The Path To Powder

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Words by Ben Gavelda

Last winter was a heavy one in the Interior. The tap above the Rocky and Columbia Mountains stayed wide open and it seemed almost every film crew stopped by to wallow around in the deep at some point. None of this is new for those in the know though. This great white expanse stretches hundreds of miles up from where Montana, Washington, and Idaho border BC, and holds every terrain imaginable. It's bound to be good somewhere—it's part of one of the largest, snowy mountain-scapes in the world. Hosting over 50 shred destinations, it's one of the densest areas of snow sports operations. But what sets it apart is accessibility—where the asphalt ends is where the heli tenure opens up, the cat track lanes begin, the sled access starts, and the bullwheels turn. It's a vast system into a snow cosmos and it's addicting after only a taste.

For me, that one sip turned into a bender. I planned a tour to link up with a few crews and visit some legendary spots, but quickly found myself blitzed on powder, staying out too long, too late. All the allure had proved true and it trapped me—I'd finally reached the place I'd been seeking all these years. It was all too awesome, too massive. Here, the snow replenishes itself daily, the rolling ollie bumps and pillow stacks are infinite. The fluff and vast terrain altered my state of mind, completely flipping my outlook on snowboarding, forever. I never knew it could be this good.

Broad Borders

Choose your weapon. No matter what it’s pure powder destruction PHOTOS: Chris Wellhausen

It has a number of names, "The Powder Triangle" and "The BC Powder Highway" among them, which it damn well deserves. Hell, the concept of using a helicopter to access turns originated here in 1965 by an operation called Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), and later Selkirk Wilderness Skiing (SWS) pioneered the use of snowcats in 1975. Snowcat lodges, heli-ops, big mountain snowmobiling—this is where it thrives.
The area encompasses a massive swath of the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains in southeast British Columbia encircled by a 530-mile loop of roads. Where it really begins and ends is vague though. Maybe you've heard of the mountain ranges: Cariboo, Kootenay, Lizard, Monashee, Purcell, Selkirk, and Valhalla, and there are plenty more, lesser-known ranges within. It's daunting, but it doesn't have to be. This is about breaking in.

Access Granted on the next page…

Access Granted

When you get across the border from Spokane you’ll arrive in Nelson. It’s a fun town that you may find yourself basing out of to get to Baldface Lodge, Whitewater, and Red Mountain. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

You can get at this zone by flying into cities and small towns: Cranbrook, Calgary, Kelowna, Kamloops, Kalispell, and Spokane. From there you'll have to drive. I touched down in the town of Kelowna, BC, and took a shuttle to Revelstoke to meet up with a group of Frends.
Border crossings and heavy storm cycles can trip up travel, so it's wise to follow the weather and give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Rogers Pass, along the route between Calgary and Revelstoke, crosses loads of avalanche paths, which often shut down the highway. Danny Davis, Eric Jackson, Mitrani brothers, and I got a glimpse of this while we posted up at Eagle Pass Heli outside Revelstoke. It was dumping and the avy risk was rising, so the transportation department buzzed in by heli and began heaving 20-pound fertilizer bombs out the window above the Trans-Canada highway. The lodge went into lockdown and we peered from the far end of the building as avalanches carrying debris and cold smoke shot down the narrow canyon and onto the road, brushing up against the lodge. This is "just a normal day," our guide Scott Newsome assures. Sure enough, the debris is scraped away and the road opens right back up.

Daily Ops

Home of the Supernatural. There’s a reason why Travis Rice chose Baldface. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

Access is served in four ways: Resort lifts, hike-to or snowmobile backcountry, snowcat, and heli. Some places like Revelstoke offer a mix of it all. Others like Baldface Lodge, specialize in snowcat laps, while CMH delivers heli bumps. It all breaks down to your budget and time frame. Most heli and cat ops require multi-day minimums, but a few, like Eagle Pass, offer single day access (five runs for just under a grand). You can blow your wad by burning jet fuel and diesel, or skimp by seeking out remote huts and ripping local laps at the resorts. You can even snag a day of snowmobiling with a legit Sledneck. We did on a down day just outside Revelstoke.

A big part of the path to powder is sledding. The slednecks are on the next page…

Sledneckin'

Eric Jackson getting it done. PHOTO: Scott Serfas

The flakes are dropping at well over an inch an hour. It seems foolish to go out under such conditions, but you only come here once I think as we unload the snowmobiles with former-Sledneck-turned-guide Jeremy Hanke. Jeremy has sent jumps and cliffs on his snowmobile that rivals what our crew would attempt on a board. We're nervous and excited and rip off into the storm anyway. It turns out to be an aggressive day of 'neckin', digging, and seeking in foggy, vertigo conditions and sled-swallowing snow.
"This is the deepest snow I've ever sledded in," E-Jack laughs.

"Yeah, Jeremy, is this almost too deep for snowmobiling?" Danny asks.

