Department Of The Interior

Infiltrating a North American powder refuge along the B.C./Alberta border.

By Jennifer Sherowski

How many liftlines will you have to wait through in life before you’re “over it”? How many ticket checkers can you sneak by without a pass before you get busted? How many ugly, icy, mogul-ridden runs do you have to make it down before the purity of that one thing you thought you’d love forever is spoiled like last season’s spring gloves? If you’re in southeastern British Columbia, the answer is—none.

In deep Winter 2003, TransWorld infiltrated the United States’ northern border for a ten-day mission around the area known as “The Interior.” Tyler Lepore, David Aubry, and Scott Shaw were on stunt duty. Mark Gallup was snapping pictures. I was scribbling notes. And while you couldn’t really apply the term “bluebird” to any of the weather scenarios we experienced, I can tell you one thing—we didn’t stand in one liftline. Nope, it was all empty streets, sleds, cats, and armpit-deep powder.

Breathe, Deeply

The Interior is famous for an epic backcountry and cold conditions—including weeks without blue sky. Unfortunately, after February of 2003 it’s also infamous for killer avalanches—this is the same regional zone that claimed the lives of seven experienced outdoorsmen (including the legendary Craig Kelly), as well as seven high school students on a wilderness trip.

Although we’d been planning a journey to the spot for months in advance, these deaths cast a definite shadow on our trip scheduled for just three weeks after the avalanches. Suddenly, stability became a huge concern, and riders who’d been locked in since December opted out. But after a few reassuring phone calls from Mark Gallup (who virtually grew up shooting the area), a revamped crew of riders and I headed north. Luckily, everyone packed their powder snorkels.

Chatter Creek

A few clicks outside the town of Golden sits a little lodge called Chatter Creek with some of the sickest snowcat-accessed terrain around. Paying customers heli miles into the Canadian Rockies for three or four days of wining, dining, and untracked snow. The lodge itself was built by the people who run it, a handful of ex-loggers who decided this was the perfect place for a cat operation—and they were the perfect people to make it happen. Establishments like this are sprinkled all around interior Canada, and they’re brilliant.

We woke up the first morning to the sound of avalanche bombs and wasted no time hopping on our sleds to go run around in the powder. F—king snowboarding, this was it! You, your board, the few yards of visibility before things disappeared into the storm. A couple times when we were riding down—popping off gobs of whiteness and sucking in gun smoke with every face shot—the trees would open up, and suddenly there we’d all be, riding through it together, spontaneous and magic. One of Chatter Creek’s cat drivers who relentlessly shuttled us around and laughed at our snow-caked faces said he hadn’t ridden a resort in two years. Think about that—all powder, all the time.

The next day it wasn’t snowing, instead just a cold that takes your breath away—one that’s only possible deep in the mountains, deep in the wintertime. We had a snowcat at our disposal and Dale, one of the owners, to pilot it for us. He was great, running all over the Chatter Creek terrain building jump takeoffs. We could barely catch up to tell him we needed landings, too (seriously, the first jump he built was a launcher straight into the trees).

Later that afternoon it got even colder—which we didn’t think possible. Any warmth the milky daylight might’ve gerated was sucked out the top with the disappearing sun. The boys were highmarking on their sleds, only to have their smiles frozen into painful grimaces from getting hit in the face with snow. Dale took us up for a final run that was more like punishment than anything else—it was so frigid and windy, all you could do was shrink into your skeletal structure and wait for it to end. In fact, the skin on David’s nose froze into a little white lump on the way down, causing him to wear his beanie as an elephant-trunk-like facemask for the rest of the trip.

Coordinates

Small, redneck towns throughout Canada foster a delicate symbiosis between suspender- and flannel-shirt-wearing hicks and new-age hippies. In the tiniest logging encampments you’ll find co-ops and health-food restaurants side by side with Arctic Cat dealerships and lumberyards. This made for both good food and good snowmobiling the entire trip.

We got a sense of the lay of the land by driving from Revelstoke to Nelson, a winding little excursion through big pines, lakes, and monster snowbanks. A local since the beginning of time, Gallup travels through the Interior like a blind man through his childhood home—by touch, smell, and memory. At every turn he had a new story about an epic campground he’d stayed at, a good restaurant, an amazing bike trail. We began to really feel like he owned the place—which was creepy.

Baldface

Heli time was 7:30 a.m. Everything felt loud, cramped, and rushed. Ken, the pilot, had a Tom Cruise-from-Top Gun haircut and seemed to take himself very seriously—it’s dangerous business, flying a helicopter. He gave us a briefing and ordered us around a bit; tensions were high as the blades started to spin, and suddenly we were lifting straight up and being battered through the rowdy wind on the way to our destination—Baldface Lodge.

Set deep in the Selkirk Mountains outside Nelson, Baldface is another little jewel of a snowcat operation. Craig Kelly was a guide here and is talked about almost like he’s still alive. Photos of him were hanging everywhere—it felt strange. Up on a ridgetop we did a beacon test with Kelly’s friend and longtime personal guide John Buffery (or “Buff” to friends), a wiry little man who was cautious but confident and seems to have a wisdom of the ages when it comes to the backcountry. In the midst of the transceiver search we came upon a simple wooden cross decorated with a pair of black Anon goggles. On it we deciphered a few handwritten dedications to Craig, including one from his mom. Silence settled in, and his death weighed heavily on us for a moment until a blast of wind snapped us out of it.

Then it was on to untapped terrain and the great white wide open. We surf-slashed. We gap-jumped. We tree-jibbed. We literally swam in powder. And later on, we had an amazing meal in downtown Nelson at a restaurant that boasted “free-range, biodegradable lettuce” (yeah, that pretty much sums up Nelson). These are the good things in life, and we’d had them all at once on every day of our trip. Don’t let anyone tell you Canadians don’t live it right, because they do.

Do It Yourself {sidebar}

Sometimes a few days of good meals and powder snorkeling are just what the doctor ordered. Get in touch with these people if you’re interested:

Chatter Creek Mountain Lodges

(250) 344-7199

catskiingbc.com

info@catskiingbc.com

Baldface Lodge

(250) 352-0006

baldface.net

info@baldface.net

Island Lake Lodge

1-888-422-8754

islandlakelodge.com

info@islandlakelodge.com

ONT>info@islandlakelodge.com