Category Archives: Backcountry

The Metal Dome heli drop

Some days change everything.

Photo credit: Alistair Crompton Photography(Photo credit: Alistair Crompton Photography)

It started a week ago, with a tentative email enquiry about putting a team together for a low cost heli drop in the Whistler area. It got real just a couple of days later, when weather and avvy conditions lined up and suddenly there was a date and a destination. And when I realised that the destination was the same peak I’d been dreaming about since I first saw it six weeks ago on that beautiful day in the Callaghan, there was never any question what my answer would be.

Blackcomb Aviation heli

So on Saturday morning I found myself in a helicopter, headed for Metal Dome. It all came together so fast that even as the heli prepared to take off, I still couldn’t quite believe that it was happening. Heli skiing has never been on my radar because of the cost; even a one way trip like this wasn’t something I ever thought I would be in a position to do.

The pilot took us low over the trees then rapidly gained elevation, passing over the gleaming snow-covered peaks of Rainbow and Gin. The excitement level, which had been running pretty high, reached fever pitch as the Metal Dome and Brandywine alpine appeared ahead of us, unbelievably huge. It seemed unfathomable that we were just moments away from standing on top of it.

Heli circling Chainsaw drop zone

The heli flew over Metal Dome summit and then swept in a dizzying circle around the landing zone, with the horizon line leaping and shaking as high winds from the peak buffeted us. It felt like some crazy fairground ride, too surreal to be scary. The pilot tipped our nose toward the snow, and seconds later we were touching down. I left first, crouching just in front of the heli with the rest of the team while Michael hastily hauled out our gear. Then with a massive rush of air and wash of spindrift and snowflakes the heli lifted back up, swept over us and away, and all of a sudden we were on our own on the mountain.

Blackcomb Aviation heli leaving

When the hollering and cheering had died down, we spent a few minutes taking stock of our situation. Strong winds were blowing across the peak, but the sky was completely clear and the views were limitless. Metal Dome summit just to the south, Brandywine towering to the north, Black Tusk and Garibaldi far off to the east, and Rainbow and the Callaghan peaks ringing the valley. Below us, slopes of such immensity that I couldn’t completely comprehend the sheer scale of the zone that we’d arrived in.

Chainsaw landing zone, Metal Dome

In spite of the sunshine exposed flesh was chilling rapidly in the bitter winds, so we geared up and briefly discussed our next move. Two of the team wanted to drop into a very exposed chute on the far side of the peak (respect!) while the rest of us planned to ski the steep, smooth line down directly down the north face.

I hadn’t been entirely sure about this based on Google Earth, which made it look terrifyingly steep and quite possibly beyond my skiing capabilities. But the reality, while far bigger than I’d pictured, didn’t actually seem bad at all. (To be honest, the adrenaline was still running so high at this point that I’d have tried to ski almost anything.) The snow was pretty firm in the morning chill – it was barely 9am – but there was plenty of edge grip, and I was able to arc some fairly respectable turns down to the initial regroup spot.

Skiing down from the landing zone, Metal Dome

As Michael and I waited for Jeff to ski down, I had time to take in the whole expanse of the alpine. I’d been fantasizing about this place since the day I scoped it from the Callaghan base lodge, dreaming of what it would be like to stand on the glacier and the lines that I might find there. I knew from the first moment I saw it that this was a zone with endless possibilities, and yet standing within it I realised that I hadn’t even begun to guess how huge and limitless it really was.

Metal Dome glacier

The length of that first run – and all the runs that followed – was staggering. The turns just kept coming and coming, over rolls and down ridges, steeper here then flattening out for a moment there, the snow fast and chalky and fun. I’d started cautiously while I figured out the conditions but it quickly became apparent that holding back wasn’t necessary. Al and Dan rejoined us as we crossed the ridge that separated the two main alpine bowls, and all five of us flew the rest of the way down together.

Metal Dome

We stopped for a brief break before transitioning, speechless at the immensity of the landscape around us. In the endless expanse of black rock and pure white snow, beneath a sky that was the deepest blue I’d ever seen, it felt like we’d left the world somewhere far behind. We could have been standing on the surface of the moon, or somewhere else entirely.

