Flames licked the ceiling and heat surged forth from the blossoming supernova, reflecting off our weatheredfaces. Polyester fleece and other synthetic fabrics hung from every rafter, ready for ignition, and all eyesturned to the stove. Luckily the flames died down with a sizzle, and dinner arrived moments later in the formof a very crispy bourbon-flambéd duck. It was decided Pig’s impressive cooking skills outweighed his lackof judgement as we attacked the night’s main course.
The accompanying pasta quickly disappeared, humorreturned, and fingers were licked as another day at the Slocan Chief Cabin came to a close. Such are thehazards of packing hedonistically. Had legs and lungs been used to haul a week’s worth of supplies fifteenmiles into British Columbia’s Kokanee Glacier Park, the bourbon would’ve never made it. Nor, for thatmatter, would the duck, the wine, the stereo, or any of the other luxuries we enjoyed. However, all we hadto do was haul gear to a heli pad in Nelson. God only knows what would’ve ended up on the chopper if thepilot hadn’t dictated a weight limit. Luck was definitely on our side. The twelve of us not only survived apoultry conflagration, we’d won a lottery for the privilege of hangin’ at the Slocan Chief. The former miningcabin is such a popular backcountry destination, there’s no way to guarantee reservations; you simply send inyour name and hope for the best.
Originally built in 1896 as part of the lucrative Dickinson silver mine, it wasabandoned in 1928 when Dickinson’s luck came to an abrupt halt. A judge ruled that all proceeds would beused to pay a stack of debts owed by the supposedly prosperous Dickinson. Whether the vein would stillyield treasures will never be known, because the area is now designated a mining-free zone. Anyway, we’dcome to discover ores of a softer and fluffier variety-one of the best spots in the Selkirks for wallowing deepin undisturbed powder. Facilities are rustic, with water coming from a nearby spring and a toilet of theouthouse variety, but most visitors are so psyched with their surroundings, such details hardly matter. Weracked up frightening amounts of vertical each day, knowing a comfortable cot and a roaring wood stoveawaited us each night. The surrounding topography couldn’t be ridden in a lifetime, and is as varied as it isimmense. Directly above the cabin lies a short but steep headwall complete with a cliff band dissecting thecrux, and above that, separated by a small glade of trees, looms Kokanee Glacier, a 2,000-vertical-footjoyride of infinite possibilities. When snow conditions are safe, the steeper entrances onto the glacier provideall the hair you’d ever need for your ball, as evidenced by John Griber’s wicked descent through the Giant’sKneecap.
Barely a board’s width, and with a nasty dogleg, lines like this need to be approached with care,because riders here are fully responsible for their own survival. A neighboring A-frame does house a winterranger, though, who has radio communication for emergency situations. While the ranger isn’t present forguiding purposes, he can be a wealth of information for first-time visitors and helps set the safety tone byorchestrating a group tranceiver-drill when parties first arrive. Shortly after unpacking, our group endured alung-busting climb that rewarded us with awe-inspiring views from Esmeralda Peak above Kokanee Glacier.The climb felt huge, but one look at the surrounding Selkirks made us feel like ants scrambling on a pebble.Dark clouds lurked ominously to the west, but the clear skies made foul weather seem impossibly far away.Only three of us-John Griber, Troy Kindred, and I-were using snowboards, while the other nine were ontelemark skis, so to no one’s surprise the three of us stuck together. Like true snowboarders, we carvedhumongous turns between wind-sculpted chalk and boot-deep fluff. From the bottom of the glacier, westopped, looked, and wondered at the tight turns being made far aboves. Our arcing tracks swallowed thetelemarkers as they skipped from side to side.
While I’ve always admired the technical prowess needed for quality telemarking, I’m a sucker for snowboarding’s graceful economy of motion. The storm arrived overnight as expected, bringing with it the sensation of being buried alive. For four days the snow came inwaves, and the high-Alpine vistas remained a distant memory, while fresh snow became our easily satiateddaily obsession. Out the door we went each morning, some prepared for all-day adventures while othersplayed the storm closer to home. At all of 22 feet by eighteen feet, plus a sleeping loft, the Slocan Chiefprovided tight quarters for twelve people and tons of equipment, especially during a protracted winter storm.Miraculously, emotions remained mellow, due in part to exhaustion, but also to the rejuvenating comedy ofcommunal dinnertimes.
