Words: Darryl Hunt
Photos: Darryl Hunt (and Mike Wigley where specified)
While the skiing in the Kootenays in BC haven't been bad by any means, a lack of big storm cycles since mid December has made some of us feeling a little trapped in the usual routine of trying to find good snow in zones we, for the most part, already knew. My friend Wigley found out about a backcountry festival going on at Mount Cain on Vancouver Island and after a few phone calls and some rushed last minute planning we had a crew of 4 ready to head out on a road trip to unknown territory. Wednesday night Jesse, Wigley, and Luke (ShredMasterPlus on NS) drove from Rossland, Calgary and Lake Louise to my house in Revelstoke for last minute planning, packing, and wings and beers at the local pub.
Not even the hangover from the previous nights beers could keep us from waking up early, packing the car and starting the drive to the coast. Somehow we fit 4 people, 4 pairs of skis, 2 snowboards, and winter camping gear in my Subaru Legacy and we were off to catch the ferry over to Vancouver Island. After a very pleasant drive we arrived to warm temperatures and blue skies - which would be the trend for the next few days our our trip.
Looking north up Howe Sound towards Squamish while taking the ferry across to Vancouver Island. This was the first time I was on 'the island' in the winter. Stoke was high for sure.
Once we docked in Nanaimo we drove down the road and took another ferry over to a smaller island called Gabriola where we were to spend the night at Jesse's friend Quill's house. Within minutes of us being on Gabriola we were down at the docks with our friend Mitch who also lives on the island heading out into the night on a boat looking for a prawn trap. The boat was only big enough for Jesse and Mitch, leaving Luke, Wigley and I on the dock to drink beer and look at the stars. Armed with only head lamps and a rough guess as to where he left the trap they failed in the search but any time hanging out by/on the ocean is good times.
Searching for a small orange ball in the ocean at night, yeah - that'll work.
Friday morning we woke up early with the goal of skiing an abandoned ski area on route to Mount Cain. Just south of Mount Washington there is an abandoned ski area (one of 3 on Vancouver Island) called Forbidden Plateau. Instead of just spending Friday driving, we were itching to get a ski in and thought it would be a great opportunity to check this place out.
Token skinning up shot at the base of Forbidden Plateau starring Luke.
Old chair lifts and decrepit buildings. Just part of the mystique of a ski hill that's been shut down for 14 years.
Skinning up to the top of the old ski hill. The place is small and mellow. Combine a low snowpack over it's final years of operation, having to compete with Mount Washington, and structural problems near the end, it's no wonder the place shut down. Even though it's been closed for some time it is still very much a skiing destination for residents of the area as a popular ski touring area. On top of that, every year there is a snowboard camp in the spring with jumps, rails, coaching and good times.
A look north towards Mount Washington, the heart of skiing on Vancouver Island. The past few years they have had enough snow to keep skiing into June. One of the very few places in the world that can rival Baker when it comes to snowfall and base.
Wigley with the ocean in the background. It's a very weird experience going from shorts weather down by the ocean to a 3 metre snowpack within 20 minutes. For those who like to ski, yet hate winter, this place could be right up your alley.
While there is some 'real' ski terrain an hour or so skin behind the abandoned ski area we were pressed for time due to our plans to keep driving up island to Cain in the afternoon meaning we had to keep things local. We found this little ridge with some cliffs and pillows and milked it for a few hours before heading down to the car and continuing our trip. Wigley here is hitting a hip/pillow type thing. Mini Golf? More like Micro Golf. Fun times none the less.
After getting last minute supplies in Campbell River we headed north to Cain. This place is about as back woods as your can get for a ski area. The northern half of Vancouver Island is pretty much unpopulated, with Cain being a good 2 hour drive from Campbell River. The closest 'town' to Cain is Woss (population 200), with Cain itself 25km or so up a sketchy logging road.
Because of the remote location of Mount Cain, camping in the parking lot is the norm. This was our living arrangement for the weekend - right at the base of the t-bar. Not too shabby.