Climbing from the col to Metal Dome summit

Our next goal was to bag the Metal Dome summit, and ski from the peak down through the col and the full length of the glacier. The sun was starting to beat down fiercely by this time, and we were in shirtsleeves for the climb. It was a long, steep trek up to the col, where the winds suddenly resurfaced and lashed the snow to spindrift. From there a final climb led skier’s right to the summit plateau, with a new set of mindblowing views toward the black spires of Fee and distinct pyramidal peak of Tricouni.

Metal Dome summit

The run from the peak was even longer and more epic than the first one. The snow on the col was starting to soften and speed limits were forgotten. We rocketed over the ridge and sharply down through a crazy, steep-sided valley between two perfect triangular snow formations. It looked like nothing I’d ever seen on earth, a completely alien landscape.

The valley, Metal Dome

We paused briefly for lunch, then headed back up along the ridge to the base of our landing zone. Michael’s thermometer showed 13 degrees in the sun, and we were pouring sweat on the steep climb. This time we took a direct route down over an insanely huge convex roll and then all the way back into the valley we’d just left. I was starting to feel my legs by this point but on the perfect spring corn, it was impossible not to be a hero.

Final climb, Metal Dome

For our final line we hiked back up to the col just below Metal Dome summit, this time letting the run down carry us all the way out of the alpine. Pausing just below treeline to refuel for the ski out, none of us could take our eyes from the zone we’d just left: it towered above us, gleaming white and silver in the sun, too amazing to be real. Within sight, it already felt like a dream.

Metal Dome alpine

The ski out, which would have been quite fun in good conditions, was challenging. The snow was heavy and wet, the trees closed in tight around us, and we had to negotiate a couple of partially-melted creeks before we finally hit the logging road. My legs were completely done now – I’d logged around 2,500m of vertical in back-to-back days – and I mostly poled my way along the flat stretches as we made our way the final 4km to Callaghan Valley Road.

The return to civilization was jarring. Up there in the alpine, in that huge monochromatic landscape that felt so very far away from the world, we hadn’t seen a single other person since the helicopter left us. Human constructions like roads and cars seemed alien and strange, complications we’d already become unused to.

Ski team at Callaghan Valley Road

This was one of the most extraordinary days of my life. It’s so hard to come down from an experience like that; I feel like part of me is up there still, like I haven’t completely reconnected with the world. I know that I’ll be remembering this for a very long time.

Photo credit: Alistair Crompton Photography(Photo credit: Alistair Crompton Photography)

Just another day

In the morning, a dawn climb to Brockton Peak to watch the sun rise over the Coast Mountains before skiing back down.

Coast mountains at dawn

At lunchtime, the first #30daysofbiking ride in sunshine beneath cherry blossoms.

#30daysofbiking

In the evening, skiing through the sunset and into the floodlit night on Grouse.

Grouse sunset

And all of this was sandwiched around a regular day at work. Just another day in the best place on earth.

Traveling blind

Last weekend was a tricky one for choosing a destination. S and I had originally planned to head for Rainbow Peak, but that objective was skunked by the avvy ratings in the alpine. At the same time, the freezing level was high enough to rule out some of our normal go-to zones. In the end we opted for the Callaghan and the first part of the Rainbow tour, to Gin Peak via Hanging Lake.

Neverland redux

We started out on the same cross country trails that I’d skied with J and the other C and S on that beautiful bluebird day in February. It was almost as warm, but the cloud ceiling was disturbingly low and we both realised early on that the visibility might not be in our favour.

The steep climb to Hanging Lake was more or less my favourite kind of uphill, with the exception of some epic skin glopping due to the warm temperatures. Fortunately S was prepared to scrape my skis free periodically as half the mountain tried to come along with me. The trail itself was broad, steep and clearly marked, and a nice cardio slog.

Sierra and giants, Hanging Lake trail

As we climbed the south ridge out of the outlet stream depression below Hanging Lake, the visibility – which had held on tantalizingly through the trees – wavered, trembled, and then disappeared completely. There were two other groups of skiers on the mountain, and first one and then the other broke away from the trail and began transitioning. S and I discussed it briefly, and decided to keep going for at least a short while. We were still hopeful that conditions might clear if we gave it a bit of time.

At this point things became interesting. With no-one ahead of us, we were relying on my fairly new skills with the GPS to wayfind. Following the route was simple enough, but I was also conscious that we were now at treeline in an area with an avvy rating of considerable and we needed to steer clear of avalanche terrain, even though we couldn’t see it. Attempting to read the contours and guide us safely through the hidden landscape around us was both very challenging and an intensely valuable lesson in backcountry navigation.

Sierra in the mist, Gin Peak

We wound our way slowly toward the summit, remaining hopeful that the visibility would clear. Unfortunately, the cloud closed in around us as we transitioned and when the time came to ski down, we found ourselves in a whiteout so intense that it was impossible to tell up from down. We’d slide, start to gain momentum, then hit a point where the contour of the slope changed and immediately crash.

It was pretty grueling for the first 150m or so of the descent. S fell off a ten-foot cornice he hadn’t seen coming. I dropped off a rise and then somersaulted into neck deep snow when the slope suddenly flattened. At times we both thought we were going down, then looked at our skis and realized we weren’t moving and probably hadn’t been for some time. It was utterly disorienting.

Neck deep snow on Gin PeakPhoto credit: Sierra Laflamme

Then, thankfully, we reached treeline and gained some definition amid the murk. The snow was still crazy heavy, but with the confidence to ski it faster we were able to stay on top and get some decent turns in. The final part of the run down to Hanging Lake was pretty glorious, and we both found ourselves jonesing to come back on a better day and ski the entire stretch again.

The first part of the run out through the trees worked me pretty good. It was easier for S on the splitboard, but with huge chunks of styrofoam snow kicked up by earlier groups on steep slopes it was impossible to stop my skis taking wild deflections. Then the snow smoothed out, and we found ourselves on an insanely fun little luge track that rocketed us through the trees and all the way back to the cross-country trails.

Hanging Lake trail descentPhoto credit: Sierra Laflamme

In spite of the terrible visibility, it was clear that this was a phenomenal area with some great runs. I can’t wait to go back on a day when we can see what we’re doing.

Epic oops

Fantastic though the Red trip was, afterwards I was itching to get back to the uphill. Riding chairs sure ups the vertical and distance you can log in a day, but skiing without the touring element is like driving an automatic after standard: it’s less effort, but something important is missing.

Uphill

I had a bacon party (yes, that’s a thing) to go to in the evening, so we opted for Paul Ridge to give us fast access to turns and an early return to town. The snow had been pounding down overnight, and in spite of some rather flat light the first bowl beyond Round Mountain was looking pretty dreamy. Everything seemed incredibly stable, so we wolfpacked the first turns on smooth, beautiful snow.

It all seemed to be going fantastically well until one of my skis prereleased on a steeper section, sending me into a huge somersault. I still don’t know exactly what happened, but my best guess is that as I tumbled my pole strap hooked the activation handle of my airbag. Next thing I was face down in the snow with a loud hissing noise, a strong smell of rubber, and a growing pressure at my back. It took me a moment to realise that my airbag had deployed.

ABS airbag accidental deployment

Never having released it before, I had no idea how to deflate the bags and once I’d retrieved my ski, I had to make my way down the rest of the slope with the two giant bags hovering behind me, threatening to lift me off the ground every time my speed increased. Once I’d rejoined C and S I dug out the instruction card, let the nitrogen out of the bags, and stuffed them haphazardly back into their compartments. For the rest of the day, the 6.5lbs of airbag was purely a weight training exercise.

I was more rattled by the incident than I realised, and on our second run I was all over the place. Once we’d climbed back to the top of the bowl I let C and S take the prime line down the face, and went over to the side to take a slightly mellower line. It gave me exactly the opportunity to hit the reset button that I needed, and I was more than ready to make up for lost time on the next run.

