In a land as isolated as Yukon’s backcountry, only experienced skiers can brave the cold and the risk of avalanches to practise their passion. Stephan Poirier is one such man.
Forget about chairlifts and cable cars. Ski touring practitioners rely on their leg power and strong heart and lungs to carry them to mountaintops. After an ascent that can sometimes take several hours, Poirier is happy to lay down his backpack to admire the scenery and listen to the song of the wind. “This is the end of the world. There’s no one else at the summit,” says this passionate skier, rescuer and avalanche specialist.
In his late teens, Poirier was drawn from Quebec to British Columbia, its peaks casting a spell on him while on a student exchange. Years later, his desire to help others would lead him to join Doctors Without Borders. His first mission, in Rwanda in 1994, would forever change his life.
“I was only 23, and I had already seen such horrors,” he said.
Shaken by that historic genocide, he explains that he came away from the experience with the realization that “you have to live life to the fullest and do what you love.”
Poirier grew up near the Manic 3 hydroelectric power station in Northern Quebec, where his father worked, and was no stranger to life in the North.
When he first arrived in Yukon, he found “the same climate, the same vegetation and the same wildlife. I was comfortable from the get-go.”
While it was the landscape that initially charmed this traveller, it was the people who made him feel at home.
“I have made some amazing friendships in the Yukon. People here are very good listeners,” he says, adding the intense pace of life helps people let down their facades. The territory’s cultural vitality and the fact that French can be heard everywhere influenced his decision to settle down in Whitehorse.
“In fact, I have to be careful not to lose my English,” he says, jokingly, to point out how easy it is to live in French.
The single most determining factor, however, was perhaps the proximity of the wilderness.
When the tips of his skis dip into the powder along the historic White Pass Trail used by the gold-diggers, he is convinced that Yukon’s real treasure is “the sense of calm, inspired by the wide open space, which induces a deep serenity or intense peace – within.”
Let’s hope that those who came to Yukon to make their fortune in the early years of the last century were buoyed by this same plenitude and that it lightened their heavy load.
This article is excerpted from the second edition of a tourism brochure created by RDEE Yukon, the economic development branch of the Association franco-yukonnaise (AFY). You can get a copy of the brochure (in French) at the Centre de la francophonie in Whitehorse or at the tourism information centre in your