Aside from the stinkeye we got from the border guard, we slipped into Canada with minimal shakedown. As the two-lane meandered northward just west of Fernie, British Columbia, we saw a foretelling road sign–”Prescribed Burn In Process.” Laughing at the quirky Canuck word choice, the deep-hidden meaning flew right over our heads.

Two days later, as we approached the summit of Tumbledown Mountain for the second time in three hours, the irony of that fateful yellow, diamond-shaped road sign wasn’t lost. My legs were on fire. I didn’t know if I was going to puke or simply fall on the ground and twitch. Swirling fog and a schizo wind added fuel to my stupor. Graupel pelted my cheeks like Lilliputian snowballs. Slogging upward in resolute mountaineering cadence, I mumbled curse words about our guide, Ruedi.

Ruedi Beglinger, you see, hikes somewhere in the neighborhood of a million vertical feet a year. In 1998, he did the first snowboard descent of the Yukon Territory’s 19,540-foot Mt. Logan, North America’s second-highest peak behind McKinley (and reputedly the coldest spot on the continent). Hanging with a maniacal mountain guide like this, it’s virtually guaranteed you’ll be sandbagged–pushed to your physical limits–then pushed a bit further.

But don’t get me wrong–we were loving it. Our disparate posse of nine had converged from all over the globe to tour in the Northern Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. From Maui to Munich, from Whitefish to wherever, we all came of our own freewill to get worked over by The Man. Now, dizzy with vertigo, we ascended at a rate of 2,500 feet per hour. The “prescribed burn” was flaring.

***

Selkirk Mountain Experience (SME) is a snowboard/ski-mountaineering mecca for those who relish hardcore touring. Opened in 1985, SME offers access to some of the most spectacular terrain you could envision. Even when it’s dumping and avalanche danger is high, the place has a stash of steep trees below the chalet to keep you busy for days. When conditions are reasonably stable and/or spring-like, you’ll be touring up into one of the many glaciated basins and onward to bag a string of peaks. Long approaches make for long descents. It ain’t no yo-yo deal. This is full-on mountain touring.

With all this, SME blends comfortable, European-style mountain-chalet lodging with died-and-gone-to-heaven cooking. In addition to culinary creature comforts, there’s a wood-fired sauna to bake your tattered bones at day’s end. The entire experience is infused with their play-hard-or-go-home approach. Everything is set to their Rolex schedule.

You’ll be choppered into the Durrand Chalet, about 30 miles east of Revelstoke. Enjoy the hum of the rotor blades as you unload. It’ll be the last mechanical assist you get until it’s time to fly out a week later. Once at the chalet, you won’t have time to dally, so get your act together … the first tour is leaving.

***

Before we ventured far from the chalet, Rochus, one of Ruedi’s seasoned guides, passed out avy beacons and took the group through a grid-search training session. His tips on probing and digging victims out were particularly insightful; there’s no time to waste–none. On this warm April afternoon, point slides were roaring down the steeper mountains surrounding us.

Before long, Ruedi shuffled onto the scene with his signature surf-rat grin. Though we were currently standing in polenta-like snow, Ruedi thought he knew where we could claim some damp powder turns. As we learned over the next week, Ruedi has a sixth sense when it comes to seeking the goods.

A wet storm cycle prevailed during the first couple of days. Despite misty, high-humidity conditions, Ruedi led us to line after line of fresh, carvable snow. N what you’d call all-time, but fun.

“There are two kinds of snow,” Ruedi surmised. “Good snow and instructional snow–this is instructional snow.” If the surface conditions were as dry as Ruedi’s humor, we’d have all been getting face shots. Allaline, Woolsley, Elm Peaks, The Apron, Moon Hill, Boogie Basin … we marched and we descended.

As soon as we began settling into the Durrand program, Ruedi suggested a change of venue. We’d pack up in the morning and head to the Moloch Hut. The tentative plan was to be gone three days and two nights, but … we liked the Durrand. We liked Ayako’s cooking. We liked the sauna.

“We will leave at 6:15 a.m.,” Ruedi said. “Have your lunches packed.” As was now clearly understood, we pushed off at the appointed minute. Through a blustery, gray first light, the Durrand faded in my mind’s rearview mirror.

Our first summit of the morning was Mount Ruth. We kicked steps through a horizontal snow squall, and once on top, had the now-obscured view described to us by Ruedi. Despite having to imagine the vista, we were stoked to be getting a rapid accumulation of colder, dryer snow. After dropping through the crevasse- and serac-ridden Ruth Glacier, we skinned onward to the Moloch Hut.