Easy line

This time we descended on the far side of the shoulder to the east of the bowl, where the wind hadn’t reached and the snow was drier and softer. It was a glorious, freewheeling powder run, where our tracks ripped clean lines through the snow before briefly cutting across one another and then blasting out onto the plateau below.

The crazy thing is that it was the Saturday right after a big storm, and yet we didn’t see another skier all day. As we worked our way along the ridgeline, all we found was empty bowls of untracked snow. The entire zone belonged to us.

Descending

We skied until our legs had nothing left, then headed back to town where I ate my own body weight in bacon and brined pork sandwiches. All in all, an excellent day in spite of the accidental airbag deployment.

Brined pork sandwiches

Far out

48 hours later, I was back in the Callaghan in very different conditions for a second crack at Telemagique.

Stormy Callaghan

A huge snowstorm had swept in, and the landscape was barely recognizable. The trees were cloaked in white, and there was so much snow on the road that we were able to put our skins on and ski straight out of the parking lot. Since it was our first time in the Callaghan backcountry and we knew it was likely to be a long day, C and I took the easy route in and headed up the deserted Mainline cross country trail for the first 9km.

At Callaghan Lake we left the trail network behind and set out into a windswept void of white and grey. There was something eerie and yet deeply compelling about the lake crossing: the howling wind and creaking snow, the depths of ice and water beneath our feet, the emptiness ahead that could have been anything or anywhere, and above all a sense, stronger than I’ve ever felt, of striking out into the complete unknown.

Callaghan Lake crossing

That feeling – the strange combination of adventure and uncertainty, excitement and fear – is one of the things I love most about touring in a new place. It’s hard to explain how visceral it is, and just how strongly it compels me to keep moving forward. There’s this wild energy that charges through the world when every step takes you a little bit further out, a little bit further away from comfort, security, and all the things that are known and sure.

On the far side of the lake we found ourselves in a snowswept bay where the real routefinding began. C has a lot of experience at finding his way in a new area; me, not so much. We’d decided to approach this one from all angles, including map, compass, and GPS. We left the lake via a creekbed, and began climbing through the trees toward the ridge.

Telemagique approachWith limited visibility we couldn’t see much in the way of landmarks, so we relied on the map and GPS to guide us through this section. Our overall progress slowed considerably due to the tricky routefinding, and by the time we emerged on more open slopes near Puma Peak we decided to skip the very enticing downhill possibilities to make more forward progress. We were just past the halfway point of the loop by this time, with a long way still to go.

As we climbed through the meadows to what we thought would be the high point of the ridge, the snow – which had been falling softly and steadily all morning – finally eased, and we were able to make out Puma’s south peak behind us as well as a whole host of steeper skiable terrain to our left. This was definitely the prime downhill spot on the route.

Puma zone, Telemagique

Our hopes of having reached the high point turned out to be optimistic as the final draw led to yet another climb, and then still another in the saddle beyond that. We took it in turns breaking a steep trail through the foot or so of new snow, a heart-pounding, lung-searing exercise that seemed to go on forever. The GPS confirmed that we were still on track, but we were both starting to wonder where the downhill was.

After what felt like a million years of climbing, we finally reached a point where the ridge began to descend. We gratefully transitioned, thinking that it would be all downhill from there, but had barely gained enough speed to begin turning before the draw flattened out and we had to put our skins back on for another climb.

Telemagique

What followed was a seemingly endless stretch of rolling, frustrating terrain where we either left the skins off, picked up a bit of speed, then went for an exhausting wallowy sidestep up the next rise; or left the skins on for easier climbing, but lost our opportunities for picking up distance quickly on the downhill. Somewhere along the way there were some fun powder turns, but very few compared to the amount of work we’d put in to get them.

Eventually we both reached our limit with the endless ups and downs, and with concerns about losing the light starting to surface we decided to cut the final corner off the loop. We dropped into a gully to our right and almost immediately lost all of our remaining elevation, plunging rapidly down very steep, icy slopes beneath dense trees and through powder fields where the trees receded. A few minutes later we tumbled out of the forest and back onto the cross country trail, and were on the home stretch back to the car.

