A Backcountry Buffet

By Lukas Huffman

This tale is about a backcountry mission that went down. There was snowboarding, there were huge mountains, there was a broken collarbone, there was all the usual stuff that happens in the backcountry. However, the unusual thing about this trip was that we went to two different backcountry lodges in the course of one week-back to back we witnessed two opposing approaches to how to do back country business. Our crew went from the good-ol’-boy, line-thrashing cat-boarding experience at Chatter Creek, British Columbia to a high-end, platinum-edition, pillow-line-infested heli-boarding session at Mica Heli Guides, also in British Columbia. I am in the unique position to compare and share with you these two different “backcountry products” (a term I overheard on the trip).

First, lets set the stage. In January, three of my favorite snowboarders (Jon Cartwright, Shandy Campos, and DCP) and I took to the road. The chief-the guy who lined this all up-was the one and only photographer Mark Gallup. And our trusty cinematographer, Simon Turcott, was there to document the action. Off we go.

Chatter Creek: Down-Home, Blue Collar Powder Shredding

On the first leg, I overheard Chatter Creek referred to as a “construction company that does cat skiing on the side.” This comment came right from the mouth of one of the owner/operators. His greasy fingernails and eau de diesel was a testament to that. In order to imagine Chatter Creek, first think of enormous, three-foot-wide, 50-foot-long cedar logs. The operation’s construction-company element erected a few normal-sized log cabins and two super-large timber palaces. For real, one of the most amazing things about this place is the site of these two (2500 square foot each) lodges. The logs were fell and milled right there on the spot. Sweat, back muscles, and horse flies-this is DIY the Canadian way.

Most of the dudes responsible for this huge task were still working when we arrived at the lodge. We all got to shoot the shit, ask questions, and blow smoke up the asses of the humans responsible for this amazing feat. One of the lodges was still under construction, and this is where we, the “media group,” resided. Some of the other employees also stayed in this structure, which made us feel like part of the staff. The normal guests were housed in the other, totally finished lodge. They all seemed to be really enjoying themselves, but I really liked hanging out with all the people who made the place work. Instant local status.

In the morning, when the cooks went about cooking and the maintenance guys went about maintaining, we went about our shredding. The snowboarding element of the Chatter Creek product is sick! I am at a lack of words to do it justice, but in an effort to be specific, I can say that we lapped rolling tree runs, got balls-deep in powder, jumped off rocks with reckless abandon, and scared ourselves on some big lines. We got all the fixin’s. The MVP of this episode was Chatter-veteran DCP-he slashed and ravaged everything in sight.

Of note: Shandy broke his collarbone on the second day the trip. That sucked big-time. He toeside scorpioned on the in run to the house-gap-jump. He was going fast, as he usually does, and got paid-lame. The crew was quickly down to three riders.

Besides the snowboarding, there are pretty much three other activities that happen out at Chatter. One: Aprà¤s ski. Two: Eating. And three: Sleeping. All are really enjoyable, but of mention is definitely the eating. The baker kicks ass, enough to mention in this article. I ate a lot of cookies, complimented and counterbalanced, of course, by a lot of snowboarding.

Every day after shredding we got back to our large timber domain to shared the positive vibe with a group of about 25 or 30 “clients,” who where also having the time of their lives. They were the 40-to-50 year old crowd on their annual powder excursion with a big group of friends. That combination makes for aunch of happy people. In fact, that’s the major impression I have of Chatter Creek-a bunch of happy people (including us) in a huge timber lodge out in the middle-of-nowhere Canada.

On our last night there, the construction crew built us a jump over this huge pile of trash. They put the cat lights on it, they shuttled us, and the group of “happy clients” came out side to holler at us. This is how I will leave Chatter Creek-a derivative of a red-neck backyard party on a beautiful wood campus surrounded by epic terrain.

Mica Heli Guides: High-End, Polished Powder

So, bring on the Mica Heli Guides. Simon, Gallup, Jon, DCP, and I made like human yo-yos: We snowmobiled and then drove for two hours to get out of the woods. After that, we hit the paved road to Revelstoke for an hour. Once there, we went right (in other words, north) and drove right back into the thick of the wilderness. For this half of the trip, we were leaving snowmobiles in the back of our trucks and partaking in some jet-fueled helicopter transport.

The second backcountry product we sampled was the high-end, polished-powder, no-bull-shit approach to bagging vertical. I will begin my report with an overview of the MHG (Mica Heli Guides) lodge. It is perched on top of a huge clear-cut hill a few hours north of Revelstoke. The view from the lodge is what sets the tone. Now, I don’t usually lament about pretty views, but this was impressive, and sure to move anybody-no matter how extreme you are. A giant lake spreads out about a thousand feet below you, and on the other side of that lake are enormous B.C. mountains rising up to create the horizon. The giant peaks taunt you with constant reminder that you are small and they are big.

The Mica Heli Guides lodge has been designed to exploit this view. Both floors of the lodge are outfitted with huge windows facing the lake and mountains. Whether you’re eating breakfast, putting on your boots, or reading in the afternoon, the scenery is right there keeping you company.

The detailing of the lodge is out of some in-flight luxury magazine. Downstairs is a cute dinning room out with a heated stone-tile floor. There’s a burl wood staircase, big overstuffed chairs that swallow tired bodies, and the hallmark of modern existence-wireless Internet, ensuring that jet-setting extremists can check stocks or just keep up with their MySpace cyber buddies. I even think the bohemian DCP made a plane ticket to Russia while we were perched up there on the mountainside.

Lets get in to the real action of this backcountry product. Mica Heli Guides claims to have the “most skiable acreage in North America.” I don’t doubt it. They charge their clients by the amount of vertical skied in a run, and MHG provides lots of long powder runs. No messing around, you better train before you show up, because your legs will throb, and your heart will race. You get what you pay for-and you pay for what you get.

Our crew had some overcast weather on the first day, which turned out to be a blessing. This meant that we rode the MHG pillow stash. Holy crap! I have never seen pillow lines this long. The snow was deep, so the riders looked like a pair of goggles and a hat in a cloud of snow falling down twenty pillows at once. Of course, the second and third days were sunny, so it was on. The heli dropped us off on any peak we chose, and we terrorized the taunting mountains. We barely saw a fraction of the “most skiable acreage in North America,” but we got the picture. The dudes at Mica Heli Guides are holding a lot of terrain back there.

Of note: Cartwright was the MVP of this episode. He confidently did one of the biggest cliff drops (a solid 50 feet) I’ve seen all winter. This was in the beginning of January, and his quote after riding away from that was, “The pre-season is definitely over.” I collected my dropped jaw and mustered up a, “Touchà‡, my friend.”

Once we were all full of five-star shredding, we would head back to the lodge and watch the Alpen glow on our mountainous companions. We were the only people staying the lodge while we were there, so the guest-to-staff ratio was pretty much one-to-one. They were eager to please, and took care of any needs we could think up. We would all wind down the days sitting by the fireplace, each of us surfing the Internet and watching the stars out those big windows.

This experience was very intimate. (The lodge is currently capable of holding up to twelve guests at a time, but they have plans to expand). It feels like you have the mountains to yourself-just you and your close friends out there making tracks and getting a lot of attention from the staff. This is a backcountry product with all the amenities, including more vertical then physically possible to handle. I leave Mica Heli Guides with that impression. We were all fully pampered, just the way any backcountry enthusiast would want to be.

After our week of sampling the backcountry buffet at our disposal, we all went out separate ways: DCP and Simon went back to Whistler, Jon and I went to Vancouver, and Gallup vanished into smoke signals. We’d successfully managed to explore to two different British Columbia backcountry offerings. Chatter Creek was the down-home, blue-collar approach to gettin’ ‘er done, including deep-ass powder, as much fun snowboarding as we could handle, and some hilarious social terrain. Mica Heli Guides was having the whole damn mountain range to our selves. As you can tell, upon comparison, one isn’t better then the other-just apples and oranges. I guess it all depends on how you like your backcountry.

lodge and watch the Alpen glow on our mountainous companions. We were the only people staying the lodge while we were there, so the guest-to-staff ratio was pretty much one-to-one. They were eager to please, and took care of any needs we could think up. We would all wind down the days sitting by the fireplace, each of us surfing the Internet and watching the stars out those big windows.

This experience was very intimate. (The lodge is currently capable of holding up to twelve guests at a time, but they have plans to expand). It feels like you have the mountains to yourself-just you and your close friends out there making tracks and getting a lot of attention from the staff. This is a backcountry product with all the amenities, including more vertical then physically possible to handle. I leave Mica Heli Guides with that impression. We were all fully pampered, just the way any backcountry enthusiast would want to be.

After our week of sampling the backcountry buffet at our disposal, we all went out separate ways: DCP and Simon went back to Whistler, Jon and I went to Vancouver, and Gallup vanished into smoke signals. We’d successfully managed to explore to two different British Columbia backcountry offerings. Chatter Creek was the down-home, blue-collar approach to gettin’ ‘er done, including deep-ass powder, as much fun snowboarding as we could handle, and some hilarious social terrain. Mica Heli Guides was having the whole damn mountain range to our selves. As you can tell, upon comparison, one isn’t better then the other-just apples and oranges. I guess it all depends on how you like your backcountry.