With the snow-dumping La Niña sweeping through North America this season, perhaps it’s time to hit that pow-hunting road trip. Matt Carr did just that in British Columbia during the last La Niña…
Words Matt Carr
The premise was straightforward enough – we would chase the snow and gorge ourselves on the finest skiing Interior BC had to offer. No agenda, no itinerary, just the eight of us for a week on the road, guided solely by whatever looked most exciting on the weather charts. Simple. We’d been cooped up for what felt like decades, since Covid had arrived on the scene two years prior and prevented us from having even seen a snowflake, let alone slid on it. We’d saved up and saved up and now we were here to reap the bounty of our patience and frugality. We would splurge, if necessary, because – well – we deserved it!
The planning gods did not, it would seem, get our carefully crafted memo. Certainly neither the Great CO2 Canister Snafu (apparently nobody at Vancouver Airport had even seen an ABS pack) nor the heart attack-inducing re-routing of our ski bags from Vancouver to our starting point in Revelstoke, via a different domestic airport and eventual (miraculous) 600km courier, exactly fitted the brief of pure, unadulterated, cathartic powder-piggery.
All’s well that ends well however, and it was with great joy that we eventually took delivery of our kit at around half-past midnight on the Sunday night with at least a foot of fresh white fluff on the ground in town.
Suffice to say, between the drama, the excitement and the jetlag, not much sleep was had, and we arrived at the lift almost farcically early. I say almost, because we were not alone. Revelstoke, with the biggest lift-served vertical drop in North America, is – we soon learned – absolutely brimming with powderhounds of every persuasion. In most resorts in the Alps, arriving on the scene at 08.30 or 08.45 is normally plenty eager enough to score first lifts. Not so here.
No matter – the line moved swiftly and with all that vert, the crowds dispersed quickly. In ski guide Chipie Windross – an old friend of mine from Tignes – we had a secret weapon with local knowledge aplenty.
A spanner in the works
Many of our number had not strapped on a pair of skis since 2020 or even 2019. Regardless, straight off the bat, while the crowd zigged right off the top of Revelation Gondola, we would zag left, straight into the very deep and very steep slackcountry adjacent to the quintessentially Revelstoke-nomenclatured ‘Conifers of Gnarnia’. No warm-up then, we chuckled, as the hooting and hollering began as we free-fell through the trees – in equal parts delight and pain as chronically underused thighs began to scream almost immediately.
After a few laps harvesting lower-hanging fruit within the ski area boundary, we wolfed some lunch, and some of the team (photographer Kene included) peeled off – legs cooked – and headed back to town. Those who remained were in for a treat. When we were sure that nobody was looking, we nipped into some nondescript trees off the side of a trail. Little did I know that, combining his own experience with a plethora of excellent mapping apps, Chipie had spirited us into a closely guarded and rarely in-condition route, that would plunge through steep, untracked forest, all the way down to the road over 1,000m vertical below. On and on and on it went, until we popped out on the road, in the nick of time too: it felt like I was seconds away from spontaneous combustion of the lower limbs. We were off to a flyer and thumbed a lift back to town, elated.
The rest of the crew did not share our elation. Having put his early bath down to fatigue, Kene’s condition had, it seemed, deteriorated rapidly through the afternoon. He didn’t need the result of the Lateral Flow Test to tell him that he’d gotten Omicron, and would be spending the next fortnight in quarantine in the hotel room in which he lay. Sub-optimal.
After the usual useless flapping in an attempt to figure out what could be done for him (nothing), I quickly realised that I was the real victim here. Notwithstanding this article, for which I was on the hook to produce and illustrate with proper images (the kind that neither I nor anyone remaining in the group was capable of taking), there was the small matter of the fact that we were about to go heliskiing in all-time conditions, and now we had nobody to photograph it… NIGHTMARE! If a turn is made in impossibly light powder between the perfectly spaced trees in a forest, and nobody’s there to take a picture, can anybody be sure it really happened?
