Do More with Less Tour in British Columbia

Splendid views from Revelstoke resort.
Splendid views from Revelstoke resort.

January 21-28, 2016

In mid-January I was asked by a couple CT friends to join in on a short notice trip to British Columbia for some skiing, hot-tubbing, and general good times.  It seemed a bit short notice and I sort of had other stuff planned, but a few days later my schedule opened up and I decided to go in on the fun.

Thursday the 21st I flew up to Calgary where Christina arrived only an hour before I did.  We met up, caught up and headed outside to be picked up by Drew.  His Forester pulled up horns blaring and music thumping.  I’m pretty sure the security crew thought they had a live one on their hands, but once seeing Drew they realized it was just an American over-stoker.   Cramming all our stuff into the car and roof box we headed off on an awesome impromptu adventure across British Columbia.

That afternoon we headed west through Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise to stay in Golden, BC, home of Kicking Horse resort.  Snow the previous night and that night gave us great conditions the next day.  While we never caught a rope drop we did have plenty of soft turns in whiteout conditions all day.  That evening we decided to check out the hot tub and indoor pool at the Holiday Inn Express we were staying at.  It was surprisingly good and included a short water slide going into the pool!

The next day we hit Revelstoke resort.  Revelstoke’s claim to fame is the largest vertical relief in North America, 5620′.  It is a former heli and cat skiing area that only turned into a resort in 2007.  There are only three lifts serving a majority of the terrain.  We stuck to the upper portions of the mountain as the temperatures at the base were very warm and it was drizzling at times down there.  Conditions on the upper half of the mountain were good though.  We didn’t get any fresh turns, but there was stuff soft stuff in the innumerable glades and on the sides of the established trails.  If you like glades they have an entire half of the mountain more or less dedicated to it.

From the sub-peak of Mt. Mackenzie looking into the North Bowl. These lines were super steep and we opted for runs off the front side.
From the sub-peak of Mt. Mackenzie looking into the North Bowl. These lines were super steep and we opted for runs off the front side.

The highlight of Revelstoke was booting up to the top of a sub-peak (7677′) of Mt. Mackenzie (8058′).  From here we skiied well skier’s left along the resort boundary and got an amazingly long shot of wind buffed creamy goodness.  From here we went through the boundary into the sidecountry and got some more fresh turns in the trees.  On our second lap through this area we put the skins on and had another great section of buffed turns before making the epicly long trek down the mountain to finish up the day.  In all we stayed on our feet for the entire day of skiing.  Our last run went from powder at the top in the sidecountry to hard packed, east coast style snow in the middle, to smooth corn at the bottom.

In Revelstoke we hit the aquatic center in town.  This complex is a massive indoor water center with a large pool with lanes, diving board, short climbing soloing wall, lazy river floating, hot tub, sauna, steam room, AND a massive fully enclosed waterslide that goes outside the building before dropping you back into the landing zone next to the pool.

Our third day brought us back into Roger’s Pass, which separates Revelstoke and Golden.  This area is a wilderness area comprised largely of Canada’s Glacier Provincial Park.  The backcountry skiing, ski-mountaineering, and hut hopping are known far and wide.  We picked up the beta via a great guidebook and map.  Given it was a Sunday we were able to get a reservation in a hut not far from the road to base our Monday ski tour from.  I’ve been in a couple huts before and this one is by far the nicest I’ve been in.  It sleeps about 24 and is only a casual 30 minute skin in from the road along a railroad bed.  The cabin itself has a massive kitchen fully furnished with utensils, plates, bowls, mugs, fully draining sinks, and two stoves.  All you have to bring is your food and sleeping bag.  The only other cabin goers Sunday night were a group of snowboarders from Hood River, OR.  We had a blast shooting the breeze and sipping whiskey (thanks guys!) for the evening.

Despite being only a km from the highway this place felt wild.
Despite being only a km from the highway this place felt wild.