"Yeah, we're pretty close to it." Jeremy replies. After a long day of searching for spots we return by night—cold, wet, exhausted, and stoked.

Tits Deep

This zone at Island Lake is called Amber’s Patch. It’s a long story and Craig Kelly was involved. That’s all we’re saying. PHOTO: Andy Wright

Our guide Al at Eagle Pass peps us as we head out of the staging room and onto the cold heli pad: "Nothin' but blower white up dar, tits deep!" he says in a thick French-Canadian accent. He's right. It's literally that deep. The day of heli riding is insane and enough for Jack Mitrani's grin to stretch even farther than normal. "That's the deepest pow I've ever ridden," Jack says. "That really changes the whole snowboard game for me." I feel better knowing it isn't just me.
I continue the tour down the Trans Canada Highway 95 to Island Lake Lodge with monstrous peaks on the horizon. There I hear similar, animated tales when I join up with Eero Niemela and DCP who are frothing at the nonstop snow. They'd been chowing face loads of the stuff with cat laps. Here, six hours south of Revy, the conditions are still prime—it's almost inescapable.
Then the unthinkable happens—the clouds become thick—the weather warms, and all that was good is gone in the rip and rumble of avalanches. I try to savor the last bit with laps at Fernie Alpine Resort the next day, but it's closed from the conditions too. Instead, I bide time with longtime photographer Mark Gallup. He takes me in and tells stories of when he and Craig Kelly used to explore this area, the inspiration they found here, and the magnetism of frozen peaks. The more we talk, the more I feel the pull too. I have to continue; I have to return North where it has stayed cold.

Back in Revelstoke, Austin Smith picks me up in his diesel flatbed. It's late afternoon and we stop for gas and directions before heading farther north into the unknown. The drive wears on and the flakes become bigger and the road narrower. Soon the blinding snow has shrunk the passage to a one way of white. We keep pushing on, unsure if we came the right way, then the road ends and the destination appears—the warm CMH heli lodge deep in the Monashees.
Curtis Ciszek joins us now as the game of weather roulette begins. On no fly days we find ways to pass the time. We play a mindless game of nagel (smashing headless nails into a stump with a pointed hammer). We rack up a bar bill. We stretch, boulder, read, eat—basically do anything to keep active and away from dwelling on riding or weather.
"We really need to work on getting that heli budget, seriously, [Travis] Rice is on to something." Curtis Ciszek jokes in the lounge as we all stare out into the flakes and fog.
When the weather finally lifts, the riding is on point. It's the deepest yet and strewn with rollers galore. We find there're over 300 "runs" here. We'll be lucky if we tackle 20. Repeated pow days begin to run together, but the last day stands out—more new snow, stable conditions. Austin takes down arguably the largest pillow line I've ever seen, a five stack that's well over 100 feet tall.
"I've had some powder days before, but this—this is unreal," Austin says as he plops down in the snow. "This is the best day of snowboarding I have ever had, hands down."

Boning is always the best when there’s lots of pillows around. Curtiz Ciszek knows this all too well. Monashees. PHOTO: Nick Hamilton

"Yeah, this is the best trip ever," Curtis affirms.
And you know what? They're 100-percent right. There is no other way to describe it. Greatest, finest, raddest—they all get the point across, but really, it is the best. Standing at the bottom of a run, after the biggest pillows, in the deepest, lightest snow imaginable, with some of your best friends and a big bird ready to take you right back up—it's a place I've always imagined. And as we pile back into the heli, the strangest full feeling envelops me. The trees blur into toothpicks as we fly down the valley beneath the fog. A lone moose wades by the shore near the lodge. Amid the whirr and buzz of the turbine I relish this magical place I've never reached before. I could die now. I could never snowboard again. And I'd be completely happy.

Want to plan your own path to powder trip? We tell you how, just head to the next page!

TransWorld's Top Picks

The BC Powder Highway is vast and conditions can vary, but when they're right, you really can't go wrong. We got it good at Eagle Pass, Island Lake Lodge, and CMH Monashees. Many thanks to Tourism British Columbia and the Canadian Tourism Commission as well.

Research your own pilgrimage at powderhighway.com and hellobc.com

 Resorts $

When the conditions are prime, it's hard to beat lift laps. These resorts offer world-renown terrain and snow with plenty of sidecountry options.

Huts $

From DIY guiding and meals to fully-guided, fully-catered retreats, these backcountry huts can take you deeper. Bring a splitboard and get ready to earn those turns.

Snowcat Operations $$–$$$$

Like one big powder limo, a snowcat can motor you and your crew to the goods while you kick back and crank tunes. Most operate out of remote lodges and offer all-inclusive, fully guided multi-day packages.

Heli $$$$

Little compares to the access and variety of terrain a heli operation delivers. The ride comes at a premium, but generally includes gourmet food, snacks, lodging, and avalanche equipment. Start saving now.