Record for ‘most fun achieved in one day’
Using a potent blend of resourcefulness and narcissism, I forewent the following day’s skiing to frenetically truffle around Revelstoke in search of a photographer available to join a week’s trip with a bunch of strangers, at zero notice, for next to nothing in payment. The local paper The Revelstoke Mountaineer came up trumps, and after a hastily arranged blind coffee date later with lensman Olly Hogan, we were back on. It turns out “do you want to come heliskiing for free tomorrow?” is a reasonable opening gambit in Revelstoke. And so, abandoning Kene in his almost windowless hotel room, we hit the incredibly scenic road South, with The Ride Of The Valkyries blaring from our preposterously large truck.
Unlike most BC heli lodges, Stellar – located as it is in the quaint lakeside town of Kaslo (three hours’ drive south of Revelstoke) – offers single-day heli packages, along with multiple accommodation options. We went for the dirtbag choice – the perfectly comfortable Kaslo Motel, at $30 each for the night. And so, while it’s still far from cheap, a day in the chopper here is not completely beyond the reach of many skiers; our seven-drop day cost $1750CAD / person – around £1,000 at the time. Particularly ones with two years of unspent holiday money burning a hole in their pockets. Our Quebecoise guide Jess seemed determined to score a Guinness World Record for Widest Grin, or Most Fun Achieved In One Day, an outlook she balanced beautifully with our collective levels of froth and a potentially very tricky and recent-augmented snowpack.
Picking out a particular highlight isn’t a straightforward task when the entire day is a blur of blower powder, but we agreed that a relatively mellow sector call Gladerunner, full of giant totem pole-looking trees – whose branches had been stripped by wildfires – was a rare treat. The remaining trunks served to sharpen visibility by adding definition, but presented almost no physical barrier to high speed shredding. This was a true tree-skiing utopia, fathoms better than anything forested any of us had ever encountered in the Alps!
At day’s end, an increasingly pale Olly announced that he too was feeling rough and would have to repair back to Revelstoke that evening. It would transpire that he too had Covid. Or maybe he reckoned that one day with us was plenty. Either way, back to square one. After a flurry of Instagram messages, I unearthed another handy (and available!) Nelson-based photographer with whom we would RDV at RED Mountain – home of Fall Line Ski School (no relation!) – for a fun day blasting sunny groomers and watching local kids shred a freeski comp in conditions that – to my eye – bordered on lunacy, but that 12 year olds deemed suitable for sending 10m hucks to bulletproof landings. Colour me emasculated.
All about the synergy
The Fall Line flavoured vibe would follow us to Whitewater, an epic under-the-radar, denim-jacket-type outpost of shred, above the equally vibey town of Nelson. Zipping about the small-but-perfectly-formed mountain in pursuit of local ripper Kerr McEwan, we bumped into (everyone here seems to be on first name terms) Whitewater’s quintessential local, Stuart Malcolmson, beneath one of Whitewater’s three rickety old chairs. He was surprised to hear the Queen’s English in this neck of the woods. I explained I was there for Fall Line Skiing – a British ski mag. “NO SHIT” he yelled in delight: “my forest firefighting company is called Fall Line Forestry!” Not missing a beat, another local leaned down from the chair and informed us that he was a freelance marketing consultant, and that “in marketing, we call that… SYNERGY!”.
To wrap up, we joined up with local ACMG guide David Lussier from Summit Mountain Guides, to sample some of Whitewater’s famed tour-access sidecountry, which we found to be very tasty indeed, particular where most trees’ branches had been burnt by the forest fires that have ravaged much of BC in recent years, allowing full speed pillaging. By now we were indeed without a photographer, but whether anyone was there to see or photograph our efforts, we could not have been happier little piggies.
TRAVEL From the UK fly to Castlegar – via Vancouver – with Air Canada; you may need to overnight in Vancouver on the way out only. Revelstoke is located three-and-a-half hours’ drive north of Castlegar. For car hire in Castlegar, we used Practicar, whose owner – charmingly – met us at the airport to hand over our trucks.
For more info about skiing in British Columbia visit Mabey Ski, the BC specialists, for tailor-made trips.