Most people would consider it a full-time occupation running a ski lodge that accommodates 12 guests and employs several staff through the winter. Throw in some work as an internationally certified mountain guide, climbing the highest peaks in Canada and the United States—including Mount McKinley and Mount Logan—and life starts getting pretty busy.
But for Whitecap Alpine Adventures owner Lars Andrews, that’s just the beginning. In addition to maintaining the McGillivray Pass Lodge in the Southern Chilcotin Mountains, he’s also coordinating producer of an Emmy–winning reality-television show, Out of the Wild, which takes him to exotic and sometimes dangerous locations. This past winter, he was living in the jungles of eastern Venezuela with local indigenous tribes, learning how they live off the land. The program was there to track nine ordinary people who were dropped off in an abandoned area, armed with just enough supplies to get them back to civilization.
“One of the ideas which has made the show work is we’re trying to showcase the most beautiful landscapes and”¦have people journey through this landscape,” Andrews, 37, recalled in a recent phone interview with the Georgia Straight. “For me, that’s my art, basically: people and landscapes.”
However, he noted that the 150-member crew’s work was made far more difficult by the Hugo Chavez regime. Venezuelans have an abundant supply of cheap gasoline, which has led to massive smuggling across the border into Brazil, where it is sold for a whopping profit. Andrews said the Venezuelan government has counteracted this by putting up numerous roadblocks.
“We needed 85,000 litres of jet fuel to fly our helicopters to film while we were down there, but of course we couldn’t get the permit to buy it or transport it,” Andrews said. “So it was just a mess. Unbelievable.”
That wasn’t the only concern. Oil-rich Venezuela is awash in propane. But according to Andrews, there’s a shortage of storage containers because this business has been nationalized. “There aren’t any available anywhere,” he said. “You know, it was almost impossible for us to get propane.”
No wonder that Andrews described this as the most challenging shoot he’s ever been on. And that’s saying something, considering he has been in the business since the 1990s. In the past, he helped coordinate challenges for the contestants on Survivor, which is a Mark Burnett production. For the past four years, he’s been with Pilgrim Films & Television, which was formed by Craig Piligian, who formerly worked with Burnett.
“Essentially, I sit with the executive producer and the supervising producer and do a lot of the creative stuff for the shows, work on finding the right locations and, once we have a location picked out building all the infrastructure for the show and then executing the show on location,” Andrews said. “It’s sort of a niche. I do everything from writing the production plan to underwriting the insurance to making sure we get insurance.”
He brings the same business smarts to his enterprise. He proudly stated that Whitecap Alpine Adventures is unique on the West Coast in offering a fully catered, fully guided operation just two-and-a-half hours from Vancouver. The log-cabin McGillivray Pass Lodge—which includes a sauna, a wood-burning fireplace, hot showers, and heated outhouses—has been in the family since the 1970s. Andrews said he has been skiing in the area since he was five years old, which has given him a unique relationship with the mountains.
“I’ve been very conscious about not making it extremely commercial,” Andrews emphasized. “It’s like you’re coming to my home rather than coming to my place of business.”
He noted that some of the earliest mountain exploration in the province took place in the Southern Chilcotins when a telegraph line was put up through the valley by the lodge. In the 1950s, a Swiss mining engineer bought the land and planned to build a European-style ski resort. Unfortunately, he and his wife were killed in an avalanche and nothing happened with the land for a few years. In 1972, investors built the lodge, and a few years later it was bought by Andrews’s father, a veterinarian.
“One thing led to another and I became a mountain guide,” Andrews said. “And then I worked all over the world, guiding. About eight years ago, my dad asked me if I had any inclination or interest in running a full-time commercial operation.”
And that’s how he ended up owning a ski resort while still managing to work on one of the most challenging reality shows in production. Andrews said that his work as a mountain guide, top skier, and reality-television producer has helped him brand Whitecap Alpine Adventures as a company that adds value for its guests. “That’s how I bring people to the lodge, keep them here, and pay my bills,” he quipped.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.