Our tour Monday unfortunately had to be cut slightly short because we needed to be in Nelson, BC later that night so we could make the next leg of our journey.  Nevertheless we headed out to a popular and mellow Perly’s Rock.  The views along the way were beautiful and much different that the Wasatch touring I’m used to.  Here in in the Wasatch you more or less can pick your elevation, terrain, aspect, and just go towards it.  In Roger’s pass the terrain is typically steeper, more complex (many slope angles on the same aspect), and the trees are brutally tight in most places.  There are also glaciers to consider as well.  Our skin up towards Perly’s had some great views and Christina and Drew ate up every minute of it.  I’m a little spoiled coming from SLC since I get to ski snow like that before work–even so it ranked up high on my list of all-time tours.

Our ski out was pretty great, particularly the first leg of it.  The lower sections got super pillowy and the terrain a little more complex as we had cliffbands to negotiate.  We made it down just fine and were envious of the French-canadian girls who passed us on the skin track and made it all the way to Perly’s Rock.  From there they had an epically long, wide open untracked run down a glacier.

Christina making tracks in the fresh stuff.
Christina making tracks in the fresh stuff.

Back at the car we hustled towards Nelson.  Along the way we planned to hit a hot spring, but we really didn’t know which one, or where.  Luckily there is a hot-spring tour and they have their own signs along the road.  We followed one sign up a narrow winding road for what seemed like ages and into nowhere.  Eventually we got to the end of the road and saw a large mostly round building with steam rising into the night.  We paid our $6 and got to soak outside with dim lights, the stars overhead, and Enya on the sound system.  It was a pretty awesome soak near the end of a great few days of skiing.  Proceeding on we hit Nelson and enjoyed a night on the town and some good food at a sports bar.

Tuesday was half of our big drive day.  Once you pass west through Revelstoke and beyond, you end up in the Okanagan Valley which is part of the desert of eastern Washington.  Osoyoos, was our eventual stop.  First though, we hit a well recommended hot-spring in Ainsworth.  This spring was also developed like the one in Nakusp, but it had a tunnel.  The hot tub lead into the mountain in waist deep water.  The natural calcified rocks formed the ceiling and hot water dripped or rushed from the ceiling.  Since it was a confined area it also was super steaming making for a natural sauna.  Adjacent to the hot tub (~40C) was the 3C glacially fed pool.  We played around with jumping from the hot water into the cold and stayed as long as we could, usually only 10-15 seconds, before jumping back into the hot.  This actually was quite refreshing and felt therapeutic.

The Gehringer Brothers Winery in Oliver. The woman who gave us our tasting (at 10am on a Wednesday) was really nice and gave us all lot of info (and wine) about the area.
The Gehringer Brothers Winery in Oliver. The woman who gave us our tasting (at 10am on a Wednesday) was really nice and gave us all lot of info (and wine) about the area.

Moving on we eventually got to Osoyoos which is almost in Washington State.  The area is the warmest in Canada and attracts snowbirds (the old people, not actual birds) from all over Canada who winter there.  The area is also known for their winemaking.  Usually any “winemaking” area that you haven’t heard of typically has crap fruit wines and things.  This is a legitimate winemaking area with varieties you’ve heard of.  We sampled all 20 wines at one place and were very entertained with the friendly woman who served us.  Of course three Americans showing up at 10am on a Wednesday in late January isn’t the norm, but we benefited from it by tasting all the wines “on the house”.  We reciprocated the favor and got a few bottles for ourselves.

As the day wound on and the miles rolled underneath us, we dropped in altitude and the rain came.  By the time we reached Vancouver it was raining steadily.  Drew, who’s been in Vancouver for many months off and on, gave us the full tour.  After the tour we headed to a great restaurant in a warehouse and ate tapas and discussed life changes well into the evening.  It was a great finish to an unexpected journey with two good friends.

For a more moving impression of the trip see the video below by Drew.