The Moloch, as it turned out, was Ruedi’s clubhouse–a spartan refuge in a sea of gigantic Alpine mountains, a cornucopia of steep climbs and equally steep descents. The Moloch Hut was cozy enough, but markedly more rustic than the now distant chalet. Once inside, a fire was kindled and we began drying our dank boot liners and skanky skivvies. Ruedi and Nicoline (his hard-charging bride) put out a hearty meal of pasta, salad, and fresh bread. Not the exotic curries, delicate spring rolls, or cheesy fondues of the Durrand, just good, wholesome grinds.

***

A wondrous thing occurred on our second afternoon at the Moloch Hut. After returning from a golden day with ten inches of fresh, a few of us were hanging out front, taking it all in–basking in the proverbial afterglow–when what did appear but a large, dark mammal moving at galactic speed. From Downie Peak, up the Dismal Glacier, and on to the Concordia, this sucker was hauling. We summoned the maestro to identify the beast–Ruedi scurried out of the cabin to check on our fuss.

“Oh, it’s Terrible Ted!” he exclaimed upon spotting the streaking animal. “Our resident wolverine in this neck of the Selkirks.” Seems Terrible Ted had a reputation in these parts, but Ruedi had never laid eyes on him. Though our adrenaline glands had seen a healthy workout over the past four days, this was the first time we’d seen Ruedi get pumped.

Like tracking a satellite across the night sky, we watched in amazement as Terrible Ted took the steepest, most-direct route up the Concordia Icefield. The quintessential Alpha male, Ruedi was in awe. Despite being the fastest, strongest person in these mountains, despite his ability to navigate by Braille in complete whiteout storms, despite setting the most direct, mountaineeringly aesthetic up-tracks, despite being the local’s local, Ruedi was clearly humbled by Ted. It was Darwinian one-upsmanship at its best.

* **

Unlike other touring and hut operations where it’s an afterthought, snowboarding is actively promoted and encouraged at Selkirk Mountain Experience. Appropriately equipped snowboarders, game for serious mountain touring, are welcomed with open arms. Entertaining snowboarding guests gives Ruedi an excuse to guide on his splitboard. Though this gives some of his skiing clients pause, Ruedi makes no apologies for his single-plank passion.

During our week, we had a flavorful mix of riders, randonnee skiers, and telemarkers. The other snowboarders in our group were from Salt Lake. Having discovered SME many years back, they’d done previous trips on short skis but, like Ruedi, opted for splitboards this go round. I was the lone rider using short skis for ascents. Aside from having to schlep my board around on my back, the approach skis worked well and allowed me to descend on a tried and true board.

Ruedi matter-of-factly denies the use of snowshoes on his tours, realizing the impossibility of anyone keeping up on them. He also advocates that snowboarders use hardboots with plate bindings, though my clean step-in system passed muster. If you have specific gear questions, simply check with the accommodating SME staff.

Perhaps most importantly, be in shape and ready to cover some ground. In the six-and-a-half days we were in the Selkirks, we climbed approximately seventeen summits and ascended something in the neighborhood of 45,000 vertical feet (Ruedi’s had guests do as much as 60,000 feet in a week). That may not sound impressive compared to helicopter-assisted statistics, but this ain’t that.

***

In the end, it all boiled down to one run. The morning after Terrible Ted awed us with his speed and routefinding skills, Ruedi led us around to the top of the Concordia via Mt. Fang, where we dropped a first descent next to Ted’s tracks. On this crystal-lit dawn, those wolverine tracks reminded us all of our place in the grander scheme of things.

Selkirk Mountain Experience:

Phone: (250) 837-2381

FAX: (250) 837-4685

E-mail: selkirk@junction.net

group were from Salt Lake. Having discovered SME many years back, they’d done previous trips on short skis but, like Ruedi, opted for splitboards this go round. I was the lone rider using short skis for ascents. Aside from having to schlep my board around on my back, the approach skis worked well and allowed me to descend on a tried and true board.

Ruedi matter-of-factly denies the use of snowshoes on his tours, realizing the impossibility of anyone keeping up on them. He also advocates that snowboarders use hardboots with plate bindings, though my clean step-in system passed muster. If you have specific gear questions, simply check with the accommodating SME staff.

Perhaps most importantly, be in shape and ready to cover some ground. In the six-and-a-half days we were in the Selkirks, we climbed approximately seventeen summits and ascended something in the neighborhood of 45,000 vertical feet (Ruedi’s had guests do as much as 60,000 feet in a week). That may not sound impressive compared to helicopter-assisted statistics, but this ain’t that.

***

In the end, it all boiled down to one run. The morning after Terrible Ted awed us with his speed and routefinding skills, Ruedi led us around to the top of the Concordia via Mt. Fang, where we dropped a first descent next to Ted’s tracks. On this crystal-lit dawn, those wolverine tracks reminded us all of our place in the grander scheme of things.

Selkirk Mountain Experience:

Phone: (250) 837-2381

FAX: (250) 837-4685

E-mail: selkirk@junction.net