Last season, Mike Austin from Avalanche Geeks made the trip over to the interior of British Columbia to drive the fabled Powder Highway, checking out a few resorts along the way, and having a go at a spot of heli-assisted touring. Here's how he got on...
It was snowing hard on our arrival in the Monashee Range of British Columbia in early April. Three weeks later, sat in departure lounge of Calgary airport awaiting the flight home, it was still snowing hard. In contrast to Europe this season, North America has had a record breaking snowpack, so it was a good time to road trip Canada’s premier ski terrain.
This was only the second time I’d travelled the Powder Highway through the interior of British Columbia. Frankly it’s a long way to travel from Europe, and the complexity and cost of booking heli accessed ski lodges has always put me off, but with a week lined up at the Canadian Alpine Club’s jewel in its’ crown: the Bill Putnam Hut in the Fairy Meadows, situated in the heart of the Selkirks, it was once again time to rent a truck, put on some country music and fill up on Timmy Ho Ho’s coffee.
We kicked off our first week at Kicking Horse and Revelstoke ski areas. Based out of small logging towns, the feel of both places is definitely backwoods sleepy. That may well have been due to it being their last week of the season, but I got the impression from the small dirt carparks and limited lift infrastructure that these places don’t suffer much from crowds at any point of the season. Revelstoke is a bit more cosmopolitan compared to Golden where Kicking Horse is located: It has an underlying hippie twist, with coffee shop posters offering yoga for the emotionally traumatized and an abundance of hemp accessory stores where you can get a bitchin’ deal on a dream catcher if that’s your thing.
Although both these resorts get their fair share of exposure in the ski press, it was ridiculously easy to find deep powder both in and out of the ski area. There is also great access to high quality backcountry terrain from their top lifts. In particular, the Cat ski terrain at Revy can be easily accessed by a 15 minute boot. Unlike similar set ups in the U.S. you won’t be threatened with a night in the local jail for poaching the Cat ski terrain here, which kind of takes some of the thrill away, but to be honest I’m now of an age where it’s become embarrassing to hide in the woods from the ski patrol and the local Sheriff until sundown. Poaching illegal powder is a young man’s sport. The backcountry skiing was so good we basically used our lift tickets to access the high backcountry terrain in the Kokanee and Montana Bowls outside of Revelstoke’s ski area where we spent each day skiing deep untracked lines in the two bowls.
Apparently heli accessed ski touring is the next big thing. It blends a single heli bump to access remote terrain with human powered ski touring once out of the ship. It’s Heli skiing for the proletariat. The Canadians have been doing this kind of thing for years now, using their extensive network of remote huts as a base for a few days. It can work out pretty reasonable price wise if you avoid the fancy top end lodges. I won’t bore you with tales of daily face shots and wide GS turns through endless cold glacier powder that we had to ourselves. Suffice to say, we took that monkey to pound town. But be aware; this is no country for bold men, our avi skills were put fully to the test negotiating a schizophrenic snowpack that was more mid February than mid April, flipping from benign to avalanching three separate very experienced parties close to us during our week there. The final incident completely buried two people resulting in a broken leg and the diversion of several ski lodge helicopters to the rescue scene.
Yup, there’s plenty of adventure skiing to be had on the Powder Highway for those with the right skills, a taste for adventure and a small pocket full of heli cash.