Okay, I promised a trip report when I got back. So here it is!
SKI SAFARI 2007
During the winter season of 1999/2000 I took a ski safari visiting over 30 ski areas in the U.S. & Europe. After getting sidetracked for the last 7 years, I have just completed the next leg of this “Powderquest”. The following is an account of my tour during 3 weeks in February 2007…
Sat. Feb. 10, 2007
After about 3 days of planning, I leave home on this Saturday afternoon & drive north arriving in Driggs, Idaho that evening. Staying at the Super 8 motel where I stayed in 2000.
Sun. 2/11 GRAND TARGHEE
Grand Targhee has good coverage in this low snow year in the west, & about 5 or 6 inches of new snow over a firm base. I grab a few early rides on the Dreamcatcher quad to the top of the mountain. With typical Targhee poor visibility, I opt to make laps on the lower Sacajawea Quad the rest of the morning. Visibility is fine here & with a few inches of fresh over the groomed snow, turning is silky smooth.
Later in the day I head up Dreamcatcher again & head over to the old Blackfoot double. A couple of laps here & the snow is getting pretty hammered.
I head to the car at about 3:00 PM and make the drive toward Missoula, Montana. The plan was to hit Ski Discovery near Butte for a day, but I miss the turnoff and decide I’ll get there on my return.
I find another Super 8 along the highway & stop for the night.
Mon. 2/12 MISSOULA SNOWBOWL
I get an early start this morning to drive on the slick Interstate north. I’m only comfortable driving at a top speed of about 60 MPH, (more like 45 most of the time) on this 75 MPH Divided freeway. I’m an experienced winter driver in my AWD Subaru WRX, yet drivers are passing me like I’m standing still. I pass no less than 3 serious accidents in a 50 mile stretch.
Missoula Snowbowl has 2 fixed grip Chairs that connect you with the summit at 7,560’. It is still snowing today and conditions are a repeat of yesterday, good fresh snow over an old firm base. There is not much snow at the bottom of the mountain at 4,960’, so I stay on the LaVelle Creek chair at the top most of the day. There are some great long, steep bowls on the mountain that would be great in deep snow.
I leave in the afternoon, for the drive around beautiful Flathead Lake across the Canadian border into British Columbia, and Fernie Alpine Resort
I arrive at another Super 8 after dark. They have a room available till Friday, but everyplace in town is booked Saturday. I thought I would escape the Presidents weekend crowd in BC, but apparently Alberta has a holiday at the same time, & they all come to Fernie for the long weekend.
Tues. 2/13 FERNIE
Fernie is a good-sized destination resort with a base elevation of 3.500’ & tops out at 6,316’ for a vertical of 2,816’ & 2,504 acres. They have 10 lifts including 2 detachables. The skiing is a nice variety of groomed cruisers, tight steep trees & big wide-open bowls, with a few steep chutes thrown in.
My first run is a warm-up on the 2100’ vertical Timber Bowl Express. It is really cold, and my toes are freezing. I head down thinking I should go in and try & get warm for a few minutes. As I approach the bottom the last group for the Mountain orientation tour is leaving & the host asks if I would like to join them. I accept, ride the Elk Quad, connecting to the Great Bear Express. I listen intently as she describes how to get around the mountain. As we approach the top she points out the Face Lift platter pull. She says it wasn’t open yesterday when they had fresh snow. It is opening as we are getting of the lift and she says I might find some untracked snow up there. I say thanks & skate over to it.
When I get off I head to the skier’s right & get untracked deep snow in the top of Lizard Bowl. I lap back up the chair and platter again. This time I head out the cat track in the other direction toward Cedar Bowl. With a little skating & sidestepping I reach the peak of the cat track. The area above is a permanently closed area, so I opt to ski the short untracked section down to another traverse coming from the top of the Great Bear chair. Great bottomless turns down to the intersection where I encounter 2 telemarking couples, 1 from Shasta & 1 from Bend. As they are removing their skis for the walk, I ask if I can join them. They seem happy to have me tag along. They tell me they have been on a similar journey & have been here for a few days. They have been skiing an area called Fishbowl, just outside the ski area boundary. I would never ski out of bounds by myself, but they are all experienced backcountry skiers, and we all have the requisite locaters, shovels & probes.
