Category Archives: Mountain Life

Journeyman Lodge review

In March we defied another round of skyrocketing freezing levels and headed out to Journeyman with our friends C and S to finally experience a night in a backcountry lodge. I was very hopeful that this would be my first trip in some time that didn’t begin with my skis on my back, but I was wrong.

Callaghan Country

Fortunately I was able to get my skins on well ahead of C, S and J, who were all on cross country skis. It was about 2km before we reached snow consistent enough for everyone to finally be able to gear up and begin sliding. Even in a low snow year, the trek out to the lodge was strenuous but very beautiful. The terrain was wide open until we reached Callaghan Lake, where we transitioned into rolling hills through a fairytale forest.

En route to Journeyman

We were all pretty tired by the time we’d covered the 15km to the lodge, and were grateful to trade our ski boots for cozy slippers (I was especially grateful, having done the full distance in hard shell AT boots) and sink into cozy couches. Outside, it unexpectedly began to snow lightly – the first snow I’d seen in weeks that hadn’t fallen as rain.

Journeyman

The food began arriving almost immediately, with trays of delicious appies filling the gap before dinner. Our luggage arrived by snowmobile shuttle very shortly after we did, with bottles of wine tucked away in our clothing. As well as the very comfortable communal lounge, which features a pool table, dart board, selection of games and a guitar, the lodge has a beautiful sauna situated a few minutes away on Madely Creek.

Journeyman sauna

We had a couple of hours to get cleaned up and chat to our fellow guests as they drifted in, and then it was time to head downstairs for a four course candlelit dinner. The food was proper apres-ski fuel, hearty and very good. Later we retired to the lounge for a few rounds of pool and Pictionary until the generator shut down and the lights went out at 10pm.

Journeyman at dawn

J and I woke early the next morning, and went for a walk in the frozen dawn. All around the lodge peaks soared into a sky so blue it dazzled the eyes: Hidden, Journeyman, Callaghan, Solitude. The volatile freezing level had left the snowpack bulletproof ice so I knew that none of it would be good skiing in current conditions, but the terrain was the kind that dreams are made from.

Solitude

We ate breakfast in an alcove looking out toward Solitude, and I couldn’t take my eyes from the mountains. S and I had an interesting conversation where I tried to explain this endless pull toward these empty landscapes that to him present as nothing but wilderness; for me, they are all possibility and potential. Under a cover of snow the mountain changes into a place where movement becomes fluid and flowing, where you’re no longer forced to take a single step at a time but free to fly across the surface of the world.

Leaving Journeyman

We set out early for the hike home; C took a snowmobile, S and J hiked, and I skinned and then skied down once we’d crested the ridge above Callaghan Lake. It was a beautiful trip spent in amazing surroundings and luxurious backcountry comfort, with the promise of so much incredible skiing on future visits. It was also a fine way to see out our time with C and S, who are off on a whole new adventure of their own for the next year. They’ve been great company on these mini-adventures, and we’ll miss them.

Hiatus

It’s been a while.

I lost heart this winter. We kept hoping the cycle would break, but it never did. When the clouds came, temperatures kept the precipitation liquid all the way up to 3,000m+.  When the temperatures fell, it stayed dry and all of that rain turned to bulletproof ice. We eked out a day here and a day there, but in the sad excuse for a winter that was 2014/15 the snowline never dropped.

Low snow

I’ve still got a few stories to tell – a write-up of an excellent stay at the Journeyman Lodge, and our first major backcountry injury and extraction – but really, when I spent more time carrying my skis on my back than I did with them on my feet, it wasn’t the most inspiring time.

However the biking has been quite excellent recently, so it’s time to get the show back on the road.

More than words

That’s me, in Backcountry Magazine’s 20th anniversary issue, giving a three-sentence soundbite on “why I backcountry ski or ride.”

Backcountry Magazine reader feature

I’m not a stranger to appearing in print. I write a bi-weekly column about cycling for a local paper, the Vancouver Courier. In 2009 I wrote a book about user-generated content and its impact on library services. I’ve written at least a half-dozen articles for professional journals and contributed to an assortment of other books on libraries and technology.

This is different. This is the first time I’ve ever appeared in print talking about skiing, however briefly. Something about which I’m very far from an expert, but that’s closer to my soul than anything else I’ve ever written about.

