How to Play Ice Hockey On Top of a Mountain

Huckberry Ambassador Shayd Johnson flew into the mountains of British Columbia to capture a match on a frozen alpine lake
December 21, 2015Words by Huckberry StaffPhotos by Shayd Johnson

If you received a text asking if you were in for a cold morning round of ice hockey on top of a mountain in British Columbia, would you ask questions? Or would you start packing your bags? For Huckberry Ambassador Shayd Johnson, the answer was solidly the latter. 

Led by helicopter pilot Bradley Friesen, a group of Vancouver's most elite hockey players recently got to cross an incredible experience off their bucket lists: playing hockey at 5,500 feet. 

“There were no fans, no paycheck, no Cup to be won,” said former Vancouver Canucks player Manny Malhotra in a story in the New York Times. “It was just about getting to play the game you love in its most natural setting. It was pure hockey.”

And when we saw the photos, we knew we had to talk to our man on the ground — photographer, helicopter co-pilot, and Huckberry Ambassador Shayd Johnson — to find out what he took with him, when he got the call that the adventure was on, and how he nabbed his favorite photo of the day. 

You were told this event was going on and then some time later you were 5,500 feet up, shooting world-class players skate around on mountain ice. What were the series of events between these two things?

SJ: The mastermind, Bradley Friesen, has been drumming up a game like this for a number of years now, but I knew that it was actually going to happen when we flew up to shovel snow off a frozen lake (the first time) a few days before the game. Brad called me up and said, "Shayd, let's go flying tomorrow. I have shovels." And I knew right away that our day would be spent making a hockey rink. Three of us spent about five hours that day shoveling the snow, marking out the rink, only to get about three quarters of the way through. The following day, Brad returned with Manny and that rink had collapsed and flooded, and in that one day, Manny managed to clear off a new rink. He's a tank. But of course, the next day after that, Brad returned to discover that rink had also flooded and sunk. On the final return, Brad found a new lake that was double the thickness, which ended up being the game spot.

On the game day, we woke up around 6 am, drove out to Pitt Lake, launched a boat and shuttled some players, nets, and gear out to a friend's cabin, and awaited the helicopters to shuttle us and the gear up to the location. Brad was slinging the gear with a long-line while his friend shuttled the players up to the frozen lake. I will never forget arriving over the ridge and seeing all the players practicing on the lake. It was unbelievable.

What were you doing when you got the thumbs up that this was happening?

SJ: I can't remember, to be honest. But knowing Brad and checking the weather, I had already anticipated that it would be a last minute text: "Pitt lake boat launch, 7 am," which is all the info I needed.

As a photographer and adventurer, what was your initial reaction to seeing the spot where they were playing?

SJ: I've been fortunate to fly in this area a lot, but each time we visit a new location, I'm still in awe. This was especially over the top when we ripped over the ridge and saw the frozen lake. Right away, I could see a bunch of the players warming up and three helicopters that were landed on the sidelines. It was unreal.

Favorite shot that you took that day?

SJ: There was a young boy who was lucky enough to come out. He had to have been around five years old and he was so stoked. I happened to catch a shot of him as he stopped to look at one of the helicopters that was taking off, and it resonated with me. The shot didn't necessarily capture the game, but was one of my favorites of the day.

We love Manny's quote from the NYT. Did you take any ideas, lessons, or thoughts away from this experience?

SJ: Absolutely. To see some of these professional athletes who are in the top 10 percent of hockey players in the world, playing a fun pick-up game on top of a mountain, was incredible. There were no advertisers, no fans, no arena or team jerseys; just people who love hockey, playing where hockey should be played, on a frozen lake. It was something special to witness and made me think about my passion and where it can take me. 

Do you have a "grab bag" photo kit? What's in it?

SJ: I packed as light as I could for this trip — just a Topo Bag Klettersack with a jacket and my Canon 5D Mark ii. I didn't want to overpack!

Did you get out on the ice at all that day?

Shayd Johnson: I didn't even bring skates, which I regretted. But when I got home that night, there was a brand new pair of skates in my garbage room that fit, so I will be prepared next time! [H]

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