It is about a 10 minute hike & traverse out to the bowl, & another 10 minutes back in. Well worth the effort for a good 2500’ of untracked powder. It takes a little over an hour to make a full lap & I am able to do it 4 times before the day is done, and my legs are worn out.
My white car is no longer white & completely caked with mud and frozen road gunk. I go into town in search of a car wash. After washing the car & getting some gas I stumble upon Fernie adventures, which run daily snowcat trips. I have been cat skiing before, & swore I would never waste my money again. But sadly, like drinking tequila how soon we forget… My expectations are for an easy day, skiing short, flat runs in the trees in untracked snow. The lady at the desk tells me it will be better than that. I say, all I expect is untracked snow!
I arrive at the office at 7:30 AM, follow one of the guides out to a cool lodge over some snowy dirt roads. We spend the day skiing the type of runs I described, except that we were constantly skiing in old tracks, or ending up in gullies with skier packed bobsled courses out of them. It was fun, but we probably only skied about 7 or 8,000’ vertical. Oh well, another few years I’ll probably get drunk on tequila again too.
Back up to Fernie again today. It didn’t really snow yesterday or the day before, my reasoning for going catskiing yesterday. I’m not sure how I’m going to find any powder today? I meet with a couple from Sweden I had taken my last run with the other day. We decide we should try Fishbowl again. After 2 days of traffic it is pretty tracked up, but as we are hiking back in it begins to snow. I decide to take a break at the mid mountain yurt, & say bye to my new Swedish friends. It is about 11:00 AM and it is snowing heavily. By noon the mountain is changing & the skiing is improving, first powder on the groomers, and by 2:00 PM it is one of those full-fledged go anywhere powder days. About this time I am riding the White Pass Quad with three off duty Snowboard instructors. I start prodding them about the tree runs. They say they are going to an area called Surprise & I am welcome to join them. The first shot is down a steep pitch called the knot chutes, then a sharp left & traverse out the ridge to the tree shots. Awesome tight trees that cross cat tracks every 500’ vert. or so. After the first couple of pitches all but one of the group heads right, & back to the White Pass chair. I hang with the Scottish dude as we continue to the bottom to meet up with his dad who is visiting. Next run we ski a great steep chute called Corner Pocket. To get into this run you have to sideslip/step down some tires at the top which I’m guessing are there to help anchor the snow & protect your skis from rocks. Anyway, that was a new one for me, as I have never skied on tires before. Our last run was down a huge clear-cut, with giant powder covered moguls called Stag Leap.
Tomorrow promises to be an epic powder day.
I’m up early anticipating a great day. I head up Timber Bowl & meet Gary who has a vacation place in Fernie & is here for the holiday weekend with his son. His wife & daughter are arriving later in the day, but he has the morning to ski. We again ride together on the White Pass chair & decide to ski together. I’m glad because he skis here a lot and knows the mountain pretty well. The first few runs are off the White Pass chair with untracked snow everywhere, as the powder frenzy has yet to catch up with us. We meet up with Gary’s son for a run in the Surprise trees before he goes off with his friends. Patrol are still doing control work as we check to see when Currie Bowl may open. The friendly patroller says he thinks it will be another ½ hour. We decide that with a short hike, we have time to ski a steep gladed run called Morning Glory & down to the bottom before returning to the top for the Bowls’ opening. Our timing is pretty good as we only wait a few minutes at the top before the patrol drops the rope into Currie Bowl. There are probably 150 people charging across the top of the bowl for parts unknown, so we drop into Currie Glades for the best run of the day through rolling terrain a & widely spaced trees.
After this we head to the other end of the mountain & ski into Cedar Bowl. Gary has to leave & I decide to take a high traverse into the far reaches of Cedar Bowl to ski a still relatively trackless line I spied from the bottom.
By 2:00 PM the place is pretty tracked out, so I hit the road headed for Panorama. I arrive in Invermere as darkness settles in. Can you say Super 8?
I call up to RK Heliski to see about getting on stand-by for a day. Judy says to show up at 8:30 and she’ll see what she can do.
