'Boarding B.C.'s Backcountry

Finding Freedom in the Canadian Rockies
By Theodore Nusbaum
  |  Gorp.com

Lately I've noticed a woman walking around my New York City neighborhood with her face buried in a newspaper. I don't know how she sees the ground, or the people in front of her, or the cabs flying across Broadway. But she survives and no one really seems to care; what's worse, sometimes I think I see the logic in her actions.

New York City is a place where the border between sanity and insanity is forever blurred. But that isn't such a bad thing. The city buzzes with an energy that is frenetic and addictive. Perhaps it's the 7.3 million people packed into 34 square miles. Maybe it's the unbounded thought, the galvanizing art, or the incredible varieties of sex (more than the best Tantric manuals provide). Or maybe it's the electric stares: In the time it takes a synapse to fire, a neuron to dance, you've seen into the lives of more people than you'd ever want to know.

But there is a limit, a line you cross, like a backcountry cliff with no landing below. You're airborne and you say to yourself, "Is this it?" Somehow you ski out of it and realize you're alive. Reaching safety, you understand something grand and wonderful has happened: You've achieved epiphany.

Thus, I decided to break out of New York City. With my friend David, I tunneled, rode, hiked, and flew, and days later I found myself in British Columbia. B.C. is the land of Kootenay powder, grizzly bears, and 100-mile-per-hour avalanches that'll steamroll you like an insect.

We set out from Vancouver and made a quick economic discovery—the exchange rate kicks ass: U.S. $1 to CND $1.60. Every third day is virtually free. Our second eye-opener was equally thrilling: Highway 3, across the southern interior of British Columbia, rides like a bobsled track, with more turns and as much ice. The capper is Kootenay Pass, about eight hours east of Vancouver, which has permanently mounted avalanche control cannons to bomb the hell out of the avalanche-prone, 50-degree slopes. Thirteen hours later we arrived in Fernie, where the northern Rockies meet the Lizard and Flathead Ranges to carve out the Elk Valley and some of the finest skiing and riding in North America.

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


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »