'Boarding B.C.'s Backcountry

First Runs
By Theodore Nusbaum
  |  Gorp.com
Riding in the Rockies
So much mountain, so little time

The next morning, under minus-25-degree, crystal-blue skies, we met the guides, got our transceiver lesson, and piled into the snow cat. Riding a snow cat is a bit like riding a bucking bronco—but with a roof, heat, and other people. ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) guide Mark Stewart offered even more insight on the region's snow ecology.

"Island Lake receives as much moisture as the coast, but it's drier, lighter snow." The Pineapple Express, carrying moisture from Hawaii and the Pacific, meets the jet stream from Canada and funnels large storms along the Canada/U.S. border all the way to Fernie. It can snow for days on end. On rare occasions, the folks around here are blessed with what is affectionately known as a "snorkel day," when there is so much snow that you need a snorkel to breathe and must be over five feet tall to go on the mountain.

Once out of the snow cat, we strapped on our boards and followed the guide as he traversed to a fresh spot in the snow bowl. A quick lesson typically goes like this: "Ski down to tree line, break left at the ridge—avoiding the path to the right—and don't ski past me."

Off we go, one by one, into the deep white. The sharp, ragged peaks of the Three Sisters mountain range are majestic against the blue sky. On each cat ride up we are fairly quiet. Each run brings a new challenge: to carve a better turn, to catch bigger air, to feel more alive than ever before.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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