“You should have been here yesterday” is as chilling a statement as any for a skier. Dedicating time and money to traveling somewhere new and exciting, only to be skunked by mere hours is a painful position to find yourself in. On the flip side, “Your timing is perfect”, is music to the ears. Last week, on a ski trip to Northern BC, it was nice to hear the latter statement.
Not only was the timing impeccable, the location was spot-on. New mountains to us all; the ease of access, the plentiful snow, amazing terrain and welcoming locals had us amazed at every turn. It was an amalgamation of ingredients so perfect, so quintessential that it seemed almost surreal to experience, especially considering the lack of winter conditions in most other parts of BC.
“We have about a 20% chance of landing”, our pilot intones over the intercom as we buckle ourselves into the seats of a small plane in Vancouver. Given the current weather, and the forecast, this isn’t exactly surprising, but still one passenger opts to stay behind and have their luggage unloaded. My two travel buddies and I, faced with either the unseasonably warm weather on the South Coast or the small chance of touching down amongst a cold rager of a snowstorm in Terrace, BC, decide to remain in our seats, made nervous by the odds of landing but still feeling optimistic.
With snow whipping by the windows and crosswinds violently buffeting the plane, we finally land at the Terrace airport, our optimism intact. The plane’s landing gear plows through fresh powder as we taxi up to the gate, our white knuckles un-clenching from the armrests. An attendant creates a path to the plane with a snow-blower, and we enter the maelstrom. Driving into town we witness a desolate scene; snow drifting on empty streets, houses dark from a power outage, not a soul in sight. We make our way to the local bar, and after battling through the rapidly accumulating snow, we enter a warm and vibrant interior. The power is on here, and all the locals are piled inside, drinking beer and anticipating the next day. “We’re going to grab our sleds and pull a Mainer!” a slightly intoxicated keener tells us, stumbling outside into the storm.
Morning arrives, and the day is a blur of deep moments. Blinding faceshots, hoots and hollers from deep in the trees, the sheer joy of releasing pent up energy after a dismal season on the home mountains. The backdrop for this sudden release of stoke is a steady, relentless snowfall: muffling sounds, blanketing our surroundings, and filling in tracks as fast as we can ski them.
The storm eventually abates, bringing with it glimpses into the backcountry. We timidly enter the hallowed grounds around the small resort of Shames, surprised and slightly intimidated by the ease of access into very real, in-your-face mountains. Over a metre of fresh snow blankets these peaks, creating a fresh canvas in all directions. We slowly and cautiously make our first marks on this landscape, tentative exploration into the powerful Coast Mountains.
We leave Terrace for a day, intent on visiting the Hankin Evelyn backcountry area near Smithers. A gripping drive up the unplowed logging road access takes us into a backcountry skier’s paradise. This government-designated recreation area features a warming hut, cut runs through the thick coastal forests, and inspiring alpine ridges towering over our treeline objectives. Cobe, a close friend, his dad having developed this area, guides us to the goods. Breaking through the treeline, he points out a steep chute that his 65 year-old mom skied the spring prior, sheepishly admitting that he hadn’t been up to ski it yet. We bounce down the cut runs, group-skiing every lap, laughing hysterically all the way.
Back in the Shames backcountry, our confidence builds in the conditions. The setting is sublime: perfect pow on every aspect, very little wind effect, and a confidence-inspiring snowpack. All of a sudden it seems like everything has aligned in our favour. We indulge. Airy ridgewalks lead to sun-lit alpine bowls steep alleyways in the trees. For every run we ski, I see ten more dream lines beckoning.
While the skiing is a big part of the experience, the locals make this trip what it is. They’re real people with real love for their surroundings. They’re all here for a reason, and it shows. Every afternoon is a reason for celebration back at the ski lodge, where drinks are poured and stories told. These people care about their little ski resorts, their vast backyards. Parents trade kid duties while escaping for quick slackcountry laps, businesses abide by the 20cm rule. The touring community is tight, and friends are identified from across valleys by their ski style, or particular up-track. We meet new friends, like Don, who spent two solo days driving up from Squamish, all to nail the timing as perfectly as us. We re-acquaint with old friends too, like Hatha, who I grew up skiing with but hadn’t seen in many years. He treats us like family, welcoming us into his home and guiding us to the goods. These mountains bring people together.
Back in Terrace we eat wild game, drink the local brewery beer, and dig out from the blizzard. We feel amazingly lucky to have experienced this storm, and reaped the rewards. We’ll head back to the warmer south, where it’s all about last minute decisions, and rushing to seize the moment. Up in Northern BC, it’s not about “being here yesterday”. It’s about being present every day, soaking it all in, and knowing that the timing always works out.