It’s funny. Two years ago, I made a statement that I’d never get into backcountry skiing though last year I took a backcountry travel class. Now, I’m finding ways to get out of the resorts and into the backcountry.
Friday – Helicopter access and a quick outing.
I’ve only ridden helicopters twice before, and it was on the same trip in Hawaii (one planned and the other not). The winter helicopter ride would be very different, but I was excited and jumped at the chance to ride shotgun.
After the quick briefing on the helicopter rules, we hauled the heavy duffels to the pad as the snow pelted our faces and tried to blow off any loose hats. The flight was short and sweet but already had me falling in love with the Kootenay range. My energy was beaming from the inside-out! All I wanted to do was ski.
Getting ready to head to the lodge.
First views of the lodge.
Since we didn’t leave Hall, B.C. until mid-morning, we only were able to get a short tour in before we started running out of daylight. The hazy fog lingered as we gave up hope the sun would burn it off. It didn’t matter, we had fresh powder turns.
Friday night was spent getting acquainted with the lodge and meeting all our new ski friends. I snuck out to take photos, which ended up being the only clear night of the trip.
Saturday – Building Skin Highway Access
We split into smaller groups to avoid one huge mess. Andy and I set out with Wes, only to realize she forgot her beacon at the lodge. She turned around to retrieve it–safety first.
Seaman Peak, behind the lodge, is a quick skin to the top with many gladed trees or bowls to ski. The winds were gnarly as we hit the ridge and continued to push through to the summit. Two others caught up to us and dropped into Camelot bowl.
We skied back down the ridge in hopes to find Wes and shelter from the blistering wind. We found her after a brief pit stop in the lodge. In little time, the three of us were back on the skin highway system our group started to build.
Retracing our skin track from the morning, we reached the ridge to Seaman Peak and dropped into Hidden Bowl. More fresh turns as the snow slowly replenished our tracks. On the backside of the peak, we transitioned back to touring mode and climbed to ski another aspect of Hidden Bowl.
After playing in the bowl, we found another skin highway traversing to the lodge side of Seaman through snow-covered trees. It was quiet and muffled as the only sounds were made by us and the falling snow.
My skins started to slide on the steeper sections of the climb out. I continued to struggle until I could get to a place to ski back to the lodge. Back at the east ridge of Seaman we ran into most of the others in our group as they were trying to get one last run in before dinner. Wes continued up the ridge with them to ski off Seaman Peak while Andy and I returned back to the lodge just as the sun was setting.
The night consisted of lounging by the fire, dinner, knitting (for me), sipping bourbon, and sweating in the sauna.
Sunday – Morning Glory
The alarm clock started going off. I wasn’t ready to get out of bed and move my sore body in the brisk chill of the unheated bedrooms. Rolling over and out of bed, Trevor did promise to take us out for a morning lap.
I looked out the frosted window to a fresh layer of snow and pastel blue skies. Now, it was up to the sun to burn off the fog for our first potential bluebird day. I dressed in the clothes I had already been wearing for a few days. After scarfing down oatmeal, we left the lodge. We’d all be skiing together today, which could be a good or bad.
Checking to make sure everyone’s beacons were beeping, we started single-file up the skin track that was barely visible from the fresh new snow. The haze made for dramatic effect as the sun peaked over the mountain we were climbing.
After reaching the ridge, we were in and out of the rolling fog. Our objective, Morning Glory, was appropriate for the day’s conditions. Starting to switchback up the steeper sections of the ridge, it was almost comical to see the line forming to do kick turns.
Skiing through the haze.
After reaching the drop-in to Morning Glory (the opposite side as the lodge), we took turns yipping and howling as there was plenty of fresh turns to be had by all. We’d ski in sections until we reached a point to transition.
With so many in the group, it wasn’t hard to break trail as everyone took turns leap frogging with the leader deciding which path to take. Once reaching the saddle, everyone started to break into groups again.
Andy, Eric, Wes, and I headed towards Seaman Peak. We decided to turn away short of the summit as most of us were hungry and wanted to warm up by the fire in the lodge.
After lunch, Andy and I decided to explore on our own. Picking up the skin track from the morning, we reached the start of the ridge to Morning Glory and dropped the side towards the lodge.
Making our ski tracks through the trees, we already decided to go lower than the lodge and end the day skinning. However, we took too much time to navigate around thick trees and creek holes. We eventually found a skin track out, transitioned, and were back at the lodge by dusk.
Monday – Test, Test…Heli-Skiing
Waiting until last minute to pack as always, I scrambled through the room throwing every piece of gear and clothing I wasn’t going to use for the day in my large duffel. Instead of flying back to the cars, Trevor wanted to test his plans on making the last day a ski-out day. The plan was to fly to Mt. Elise and ski the ridge down to a groomed cross-country track. He’d lead us most of the way to the cattrack and then have the helicopter pick him and a few of the group up to shuttle pickup.
We left similar to how we arrived with one difference: we sorted gear for skiing versus non-skiing. As a new group came in to take our place, we took turns loading up. I was the last group to be dropped off on the peak. The other two drops were waiting patiently and had scoped out the descent. Stepping into my bindings, I was ready to ski.
Again, with the large group, we skied in sections and kept track via a buddy system–always making sure no one was being left behind. We skied the ridge until the steepness disappeared to a flat meadow. Trevor broke the path as we all shuffled behind him. Not knowing when we’d reach the next downhill bit, we stayed in ski mode.
It was a workout until we reached a pitch we could ski. I took first turns through the untouched snow while dodging tops of buried trees. Waving good-bye to a few of the group and Trevor, the rest of us continued down the valley in hopes to find the groomed track. We were breaking trail again and not gaining momentum.
I find myself encountering this more and more during my backcountry days. No one talks about the struggles of skating or shuffling until the next steep pitch but talk about how epic the snow was and what they shredded. It’s not all bright and shiny and why it’s earning your turns.
Overall, Ymir backcountry is well worth it, and I got to heli-ski for the first time.
Read more about our stay at Ymir Backcountry Lodge.
Travel Dates: January 15-18, 2016