Sat. 2/17 PANORAMA
I arrive at the RK Lodge, which is just past the main lodge at panorama at the designated time & check in with Judy. She says it is doubtful, but to hang out till everyone checks in. By 9:30 everyone is checked in, so I tell her I’ll try again on Sunday & go ski the day at Panorama. I take 1 ride on a groomed run before taking the 2 detachables & one fixed grip chair that get you the 4,000 vert. to the summit. The mountain definitely needs snow & is pretty hammered from what I can see, so I decide to try and go find some pow on the backside in Taynton Bowl. I hike out the ridge for about 10 minutes & drop into a spot called C-spine. Deep snow, semi-tracked & lots of bushes. It is also a lot of work. I spend the rest of the day exploring the front side of this destination area. This place would probably be pretty good with more snow, but I encounter lots of rocks, bumps & logs off the groomers & firm conditions on.
I stroll into the RK lodge around 9:00 AM not really expecting to get on the helicopter. Judy smiles & says she has a spot for me, & that I should get myself ready. I am surprised because it is snowing moderately. They say it’s no problem & we’ll stay low & ski in the trees. Anyway it’s a great day skiing “as good as it gets” snow on some cool gladed runs. The cost of extra runs is reasonable so we do a few and ski till the end of the day. Unlike the resort, there is tons of snow in the Purcell Mountains where we fly the bird.
After a few swallows of beer back at the lodge I get on the road & begin the drive to Golden, BC the real goal of this trip, Kicking Horse! I find reasonably price Mary’s Motel just off the road up the hill to Kicking Horse Resort.
Mon. 2/19 KICKING HORSE
I get in the car early & pick up a hitchhiking employee on the way up to the mountain & pump him for information. It is a short 10-minute drive to the mountain. The first thing he shows me is close in parking, right next to the lifts. One nice thing about KH is everything is really close to the Gondola. Lodge, Shops, restaurants all a slide and a few steps. Well today is still a holiday and KH is still relatively busy. I am toward the front of the line when the lifts open. It is a partly cloudy day, with about 6” of fresh snow at the bottom & about 10” at the top.
Kicking Horse is a big mountain with a lot of hard core skiers & a spattering of Snowboarders. The base elevation is 3900’ & tops out at 8033’ for a total vertical of 4133’ & 2750 inbounds acres. The Golden Eagle Express Gondola rises 3900’ vertical in one shot. There are 3 other fixed grip chairs, Catamount for beginners, Pioneer which serves the original area, & Stairway to Heaven, which is the newest & gets you to the top elevation. The Stairway lift accesses Feuz Bowl, Redemption Ridge, and some fabulous O.B. terrain that goes on to the west forever with touring equipment. The main skiing is on the North flanks of CPR Ridge & Redemption Ridge, but there is much, much more to be had.
I begin the day with a run down through the widely spaced trees off the northeast-facing flank of CPR ridge in untracked snow. When I reach the valley below I continue down the main falline to the bottom in virgin snow all the way. The crowd is picking up when I get to the bottom, but I’m already impressed, & start trying to figure out how many days I can stay here. Even though KH doesn’t receive huge skier numbers yet, the drawback is that they depend almost solely on 1 lift to get people up the mountain & the Gondola line can get long even with only 1500 or 2000 skiers. Once you’re skiing though, there is plenty of terrain for everyone. I spend most of the day exploring by myself, skiing the North Chutes off CPR Ridge (there are 16 of them), then up the Stairway chair to the North Chutes on Redemption Ridge (25 more here) then to the bottom & back again. Late in the afternoon I meet up with Justin a first year instructor in the Snowsports School, but a great skier. He leads me out to one of the further chutes on CPR where we find some good steep, deep snow. From there he leads me on a “Mr. Toads wild ride” run through the trees & bumps back to the bottom. We hook up with a few Snowboard instructors I had met in the morning & get one last run & a lot of information… Thanks Guys & Gals!
Windy Cold, Partly Sunny Day.
The wind overnight & a little fresh snow have filled things in nicely, & I basically do a repeat of yesterday with my first run being outstanding. The wind, which I’m told is uncommon here, is playing havoc with the lifts & they keep stopping or running slow. Consequently the line is huge. I give up on the Gondola in the afternoon, & ski a few runs on the old Pioneer chair, until it stops for about 15 minutes with me on it. At the same time it begins dumping snow. I get one last run in the fresh snow, but by now I am too frozen to continue & call it a day.
A mostly clear day with things filled in nicely!