I remember Metal Dome, our group gathered on softening snow beneath an azure sky, gazing out at a world away from the world, a stunning landscape that belonged to us alone. And talking about why we did it, why we were prepared to take the risks to be in this place and see these things. I still don’t know if I’ve found the right words, not really. To go high and deep into the mountains, to experience and remember such incredible beauty, casts a light into every aspect of my life. It changes the days, even the mundane ones where nothing much happens, because I know that such places exist. It makes me grateful to be in this world.

Downhill biking is amazing. It turns the forest into a place of secret treasures, the hidden trails that snake between the trees and the joyride they promise. But skiing – backcountry skiing – is something else. It’s transcendent, a path into places that are high and wild and empty, vast spaces of snow and rock where descent is a flight above the buried surface of the earth, anywhere you want it to be. It’s the time I need away from the world to be able to believe in the world; it’s the time I need away from people to be able to give them time when I come back. It saves me from myself.

I’ll keep trying to find ways to describe it, but whether I take three sentences or three hundred there will always be pieces of the experience that words can’t capture. And even as someone who works with words, I think maybe that’s okay. Some things can only be lived.

The mystery of not knowing

This.

I could live where the sky holds the mountains in its hands. Where storms come in low and black, pressing you to the earth and making you wonder aloud what’s going on up there. Where you can tramp through wet autumn woods while a brisk northerly tears clouds from snow-covered peaks like presents being unwrapped. Where one sunny day can make up for weeks of darkness. 

I could live where people laugh and smile not because they feel the need to, but because they can’t help themselves. Where people live a little outside of the world not because they reject it, but because they care so passionately about it.

~ Leslie Anthony 

http://www.adventure-journal.com/2014/01/the-daily-pow-anything-is-possible-in-the-mystery-of-not-knowing/

RIP Tim Jones

This week we lost a hero in the truest sense of the word. Tim Jones, the leader of North Shore Rescue, passed away from a sudden cardiac arrest on Mount Seymour.

The difference that Tim Jones made to S&R in British Columbia cannot be overstated. A tireless spokesperson and advocate, his legacy includes the long-line helicopter rescues for which NSR has become well known; calls for government funding for S&R operations; and powerful arguments against ever charging the folk who become lost in the mountains for their own rescues.

In the wake of Tim’s death, a campaign has begun to rename the second peak of Mount Seymour Tim Jones Peak. I can’t imagine a better tribute to a man who saved lives in the mountains, and made the North Shore a safer place for us all.

Tim Jones Peak

Donations to NSR in Tim’s memory can be made here.

On sidecountry

There’s currently a move to eliminate the term “sidecountry” (currently used to identify lift-accessed backcountry terrain) from the backcountry lexicon. The argument for this is that using a term like sidecountry encourages recreationalists to consider that “some areas of the backcountry are kinder and gentler than other areas,”  which is patently not the case; you’re either in a controlled ski area, or you’re not. And it’s true that a lot of people – scores of them based on scenes I’ve personally seen at Whistler and Baker – don’t seem to be fully aware of this, or just how much their circumstances change when they duck below the rope.

Conversely, there’s a strong argument that terms like sidecountry are just labels. Uninformed users won’t change their behaviour because the industry and safety organizations adopt different terminology; only targeted education will make a difference. “We don’t reduce a health risk by agreeing not to mention it by name. We reduce it by clearly identifying it, studying it, and by getting in the heads of users, by understanding their demographics and channels of influence.” 

It’s an interesting argument, and there very good cases on both sides. If changing the terminology would genuinely make a difference, I’d be all for it. But I’m honestly not convinced that the problem is with the labels. I’m a newcomer to the backcountry, just two seasons old, and I made sure I took an AST-1 course before my first tour to scare some sense into myself. Even though one of my main takeaways from the course was just how much I didn’t know going into it, one thing I have always been very aware of is that the rules change beyond the boundary rope.

I do think of true backcountry and sidecountry/slackcountry as two very different things, and I find the distinction helpful. Sidecountry is, without doubt, an easier (and more expensive) option – but only because you’re using a lift to get there, not because it’s less safe. In fact, being pitched straight into an uncontrolled high alpine environment because you rode a lift past all those gladed slopes and rolling meadows that you could have accessed under your own steam is a bigger jump than starting out with gentle tours.