End of the road, TelemagiqueThe GPS revealed that we’d traveled 26km in just over 8 hours, with 1,000m of elevation gain. It was easily one of the most strenuous days that I’ve had on skis. In spite of the rather skewed ratio of uphill to downhill, it was also a tremendously rewarding experience. Going somewhere new, doing all of our own routefinding, being such a very long way out. Sometimes, that’s all the reward you need.

Making the best of it

Sometimes your ski day just doesn’t go according to plan.

Tercel breakdown at Britannia BeachAvvy ratings were high, so we’d planned to head for Telemagique in the Callaghan so that we could stay on the ridgeline if the snowpack seemed too touchy. Sadly, we never got there. We stopped for coffee at Galileo, and then the car refused to start. Whacking on the starter motor with a tire iron didn’t help, so after much debate in the warm coffee shop C eventually called a tow truck and the three of us packed into two seats for a cozy drive back to Vancouver. The tow truck left us at C’s garage, where my wonderful friend R picked us all up and delivered us to the various places we needed to be.

We’d started so early that it was still only 11am when S and I found ourselves back in his parkade, where I’d left my truck. We debated our options for a few minutes, then piled our gear into my trunk and headed for the North Shore in the hope that we could salvage something from the day.

Seymour

We weren’t really expecting much more than a good hike up the access trail and then a rocket down the groomed runs on the frontside. But the snow just kept falling, and when we reached Brockton we both agreed it was worth trying to get to First Peak. The Seymour backcountry is interesting – there’s lots of fun terrain right out of the access gate, but it’s very easy to get in trouble and there’s not much in the way of sustained skiing, especially on a day when conditions mean you need to avoid terrain traps.

We slogged our way through the fresh snow to First Peak, where the first run on the north face was disappointing – too heavy and low angle to really build momentum. Then we hiked back up and dropped onto the south side, and suddenly it was all worth it. I found myself descending through waist-deep, absolutely bottomless powder that billowed up around my face, obscuring the world. Huge face shots, drifting, sinking deep and then rising back up. It was dream skiing, the kind we hope for all season long and so rarely get.

Seymour backcountryEventually we funneled through a small, steep slot that dumped us back out on the trail, where we meandered very slowly back to Brockton and a riot of a run down the groomers to the parking lot. When we got there, we were both still slightly speechless. That might just be the best salvage mission I’ll ever have.

Elfin skin-a-thon

With no new snow and a vicious arctic outflow keeping the surface bulletproof, C and I decided the past weekend would be a good day to take J and his wife W for a combined snowshoe/ski as far as we could make it along the Elfin Lakes trail. It was a beautiful day for an outing, in spite of a cold wind whipping along the north side of the ridge.

Nearing Elfin Lakes

It was my first time actually inside the hut, and I was impressed with how spacious it was and how good the facilities were. I know it’s pretty hard to guarantee space in this one, but it’s somewhere I definitely wouldn’t mind staying on a future trip. The idea of being able to roll out the door and ski Columnar, Diamond Head or the Gargoyles is pretty appealing.

Garibaldi

We made excellent time along the trail back, and were able to watch the moon rising above the Mamquam Icefield. Given the very stable conditions we cut along the summer trail to provide a different perspective, and I was able to show J some of the lines that we’d skied on the last big powder day. It was so great to have her out there with me.

Moonrise over MamquamAbove the meadows C and I transitioned and took one run down over lumpy, crusty, tracked out snow before heading on down with J and W beneath the setting sun. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens as the current storms roll in; with a layer of facets and surface hoar overlying an absolutely bulletproof melt-freeze crust, we could be in for a massive slidey shit show.

End of the day

Dawn Patrol

On Tuesday I joined a BCMC group for something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: the Mount Seymour dawn patrol.

6.30am found us in the freezing dark in the Seymour parking lot. With a chill wind whipping down from the mountain above us, it felt considerably colder than the Coquihalla on Sunday. I geared up as fast as possible, put my heaviest downhill mitts on my frozen hands, and crunched over to the dim whiteness of the icy trail.