First ride up I meet Pat, a photographer who is here for a few months from Bozeman. We ski together for a few hours till I decide it is time to try the “Stairmaster from Hell” up Terminator Peak. At the base of the climb I meet Anders & Bo, 2 more Swedes. They have been skiing off the back of this peak all week. I ask if I can tag along. It becomes apparent that I am no match for Anders, & can barely keep up with Bo. Justin, told me the hike to the top takes about 20 minutes, Anders is there in 7 minutes & he times me in 13, but I’m pushing to keep up! 20 minutes is a more realistic average.
From the summit, we sideslip down the ridge about a hundred yards, and drop into a great steep shot in totally untracked deep snow… AWSOME! After the first shot we skate, sidestep & traverse out a little further to a run the locals call T2. A nice powder bowl that empties into some 2nd growth trees in an old avalanche path. At the end we make a sharp left into an old growth forest, back toward the resort. When we reach a clearing Anders declares this is the dessert. A few more fresh tracks & over 4000’ vert. later, we reach a groomed catch trail back to the base of the Gondola.
Our second lap follows basically the same route with a few variations. At the top we drop in a little lower on a steeper run that chokes into a cool narrow chute between some cliffs.
When we reach the top of the Gondola, we decide to have lunch at the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant. This is a really nice place with menu service and a 360 view on the top of the mountain, it’s the highest restaurant in Canada.
We spend the afternoon skiing the chutes off the ridges, & bumps at the bottom. Anders & Bo want to hire a guide & go touring in Revelstoke, about an hour away. I’m afraid I would hold them up. They are younger, & Anders is some kind of Norse Nordic Superman. He’s going skate skiing tonight. I am bushed, I tell them I’ll look for them tomorrow, & we’ll talk about Revelstoke for Friday or Saturday.
Flat light & flipping cold!
After a few runs I stop in the lodge for some hot chocolate & meet Tessa. She has the same blue Langes as I do, & an ABS pack. We talk about the boots & the pack, which is a smaller version of mine. She says her sponsors supplied it to her. It turns out Tessa is a young big mountain skier from the area & spends a lot of time in the adjacent backcountry. She pulls out a map & starts showing me some routes that are easily accessible from the lifts. We talk for quite awhile, but the light is too flat for her today.
I go through the motions of a ski day, but quit around 1:30, make an appointment with the realty office to look at some Condos. I never do run into Anders & Bo. I go back to town get my car oil changed & do some grocery shopping.
A Bluebird day, the nicest so far!
A few more of the usual runs, till I decide to hike up Terminator and ski the inbounds Glory Bowl. Next I take Tessa’s advice and try the hike from the top of Blue Heaven Peak. The next peak over is about a 15 minute hike, but not as steep as Terminator. The guy & gal I’m hiking with are equipped for touring, but say they’ll make sure I get back to the resort safely. To the right is a massive steep chute, which is a permanently closed area. When we reach the summit we run into another friend of theirs who describes all the options. There is even a film crew up here taking advantage of the beautiful day. There are extreme lines as far as the eye can see! Below the impressive cornice is an array of rock lined couloir’s some of which are dead ends. I spy a narrow one, which is the most direct, right off the summit. Everyone agrees this one goes all the way, so the 4 of us drop in one at a time. Tessa told me these lines were steep & long, she wasn’t kidding. At the choke of the couloir there is barely enough width to do hop turns. I have to say this was the most aesthetic & exciting run of the trip. Eventually the line opens up into a huge bowl, called Rudy’s. As my partners prepare to skin up they direct me back to the resort. I think about bringing my Rondonee’ gear out tomorrow. There are endless untracked lines in this bowl, & the skin track is already set.
When I reach the top of the Gondola I decide to try the hike up Terminator one more time. Just before the summit, there is a traverse to the climbers’ right which leads to an area the locals call Super Bowl. This is a large bowl that empties into the same area we skied on Wednesday. It is getting pretty skied out at the bottom, but I manage to have great skiing most of the way.
Partial sunshine early with snow shower by mid morning.