Each night showcased different chefs, which led to everything from Pig’s flaming duckto John and Troy’s convincing threat of frozen corndogs. Brad and Scott busted out mass quantities of sirloinsteak. Meanwhile, all those calories fueled us through the storm. Snow conditions remained remarkably safedue to minimal wind and stable under layers, allowing us to ride big terrain. Joker Basin proved to beanything but a joke, yielding over 3,000 vertical feet of stellar northeast-facing riding. The dense clouds thatchallenged our senses during the ascent made dropping in a test of faith in topographical maps. Route findingthrough the soup, we made out the vague contours of rock buttresses and used those as points of reference.The snow was even better in the gladed valley, and the only complaints were heard on the way back. Byfollowing the advice of the ranger, we stayed out of slide paths during the wallowing return, which suited usjust fine. Each night became a lesson in cartography, as contour maps were scrutinized in the dim light ofpropane lanterns. Rhetorical questions flew, such as “I wonder if there’s a line through these cliffbands?” and”Do you think we’ll be able to see anything on that glacier?” Great logistical games were played out each dayas the previous night’s theories came alive.
The trip to Outlook Mountain proved to be a challenge. Mostly above treeline, the day started off cloudy and went downhill from there, until merely remaining upright was a struggle. By checking Scott’s altimeter, we deduced that we were on a subpeak next to Outlook, but we’dnever know for sure. The wind on the barren ridge was kicking up, so we played it safe and retreated,staying close to our tracks for visual reference. The mountain rewarded our perseverance with billowingdeep turns when we eventually dropped toward the valley floor. On the fifth day the weather finally broke.The radio called for the storm to push east, and by early afternoon a change was imminent. Kokanee Glacierbeckoned, and by the time we reached the top of the ice field, blue sky pushed through broken remnants ofcloud cover. Hoots and howls were heard everywhere as the sun took charge. After setting trail, weyo-yoed three times for over a vertical mile of nirvana. John set the pace and practically dragged us up thelast time, but like all good things, it was more than worth it. Busting through the trees in the fading alpenglow,we collapsed on the Chief’s doorstep, spent but happy.
On our last full day we rode Joker Basin again, checking out the lines we could only sense during the storm. We weren’t disappointed. Conditions weredeep and stable, and we made several laps on the upper reaches. Our heelside turns dug so deep wedisappeared in our own clouds, and John was so amped he set up for the biggest air of the trip, solidlystomping one off of a 30-plus-foot rock. The hiking served to keep our adrenaline-soaked heads in check,but by mid afternoon our legs couldn’t keep up with the stoke level, so we opted to rip one last run all theway below Joker Lakes. The slog back took until dusk again, and this time we were so wiped we couldbarely eat, tantamount to sacrilege amongst our hungry group. That night, Tim the ranger revealed thetenuous survival of our beloved cabin.
After the demise of the Dickinson mine, the cabin was revived as a home base for small-scale prospecting. After the prospector’s death, his family single-handedly maintained the Slocan Chief until 1960. That’s when the Canadian Parks Branch declared it a shack fit to bedemolished. Local mountaineers cried foul and volunteered to resurrect the cabin. By 1964, it wasrefurbished and a new sleeping loft was added, and the cabin began to be used as a winter skiing destination.The darkened cabin walls now breathe with the energy of decades of delirious powder fiends. So if you’refortunate enough to win the Slocan Chief lottery some winter, appreciate simply being there. INFO: TheSlocan Chief Cabin sits in Kokanee Glacier Park, northeast of Nelson, British Columbia, located onHighway 3A. To get yourself dialed into the coolest lottery around, contact Kevin Giles of Kokanee GlacierMountaineering at (250) 354-4092. To inquire about the flight in, Doug Williams of Kokanee Helicopterscan be reached at (250) 354-8485.dusk again, and this time we were so wiped we couldbarely eat, tantamount to sacrilege amongst our hungry group. That night, Tim the ranger revealed thetenuous survival of our beloved cabin.
After the demise of the Dickinson mine, the cabin was revived as a home base for small-scale prospecting. After the prospector’s death, his family single-handedly maintained the Slocan Chief until 1960. That’s when the Canadian Parks Branch declared it a shack fit to bedemolished. Local mountaineers cried foul and volunteered to resurrect the cabin. By 1964, it wasrefurbished and a new sleeping loft was added, and the cabin began to be used as a winter skiing destination.The darkened cabin walls now breathe with the energy of decades of delirious powder fiends. So if you’refortunate enough to win the Slocan Chief lottery some winter, appreciate simply being there. INFO: TheSlocan Chief Cabin sits in Kokanee Glacier Park, northeast of Nelson, British Columbia, located onHighway 3A. To get yourself dialed into the coolest lottery around, contact Kevin Giles of Kokanee GlacierMountaineering at (250) 354-4092. To inquire about the flight in, Doug Williams of Kokanee Helicopterscan be reached at (250) 354-8485.