Of course, not everyone is going to feel the same way about this. Not everyone is going to use the sidecountry in the same way, either; the groups who head out past Lakeside bowl to build booters on untracked slopes well out of the way of avalanche paths aren’t dealing with the same level of risk as those who head straight up to Body Bag Bowl or Disease Ridge for fresh powder after a storm. Do all of them know the difference? That’s the million dollar question.

Ultimately, although I can see both sides of the argument, I end up feeling that the terminology debate addresses a symptom rather than the cause. Awareness and education are so important. If people truly understand what they’re getting into, and how they can make their experience safer, it doesn’t really matter what they call it.

Mountain Riders’ Alliance: a bright future

One of the most interesting (and rewarding) things about last ski season was making the transition from resort skiing into the backcountry. It was longer coming than I wanted it to be as a result of the time I lost to injury and surgery, and in ten days of earning my turns I barely scratched the surface of what’s possible beyond the ropes, but it was enough for me to understand that I’d found a completely new side of the sport I love. Backcountry skiing has this amazing purity to it: it’s a world of silence, beauty, untouched snow, and powder turns on lines that are all the better for the work it took to reach them.

While I suspect my own skiing future will lie more and more in the backcountry, in some ways the contrast did make me appreciate aspects of my resort days more. The sheer amount of downhill you can log when lifts whisk you to the top of the mountain; the variety of terrain you can access on a managed hill; and the undoubted benefits of easy access to hot food and a cold beer at the end of a day on the slopes.

Which is why I’m so excited by the Mountain Riders’ Alliance, and the philosophy that they want to bring to the future of skiing. Built on the triple foundation of people, community, and the environment, the MRA proposes a new model for ski area development that provides a welcome contrast to the money-hungry resorts where it feels like the skiing experience is increasingly peripheral to the off-the-hill activities of clubbing, dining, and high-end massages. The MRA is looking to build Mountain Playgrounds rather than resorts: skier-focused developments with minimal infrastructure and reasonable costs, built in partnership with local communities and with a mindful eye on environmental impacts.

The flagship MRA project, Manitoba Mountain, reads like my personal manifesto of what I’d most like to see in a ski area. Minimally invasive surface lifts offering access to both in-bounds terrain and backcountry gates leading to more than 10,000 acres of Alaskan chutes, cliffs, spines and bowls. An opening policy dictated by snow conditions, not by the bottom line. Thoughtful development based on the riding experience and not access to restaurants, shops and bars. Pricing designed to keep skiing affordable and accessible for people who love to ski, not to maximize corporate profits.

The MRA has, until now, been running with zero operating capital. They’re currently in the final days of a crowdfunding campaign to raise $10,000 in start-up funds to help the first two Mountain Playgrounds – Manitoba and Maine’s Mt. Abram – become a reality. The future of skiing that they propose is the future I want to see for my sport. If you love skiing or riding, please consider contributing to their campaign.

What is the love that brings you to the mountains?

I’ve been trying to frame my own answer to this great TGR thread. It’s so hard to put what I feel into words.

To put it simply, the mountains are where I feel free. They are the spaces where anything is possible.

But there’s more to it than that. In the mountains all bullshit falls away, and the ragged edges and contusions left by the pummeling stress of making your way in the urban world begin to heal.  They have no space or time for falsehoods, lies, or pretenses. Unlike cities, they don’t need people to give them meaning; they simply are, whether we are there or not. They are about simplicity and truth, stripping away everything that’s needless to leave an absolute clarity of thought and purpose.

Mountains are the natural world at its most raw and its most captivating. Jagged peaks, endless fields of snow and ice, broken rocks at the edge of the sky. Glimpses of a time when the earth was wilder.

And when we ski, we’re dancing with the mountain. Skiing is about taking that wildness and that freedom and all of that raw energy and power and riding it like one endless wave down from the sky. It’s about leaving the world behind and finding a space where the only things that matter are the speed and the snow and our mastery of our own bodies. It’s an intoxicating mix of adrenalin and beauty that leaves us hopelessly obsessed and hungry for more.

Mountains put the world, and the ripple of my own very tiny path in it, into perspective. In them I live for the current moment, am absorbed entirely in the beauty around me, and feel complete.

It’s about flying

Skiing…is about getting outside, grabbing nature by the waist and dancing for all you’re worth. Skiing is all about action. About being physically fit and confident and ready for a challenge. It’s about pushing off down the hill and cutting the ties to our all-too-human frailties. It’s about flying. About being free from all the crap that society imposes. It offers no boundaries and infinite horizons.

~ Michael Beaudry