My last day at KH, & I decide to by a 1 ride ticket, bring all my gear & go touring in Rudy’s bowl. On the hike up I meet a group of 5 telemarkers from Denmark. Most of them speak English, so I again ask if I can join them. As we reach the summit the light goes totally flat. They choose to ski what is supposed to be the easy line to the skier’s right. I politely volunteer to go last. The first guy seems to edge his way in with no problem, but the next 2 are a little shaky. Being in the back of the line I cannot yet see over the cornice to evaluate the situation. When the 3rd guy gets ready to go, I can finally get a look. Jakob & I watch from the top as # 4 freezes up on the steep exposed face about 6’ below the cornice. There is a hairy traverse above some jagged rocks before he can come back right to the main chute. Watching him & the flat light are making me nervous, so I tell Jakob thanks, but no thanks. I prepare to retreat with my tail between my legs, when I see a girl up on the summit. I sidestep up to her and it is my friend Tessa. I show her where I skied yesterday, but I want to find something with an easier entry with the flat light & the soft flexy boots I have today. She says to come with her. We make a couple of turns down the ridge to a wider chute with only a small drop off the cornice. What a run! Long, steep & deep. I only wish the light was a little better. When we reach the bottom of the bowl, we watch as the Danes come safely down from the other side & rejoin us at the top of a moraine. Tessa didn’t bring her skins, & is heading back to the resort. I hang with the Danish group, skin up & make some laps up & down the moderate Rudy’s Bowl. The climb on each lap is about 25 minutes, & the light is in & out. From the top of the bowl there is another bowl & another ridge past that one, the skiing is endless. Tessa told me there is a traverse that leads all the way back to the resort, & more extreme lines in the next bowl. We are content to ski the bottomless snow in Rudy’s till our legs are worn & head back to the lodge for a few pitchers of beer. SKOAL!
I pack up & make the long drive to Whitefish Montana. At the border they ask me to park my car & have a seat inside. I assume that they completely disassemble my car and the tons of luggage I have, as it takes a while. When they finally come in & again with no expression say, “have a nice trip”. I have to assume they didn’t find the 2 Canadian comedians (Terrance & Phillip) I was smuggling into South Park, Colorado for my friends Stan & Kyle.
It is mostly sunny when I arrive at the Super 8 in Whitefish.
Mon. 2/26 BIG MOUNTAIN
I wake up look out the window, & see that my mud-covered car is white again, all white!
I make the drive up to Big Mountain with a smile on my face, as it is snowing the whole way. I park near the new day lodge. Inside the place is empty except for 2 ladies at the desk & a couple of guys in the rental area. The lodge is really nice! There is also quite a bit of slope side lodging up the road & other facilities, but since I am only here for the day this is perfect.
After a warm-up run on the Village chair 6, & Chair 2 the Swift Creek chair, the main Chair 1 Glacier Chaser, opens. I ride up with Wesley, a 25-year local who knows the mountain blindfolded. I nominate him “tour guide” for the day, & he accepts. By our 2nd run it is snowing harder than I’ve seen since Fernie. I have no idea where we’re skiing, & at times I think we’ve gone around in a circle. Every run is non-stop, untracked & better than the one before! Wesley’s wife joins us in the afternoon. & we keep going till it begins to let up around 3:00 PM. What a GREAT DAY! Even Wes, the quiet type, says it was special. Thanks Dude!
I slide the pile of snow off my car & head south. The drive around Flathead Lake is beautiful.
Tues. 2/26 SKI DISCOVERY
My friend Tim told me to try Ski Discovery. Great place with some very steep runs off the Limelight chair on the Backside. When I start out it is snowing lightly on my drive up the well-maintained dirt road to this ski area located about an hour west of Butte, MT. The snow banks are more impressive the closer I get. This place has plenty of snow!
I start the day with a couple of guys I met walking into the lodge. The place is relatively deserted, maybe 150 people on the mountain including a class trip down from Missoula. We take a warm-up on the main run on the frontside before I lose them on the backside.
My guide today turns out to be a guy named Scott. He leads me around, up & down the steeps & trees on the backside, till he has to meet a friend around noon. I take a few more runs before leaving for Big Sky.
About 50 miles from Big Sky I call their central reservations number, & get set up with a lift & lodging package. A little over $400, 4 nights, 4 days & breakfast in the Huntley lodge.
Wed. 2/27 – Sat. 3/3 BIG SKY
I won’t write much about Big Sky, because I’ve been here before & wrote about it then. I’ll just say I had some good skiing in the South Bowls and the Gullies, despite hitting a lot of rocks the first day. I had some powder everyday, & even some sunshine.
The drive home was a cruise, the trip was great. I made it back alive, & it’s been springtime at home ever since.