Cold temperatures, driving snow, mountains around every turn, a land held in the clutches of winter for nearly six months of the year. This is British Columbia in wintertime, and for the skiers and snowboarders of the world, it is paradise. But what makes this province an unparalleled alpine destination is its variety. Just like the snow is deep and light, the mountains are vast and big; the options for skiing and snowboarding are endless. From backcountry touring lodges to world-class resorts, remote heli-skiing experiences to small, family-oriented ski hills, BC has it all. Throw in the magnificence of wintertime in the mountains, and you’ve got a destination unique to planet earth.
Under Whistler’s Shadow
Just 13 kilometres (eight miles) south of Whistler-Blackcomb’s Creekside Village, where gondolas and lifts provide access to one of the most revered ski resorts in North America, there hides a gem. Deep in a stand of old-growth cedar, 5,000-square-foot Scandinavian-styled Callaghan Lodge is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Whistler. Outside the beautiful woodwork, airy ceilings, over-stuffed furniture and heritage-styled windows of the lodge is a winter wonderland. At 1370 metres (4500 feet) above sea level, a short distance from the ambient refrigeration of the Pemberton Icecap, the Callaghan Glacier and the Solitude Glacier, the Callaghan drainage microclimate sees at least 30% more snow than Whistler-what amounts to an average annual snowfall of 11 metres (36 feet). Finished in 1998, the Callaghan Lodge gives guests the option of cross-country skiing on a groomed course that encircles a lake outside the structure, but it is the premium powder and terrain of this alpine beauty that will best widen your eyes. The lodge is an easy two-hour ski tour or snowshoe from the long, infinitesimal northeast face of Solitude Glacier, where 900 vertical metres (3000 feet) of steep alpine convexities and natural half pipes beckon. Less than an hour from private rooms with hot water showers-a luxury in the backcountry, lie pillow lines and chutes. A short snowmobile ride from Hwy 99, the Callaghan Lodge is one of B.C.’s premiere backcountry lodges: The luxury of five-star living, the joy of five star skiing and snowboarding, hidden under the shadow of North America’s most famous five star resort.
More information: Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures. Phone: 604-938-0616, Website: www.callaghancountry.com
Beyond the Frontier
Deep in the British Columbian north, a world away from the rush of civilization, there is an outpost that is distinctly civilized. After a charter flight from Vancouver, board a small plane in the town of Smithers and fly even further northward to an airfield in the middle of snow-capped mountains whose end you cannot see. With 650,000 hectares (1.6 million acres), Last Frontier Heliskiing operates on the largest tenure of any helicopter operation in the world. At Bell 2, an old outpost gas station turned Jacuzzi and log-lodge haven, expect to be greeted with a forecast of clearing skies and 30 centimetres (12 inches) of fresh snow. After an evening of fine dining, retire to your own log chalet, where a warm fire burns and a deep, down covered bed beckons. The next morning cracks blue and you head off in A-Star B2 helicopters-the Porsche of the sky–to ride a four metre (12 foot) deep snowpack draping two totally undisturbed mountain ranges: the Coast and the Skeena. There are no logging roads, clear-cuts nor settlements for hundreds of kilometres in every direction. Staff at the seven-year-old operation tell you of clients amassing 84,000 metres (275,000 feet) of vertical in a week and a winter with more than 30 metres (100 feet) of snowfall. With three groups of five per helicopter, it is as intimate and exclusive as heli-skiing gets. The terrain is so vast head guide and operations manager Franz Fux-a Swiss master who’s been guiding in BC for 25 years-regularly takes clients to runs never visited before. Not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Waves of peaks roll into the forever. Even on the flats, weightless powder roils at your waist like it’s made of air. On the steeps it flies over your shoulders in a contrail of white smoke.
More information: Last Frontier Heliskiing. Phone: 1-888-655-5566; Website:
Snow swirls in a cloud of white as the helicopter touches down outside Baldface Lodge. In the heart of the powder-blessed Selkirk Range, at an elevation of 2,014 metres (6,600 feet), just a short flight above the picturesque village of Nelson, the next three days will be spent immersed in trees and powder, accessed by a diesel-fuelled magic carpet. Within minutes of pancakes and coffee you step out on a thin ridgeline back dropped by spectacular panorama of peaks. Below lay a landscape made soft with glistening powder. Encased spruce trees look like stalagmites. Cornices curl over wide, treeless bowls. Looking down at an untouched slope of deep powder, with Kootenay Lake visible far below, the eyes and mouths of your group begin to widen with the excitement only deep powder skiing can deliver. The Selkirk Mountains are famous for their snowfall, receiving a healthy dose of 13 metres (42 feet) a year, but with the distinctly dry attributes an interior location delivers. Whitewater Alpine Resort and Rossland’s Red Mountain, two of the skiing world’s more renowned powder destinations, are both visible in the distance. In about the time it takes the group to descend 600 metres (2,000 feet) of bliss, bundle your skis and brush off the snow, the snowcat grumbles in for your first pick up. A day of cat skiing at Baldface can deliver between 3,600 to 5,400 metres (12,000 to 18,000 feet) of vertical, and unlike heli-skiing, the cat runs whether it’s stormy or not. The group piles in to the heated 12 passenger cab, sipping hot chocolate, nibbling on snacks, sharing the adventures of the last run, when before you know it (what is actually 20 minutes) you arrive back on top of a wide, gently sloping face, staring downwards on another slice of winter perfection.
More information: Baldface Lodge Catskiing. Phone: 250-352-0006.
The wide, endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, clumps of rainforest-covered islands, and the snow-capped mountaintops of the Coast Range. These are the views from the 1588-metre (5215-foot) summit of Mt. Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island. In fact, there exists numerous skiing and snowboarding opportunities on BC’s largest island. None, however, so popular as Mt. Washington, the province’s third most visited alpine resort. Well-positioned to strike first at the onslaught of moisture-laden storms that roll in from the Pacific, Mt. Washington is perhaps best known for its’ nine metres of annual snowfall (30 feet). But it is the decidedly down-home community feel that best imparts fond memories on all who visit here. Relatively small and intimate, with 505 metres of vertical (1657 feet) and eight lifts, Mount Washington typifies the experience at any one of the community based ski resorts that dot the province. 50 runs, a natural luge track, cross-country skiing, night skiing and two terrain parks provide endless options for all ages and all types. With the new Hawk High Speed 6-Pack, which accesses 81 hectares (200 acres) of new terrain, a ski-in, ski-out village, and a fine balance of intermediate, expert and beginner terrain, Mt. Washington epitomizes the BC ski resort experience. Something for everyone, activities night and day, draped in epic snow, in a location as majestic and spectacular-not to mention as unique–as any in the world.
More information: Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Toll-free: 1-888-231-1499.
IF YOU GO
Tourism British Columbia
800-HELLO BC (from North America) or
HELLO BC (435-5622) from Greater Vancouver.
Mitchell Scott is a freelance writer based in Nelson, British Columbia.