We began the climb by starlight, the lights of the city glittering below, and just a hint of blue around the edges of the sky. As we headed upwards light gradually filtered into the landscape around us, and a thin band of gold formed on the far horizon. By the time we topped out on Brockton Point, the sun was just starting to rise above the eastern mountains and alpenglow lit up the peaks to the west. We pointed our skis downhill and tore down the untouched corduroy, hollering all the way. I realised afterwards that it was the first time I’d skied a groomer since mid-December.

Throwing my gear in the car, driving downtown and starting the workday felt completely surreal, and yet somehow that was almost the best part of it: starting an ordinary day in such an extraordinary way.

Seymour dawn patrol

The Coq delivers

After our two day powder skiing adventure we headed to Mexico for a week, missing another large storm that unsettled conditions so severely that the CAC issued a special advisory suggesting that it would be a good weekend to stay home and play Xbox games. As we spent the subsequent two weeks recovering from Mexican food poisoning, a crazy weather pattern melted the snow all the way to the tops of the Sea to Sky peaks and then froze it solid, locking the mountains inside a layer of glassy ice.

By this past weekend it had been nearly a month since I’d had skis on my feet, and the need for turns and mountain time had become intense. There was snow forecast for Thursday night, but the 30cm that fell south and inland of us petered out to a miserable 3cm beyond Squamish. And so on Sunday morning C, S and I found ourselves eastbound on Highway One, prepared to drive as far as we needed in order to find new snow.

As we climbed into the mountains beyond Hope, things started to look more promising. In spite of generally thin coverage on lower slopes, there was a good coating of new snow. We initially thought we’d ski Lakes Ridge, but once we crossed onto the lee side of the Coquihalla Summit the snow didn’t look as good. We drove back to Zoa, and braved a biting cold (forecast temperatures were as low as -17) to gear up.

Skinning to Zoa, Thar in background

It was my third day in the Coquihalla, and the first with good visibility. As we skinned upwards the shadow of Thar loomed over us, awe-inspiring and full of promise for future tours. The higher we climbed the more the views all around us opened up, stunning peaks and ridgelines in every direction. So much potential.

I could tell I’d lost a substantial amount of strength and fitness during the three weeks I’d been ill, and there was more than a hint of underlying frustration given how well I’d been doing before we went away, but in spite of that it just felt so, so good to be back out in the mountains. I loved the golden beaches and warm ocean in Mexico, but it wasn’t really me. These cold white spaces are where I belong. Even just skinning up, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Thar

After an icy scramble through the trees we emerged to soft powder on the ridge. There was about 25cm overlaying a pretty solid crust, so the trick (which I figured out after the first run, where I got bounced around pretty good on a couple of harder carves) was to carry enough speed and keep turns low-pressure enough to surf the new snow and not bottom out.

We had four fantastic runs on the new snow. I wasn’t skiing all that well – my lack of strength and the month out translated to a much less confident and aggressive approach than our days out on Paul Ridge, and at least one unnecessary somersault – but I was so happy to be back in the mountains, and back on skis, that I didn’t care at all.

Zoa skiing(Photo credit: Sierra Laflamme)

The temperature began to drop rapidly in the early afternoon, so we called it a day and skied one final blast of a run down the logging road back to the car. On the way home, our thoughts were on the peaks we’d seen that held so much promise for future trips: Thar, Nak, Yak, Markhor, Bombtram. And on the fact that once again, in probably the worst weather spell of this entire ridiculous non-winter, we’d managed to spend the day skiing fresh powder. Long may our luck hold.

Zopkios

After the storm

It happened again.

It’s been the worst winter for snow since I moved here almost ten years ago. Yet somehow, when the storms finally roll in the timing just keeps lining up. This time, a big dump of snow on Thursday was immediately followed by my day off Friday, and the last day of S’s Christmas vacation. C wasn’t around Friday, but was into skiing Saturday. And thus followed two of the best days out that I can remember.

