I had never skied snow so deep, so light, so dry. It blew over my head and into my nose and mouth and face. To turn in it was effortless. It was endlessly deep and it was unending. Run after run the conditions were always the same. Perfect powder. It just did not stop snowing. Skin tracks were filled within hours. Runs were renewed like magic. There was no hint that we had been there the day before or even just that morning. When would it stop snowing.? Who cared? There is no such thing as too much snow.
This was my experience, in British Columbia’s Coast Range in February of 2014. I was lucky enough to get one of the few remaining spots left for a week of backcountry skiing at McGillivry Pass with Whitcap Alpine ski adventures. Located in the South Chilcotin mountains north of Whistler, but a world away from the crowds and shopping scene.
Access to the lodge is by helicopter, from the town of Pemberton. Helping with the loading and knowing you will be on the next flight in, brings a sense of anticipation. Soaring over the mountains, into clouds, feeling the chopper move through the air and watching ridges disappear below you is one of the wildest feelings. Soon the hut is visible and a world of amazing terrain opens up. We gawk out the window like little kids.
Lars Andrews, owner and head guide (C.M.G.A. and U.I.A.G.M. ) greets us as we get out of the helicopter. He started skiing here at the age of 5. This is his home and backyard. Every inch of terrain in the area is etched in his mind. The lodge was built in 1972 by a group of adventurers looking for a place to enjoy the mountains. Lars dad, Ron Andrews, played a huge role in building the cabin and still does lots of the work and maintenance to keep the place going. Lars and I first crossed paths on an Alpine Club of Canada ski camp into Frisby Creek. When he told me about the lodge I was intrigued. This is my 4th visit and I have never been disappointed. In addition to the lodge, there is now a sauna with two private joining rooms, and a shower. Three heated yurts and a heated outhouse. Each year Lars makes another improvement to make life more enjoyable. After a brief orientation concerning terrain, snow conditions and the daily routine, we began beacon practice with assistance from his guiding staff.
The terrain at Whitcap Alpine is vast. Alpine bowls and cirques abound. Mountain summits are everywhere. Gladed runs can be found right out the door. When mother nature shuts down the alpine terrain with low visibility and snow is falling faster than you thought imaginable, avalanche danger starts to rise. This is when tree skiing is our salvation. With little fear of avalanche conditions we headed to the top of a wooded run. Lars and his crew broke trail like machines, never stopping for a minute. Those of us behind were grateful but at times felt a little guilty for not pitching in. These tree runs are magical, taking us into a world of perfectly spaced conifers with the occasional meadow in between. We buddy up and head in, each of us finding our own way down.
The forest looks mysterious shrouded in snow. Colors are muted and everything is so quiet. Light wind sends the snow blowing off of tree branches as if trying to help it lighten its load. We see animal tracks in the snow and try to identify them and where they are heading. Stumps are covered, rocks are buried and the terrain is most forgiving. We gather at the bottom and transition for another run. I’m not sure how much snow is falling per hour, but after just a minute my pack is covered. I watch flakes falling from the sky and start to skin up. The ascent takes about 45 minutes. At times day dreaming and at other times concentrating so hard on that tight kick turn I attempt to execute perfectly. On average, we ski between 3,000 to 5,000 vertical feet per day, never on the same run. Most wooded runs are about 1,000 vertical feet. The longest run in Whitecap’s area is close to 5,000 vertical feet. Our last run of the day heads us back to the cabin.
“An army marches on its stomach”- Napoleon Bonaparte
While the great Emperor’s plans for conquering the world may not have worked out, Napoleon was right about one thing, food. Food can make or break a hut trip. Entering the main lodge in the early morning you are pleasantly assaulted by the aromas of coffee, french toast, bacon, sausage or whatever else is on the menu. The food is always varied and cooked to perfection. Lunch keeps us going during the day and can be as simple as PB & J, turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, homemade brownies or leftovers from last night. Returning to the hut in the late afternoon from our days powder feast, we immediately start eating again. Nachos, crepes, fresh baked cookies or sandwiches that had gone uneaten during the day. Lar’s fires up the sauna before dinner. We relax, talk about the day and past ski adventures.
I relate a story to my new friends about one day at Whitecap a few years back, when a not so fit client complained about all of the climbing. Well, what did you expect, I thought to myself, this is a touring trip. As he went into a bit of a cursing fit, we all looked on. He exclaimed “I want a fucking helicopter”. Lars very calmly said “that can be arranged”. We all laughed. After a little discussion later that evening it was agreed upon. A chopper came in and we were whisked away to the top of an unnamed mountain the next morning. While I may be a dedicated tourer, this was not a chance to pass up. We skied boot deep powder for two long runs and then spent the rest of the day touring. It turned out to be one of the best skiing days I have ever had.
The sun has set. The lights of the lodge, viewed from outside, give a feeling of security and warmth. It is time for dinner. Where do we put all of this food?
Roasted Pork Loin, Salmon Broiled in Maple and Soy Sauce, BBQ chicken, Lasagna, Roast Beef, Fresh Salads, Mashed Potatoes, the list goes on and on. Shelia, the chef has made chocolate cake for dessert.
Our lives center around skiing, eating and using the sauna. We have fallen into a routine, if you can call it that. By the end of the week we have tallied about 30,000 feet of skiing. As our trip comes to a close weather reports call for a clearing on Saturday. The sound of the helicopter fills the air, and when it comes into sight I have mixed emotions. A new bunch of skiers jump out, their eyes filled with excitement. Within twenty minutes we are back in civilization.
Well, the next time I’m with a bunch of skiers and the subject of where the best powder in the world is, my vote will be for McGillivry Pass with Whitcap Alpine ski adventures in British Columbia.
To ski at McGillivry Pass contact Lars Andrews at www.WhitecapAlpine.ca Tell him Tom sent you.