Australian snow entrepreneur, Kieren Gaul, has quite the story. If you know him, then you know he lives life to the full and then some.
He is focused and kind and frustratingly good at everything. There’s nothing the man can’t do, a former banker and ski racer turned ski guide he went on to create Big Red Cats in Canada, the largest cat ski operation in North America, personally designing and cutting over 300 ski runs.
A dedicated tea totaler, dedicated father to three thriving daughters and the owner operator of Big Red Cats plus also a ski lodge and ski cafe at Red Mountain, with his Canadian wife Paula, Kieren was living the mountain dream.
Until he found one thing he couldn’t do. Outrun stage IV bowel cancer.
Diagnosed in 2020 during Covid, Kieren has spent the last three years embracing time with both traditional and clinical trial treatments, time he says is now slipping away.
During debilitating treatments he has still found the energy and fortitude to find solace ski touring in the Australian mountains, wind surfing and foil surfing his beloved New South Wales south coast.
And now he has written a book, a good one. Growth Truth Adventure Love is a memoir of his mountain loving time on this planet.
Filled with tales of Kieren’s well lived life, the human errors we all encounter, the highs provided by his beloved mountains, the lessons learned from one tragic and mammoth avalanche that took out a group of his cat ski guests, the day he almost died in Austria, the night his 14 year old daughter got lost in a blizzard in a creek valley filled with tree wells and avalanche exposure and the forever love story of him and his wife, Paula.
“None of us are promised a tomorrow. Cancer is a wonderful gift. A not-so-gentle early alarm that death is coming, time is short, that your final exam, your Kobayashi Maru has started. This book is part of my final exam. My way of winning the un-winnable. Because even if I die, I will live on in these stories. These are the stories, the testament of my life” Kieren Gaul, Growth Truth Adventure Love
If you ski or snowboard, if you love the mountains, if you crave connection and life-wonder then this incredibly detailed memoir will move you to laughter on one page and tears on the next. It truly is a must read.
Kieren Gaul, on skiing, life and loving, in his own words for SnowsBest 24/7/23
Imagine a singer that starts off singing in the shower, but then graduates to singing in the Sydney Opera house every night. This is what happened to me from learning to ski in the rain at Smiggins Holes, to ski-guiding people through the best powder snow in the world every day in the Monashee Mountains in Canada.
The mountains are my Opera House. Skiing was my voice, my way of making sense of and connecting with the world.
I learned to ski at Smiggins Holes. I was 3 years old. After a long day of learning, I could ski down most of the easier slopes on the skier’s left side of Smiggins. At the end of the day, I fell into one of the deep creek “holes” that existed back in 1972. My heavy leather ski boots dragged me under the water. I was sure that I was going to die.
My mum Helen jumped in about a minute later and saved my life. The next day my dad took me up the number 1 T-bar in Perisher on Front Valley. I thought that this was the biggest mountain ever. I was so scared at the top. But when I got to the bottom I just wanted to go again and again.
Now, as an adult when I put my skis on and head out in the mountains, it gives me energy. I feel like a superhero.
I forget about the cancer and live in the moment.
I skied fresh powder on the Bluff at Thredbo last week with my wife Paula and daughter Sammie. I felt exactly like the 14-year-old that skied these same lines 40 years before.
Everyone in our ski community is facing tough challenges in their lives, whether it be chronic diseases like cancer, divorce, death of a loved one, loneliness, depression, huge debt, kids with drug problems, or ageing parents that need enormous help. Getting cancer has made me realise how stretched most people are, and how by even the smallest things we can help each other.
Snowsports are a great way to reset, forget these troubles, connect with people and grab onto life.
Skiing provides a canvas on which to create. Every ski run, particularly in powder, is an opportunity to create the perfect turns to be one with the terrain. To be fully in the moment, in the zone. Like a lot of people, I crave the freedom that skiing provides, especially powder skiing – it is the ultimate expression of the sport, as we are literally flying on snow that is 95% air and 5% crystals
There are few sports that can provide the lifelong challenges that skiing and snowboarding offer. Every time you have it dialled you can level up, and go further than you imagined.
People have reached out to me from all over the snow world to offer support. It is amazing how many people have suffered from cancer. One of my cat skiing guests Steve Benjamin had stage 3 bowel cancer 10 years before me and is still alive and going strong. I never knew until after I got cancer and Steve reached out from California and gave me advice and hope.
Steve and his son Cody and their friends had come out cat skiing with me every year as a way of celebrating life in the face of Steve’s cancer. Steve was now inspiring me, but the cat skiing had also inspired him.
I started writing my book when I was on a real rollercoaster of treatment in and out of the hospital and thought that I was likely to die soon. I started writing it for myself, to help make sense of my life. Then as I was writing certain stories or chapters people came to mind that I thought would get something out of it.
When I wrote about the first few years of starting Big Red Cats, I thought about a couple that are starting a cat skiing operation in BC this year. When I wrote about the major avalanche accident that we had in 2017, I thought about new guides, and owners coming into Big Red Cats. When I wrote about my finance career and failed first marriage I thought about my three kids.
When I wrote about the cancer that is killing me, I thought of all the other cancer friends that I have met along this journey.
When I wrote the love stories, I thought about Paula.
There were lots of hard-won lessons embedded in the stories that I did not want to lose. There were also just a lot of stories that seemed to have no lessons but just wanted to be told.
A book is one of the few things that can outlive us, and take on a life of its own. If just one person gets something out of this book, it is all worthwhile.
I knew that there was something special about the book when the writing felt mostly effortless. It just poured out. The stories wanted to be told.
When Paula and I got engaged in the year 2000, we talked about what we wanted our lives and our marriage to look like. We came up with four guiding words: “Growth – Truth – Adventure – Love.”
These words were engraved on the inside of my wedding ring. It was the intention behind these words that led to most of the stories and adventures in the book. So that is now the title of the book. It felt right.
I have learned while writing this book that I am a slow learner. The universe seemed to keep sending me opportunities to grow and learn but somehow I would not learn the lesson the first time, or even the second time. Most of the lessons I had to learn the hard way (which might make for a better story).
I learned that love is not just important, it is everything.
I learned that hope is the way through fear and that chasing happiness is like trying to grab a handful of water, it will slip through your fingers, and that true happiness is a by-product of a life well lived.