Dawn patrol, Howe Sound viewpoint

We kept it simple, since most of the snow was forecast for the Sea to Sky and all three of us are familiar with the evolving snowpack there, so we headed back out to Diamond Head on both days. It was like being plunged right back into the kind of winter we’ve been so sorely missing: the trail was skinnable from the parking lot, and the forest was full of snow ghosts.

On Friday S and I skipped the hut and headed straight up to the shoulder just below the peak of Round Mountain. We knew the big risk with the new storm snow was wind loading, so we found an aspect which was obviously wind-affected and dug a pit to check on conditions. The new snow was well-bonded, and a slightly stiff slab at the top wasn’t large enough to cause concern. We took the first run through the bowl cautiously, riding one at a time and waiting in safe zones, but things rode well and from there it was all systems go.

It was a glory day. The new snow – at least 25cm of it – was soft and powdery where it hadn’t been affected by the wind, and we were able to tear through the bowl over and over again. We hit up our drop-in spots from the last big storm, flew off little rises, and sent clouds of coldsmoke flying up in our wake.

Coldsmoke(Photo credit: Sierra Laflamme)

I had to be back in town for a memorial event in the evening, so we’d planned to start early and finish relatively early. On our final run, high on the side of Round Mountain with Garibaldi towering ahead, I tapped my poles and dedicated the turns to Cheryl – someone who knew so well how to make the most of every single moment, and never stopped smiling. It felt like a much better way to honour her memory than sadness, though that’s still inevitable when I think about how much of a loss her amazing spirit is.

Tantalus views

Saturday began with another dawn patrol, since I was seriously concerned that with a ton of relatively scarce new snow and a bluebird forecast the whole area would be a zoo. The parking lot was about half full when we arrived, but most of those were Elfin Lake overnighters since they’d been there when I left the day before.

Once again we skipped the hut, and this time headed straight on around the ridge to give ourselves a chance of getting away from the crowds. It was an absolutely perfect bluebird day, and I loved watching C’s reaction as he saw the jaw-dropping vistas from Paul Ridge proper for the first time. I’ve gained a great deal from having C and S as touring buddies this season, and it’s nice to be able to give a bit back to them.

Paul Ridge

C and I had had an interesting discussion about powder skiing technique in the car on the way out, which turned into an unprecedented opportunity. When do you ever get to take a lesson in powder skiing (he used to be a ski instructor) and then put it into practice on untouched snow all day long? The key point was that I was turning my body too far across the fall line on each turn. I tried to remember this as I skied, and the difference was dramatic. Turning from the hips down, trying to keep the upper body quiet, suddenly I was full of confidence on steeper slopes and leaving a much neater series of s-turns in the snow behind me.

Paul Ridge skiing

We stayed on north faces where the snow had been perfectly preserved by the cold temperatures overnight. It was basically a second full day of skiing perfect storm snow. C and I were completely on the same page about trying to maximize every moment, so I grabbed quick bites of food on transitions and we just kept skiing down, hiking up, and moving along as each we tracked each zone out.

The really weird thing is that we barely saw a soul out there. Two snowshoers heading back from Elfin, and one skier who’d stopped to rest a hot spot. That was it. It made sense later, when we dropped back into Red Heather Meadows and saw snow so torn up it could have been in a resort. In this lean winter, folk saw the fresh powder with just a few tracks and went full-on hungry for it. Hardly anyone made it past Round Mountain. I wish they’d seen it the day before, when S and I laid all those tracks down on completely unbroken snow.

Garibaldi

It was an amazing day. While we didn’t ski anything particularly hardcore, it was new for me to feel so completely confident on steeper faces. I think C’s instruction is going to be a game changer. I could literally feel my technique improving on each run.

At the very end of the day we hauled ourselves out of the drainage one last time, and then hiked back through the forest to find ourselves on the meadows just as the sun was sinking. Our final run back down to the forest was golden, glowing with the day’s last light.

Howe Sound sunset

I honestly can’t imagine back-to-back days much better than this. My cumulative stats were 37km of distance, and just over 2,500 metres of vert. I’m almost as stoked about the distance and elevation as I am about the turns. There’s still a ways to go, but it’s great preparation for the goal that we’ve set ourselves for the end of the season.