else.

I sat out three months last season as a test-drive for retirement. I’d love to hang out with my family more, and ski more. But I have a competitive side and I was watching my team, which was struggling a bit. That was hard. We’d just won the Stanley Cup. It came down to realizing that my playing time wasn’t going to last forever.

Skiing is like skating. You’ve got edges. You’re gliding. Even if I haven’t skied in a while, I put on my boards after the hockey season and I’m OK.

I ski with a group of guys from Cranbrook. We’re all friends from the old days. They do a lot more backcountry skiing than me. But one day I’ll be back in the saddle.