On Sunday we were back at Red Heather again. The avalanche danger was considerable right through the Sea to Sky area, so we wanted to stick with simple terrain that we know reasonably well. Our main purpose wasn’t actually a ski trip, but a snowshoe with our friends C and B and B’s daughter. Needless to say I took my skis with me, but I also packed my hiking boots and strapped snowshoes to my pack so that I would be able to hike down with the others. I wasn’t counting on turns, but I was hoping.
After a slightly hair-raising drive to Diamond Head (we had to negotiate both an abandoned schoolbus blocking half the road, and a pickup that had ignored the mandatory chainup sign and then discovered the error of its ways and had to reverse back down while we were trying to drive up) we set out from the trailhead into the ultimate winter wonderland. Two feet of fresh snow, forest giants with branches loaded with white and rimed trunks, and clear skies after the storm.
The higher we climbed the more dazzlingly blue the azure sky above us seemed, and the deeper and whiter the snow coating the landscape. We passed a campground in a clearing, the tents bright splashes of colour buried deep in the snowbanks, and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect scene to wake up to (though damn, the night must have been chilly).
When we reached the warming hut our friends were ready for a break and some food, but J and I decided to press on for the ridge. I wanted to catch a few turns before the powder tracked out, and J wanted to photograph the views on the first clear day we’ve had on this trail. I left my snowshoes and boots at the hut, and we set off upwards through fields of soft new snow and ranks of ghost trees. Behind us jaw-droppingly beautiful vistas opened up: mountain peaks beyond counting cloaked in fresh snow, framing the horizon.
When we reached the ridge we stopped for a moment to admire the view together. Then J started back down, and I transitioned as fast as I could back to ski mode. I’m getting a lot better at this: I got the skins, bindings and boots sorted out relatively quickly, and in hip-deep snow the main challenge was actually getting back into my skis.
Most of the other skiers on the ridge were heading directly down the same slope, straight ahead from the brow of the ridge. I cut just to skier’s right of the stand of trees at the top to an aspect where the snow was still untouched, and found myself in another of those dream moments. An untracked slope in front of me, drifting cloud, bright sunlight, and those incredible mountains flanking the view in every direction. I took a deep breath, and skied down.
Even while it was happening, it barely seemed real. The snow was lighter than the last two times I’ve been to the ridge, and while I still don’t really have my weight distribution in powder figured out I’m starting to adjust to that feeling of surfing the snow rather than carving it; flying on the air it holds rather than digging my edges into the hard surface it provides when compressed.
You cannot buy these moments. You can’t find them in a resort. It’s not just about leaving behind lift lines and tickets and crowds; it’s about having earned every turn with the long slog up, and being in the wilderness where there’s only silence around you when you stop moving. It’s about being in the places you always dreamed about, but never thought you’d actually reach. For me it’s also about having the possibility of all of this taken away when I was as close to it as I’d ever been, and having to fight my way back to that possibility all over again. It’s about this.
Back at the hut we met up with our friends, and they started back down the trail with J while I collected my snowshoes and hikers. I skied down the trail past them, then put the skis on my pack with the boots clamped into the bindings and strapped on my snowshoes while they caught up. The A-frame carry was a little ungainly, but it worked well enough – and gave me some extra exercise on the way down.
In the late afternoon the shadows deepened and snowflakes falling from the trees filled the air with an endless shimmering glitter. As we passed a gap in the trees we stopped to look out over Howe Sound, silver in the sunlight.
Sometimes photographs are just a snapshot, a moment in time that doesn’t really represent the day. But every now and again, the day actually is this perfect. Good friends, incredible scenery, and J with me every step of the way to the ridge. Amazing turns and J and I crisscrossing each other’s paths on the way down. It still blows my mind that I live in a place where all of this is just an hour’s drive away. We are so very lucky to be here, and to have such great people to share these beautiful places with us.