Mount Cain is only open on the weekend, but due to the amount of snow they get and how chill the place is, you will often find people camped out up here all week living in the parking lot and ski touring. They only plow the roads on the weekend so if you decide to come up for a day or touring mid week and it snows enough, you very well could be stuck up there till Friday comes around. All of these factors equal one thing: True ski bum culture. I've been a lot of places in North America and this place is the most genuine ski bum culture I have come across. Positive vibes, little in the form of rules and regulations, off the grid, skiing. Simple really.
Over the next two days we skied the slackcountry that Cain had to offer with blue bird skies and hot sun. While the sun destroyed any snow it touched, we did manage to find some short, steep, north faces that kept good snow, and for some odd reason - remained untouched for the whole weekend. By the end of the weekend, the only lines in the zone were ours. We weren't complaining.
Luke getting first tracks down "Death Chute". Most confusing name for a chute ever, considering how little consequence there actually was.
Luke again on a short shot just up from Death Chute with my tracks on the right.
Wigley getting himself a little exposed over a fair sized cliff.
Luke and some random dude boot packing up Mount Cain peak to hit a chute off the backside.
Wigley popping off a pillow
Aplenglow on Mt. Able from the parking lot.
The sunset on Saturday was one of the more beautiful sunsets I have seen all winter. As I mentioned earlier, there was a backcountry festival doing on during the weekend we were there. While I have been to backcountry festivals in the past, they really know how to do it right at Cain. On top of your typical backcountry festival stuff (meeting new people, touring, being festive, raffles, etc...), the guys at Cain decided to make a multi-leveled dance floor, dj stage, and big fire pit, made 100% out of snow. With 4 DJ's willing to play till morning, things got loose in the old growth rain forest that night.
The ski touring on Sunday was a little blurry to say the least.
Our crew hanging out at the 'golf course' on top of Cain after last chair of Sunday before dropping in for our final run on Vancouver Island.
Once Monday rolled around we packed up and headed off to our next destination of the trip: Duffy Lake, with a quick stop off in Whistler. An old frind of mine, Dave Pauls (OG NS member Ducttapeboy), was on a bit of a vacation in Whistler and let me crash at his fancy hotel room in the Village for the night. Maybe if we were younger and/or more hip I'd have pictures of us hitting the clubs and, you know, being cool and what not. That didn't happen though so deal with it. Tuesday morning we woke up and headed north out of town to Duffy Lake area which is the northern half of the 'Sea to Sky' Highway north of Pemberton. Our mission was to skin into a hut for three nights and do some ski touring (surprise, surprise).
Getting everything packed for our hut trip.
With minimal knowledge of the area, we headed up to the "Keith's Hut" which we heard can turn into quite the gong show to see what we can get done. After a super easy approach we found the hut no problems, and found it empty which was a nice surprise and dumped our heavy packs before heading off to check out what the mountains have to offer.
The Keith's Hut. The solar powered interior lights were a very nice treat, and overall the hut was much nicer than any of us had anticipated for a none reservation style hut. We were very much impressed.
Since none of us really knew anything about the area we relied on what we could see and seeing what's around 'the next corner' as far as what we could/should ski. We also didn't know the names of any of the runs (besides the main classic descents in the area) so we said 'fuck it' and started naming the things we skied as we skied them. I'm sure the runs we skied have names, so if you recognize anything and know the real name, feel free to correct me.
We dubbed this zone "The Playground". It was super close to the hut and started with fun alpine ridges and rolls before dropping into a steeper tree'd zone with cliffs, pillows, and gullies. Super playful and fast laps. I think we skied this face 6 times during our time there, always finding new stuff to play on each run.
Jesse getting some air in "The Playground".
Luke looking into "The Playground" in the late afternoon.
Me about to hit a pillow line in "The Playground".
(Image by Wigley)
Me hitting said pillow line.
(Image by Wigley)
Jesse getting his slash on on the upper flanks of "The Playground".
Some fun short chutes into a bowl off a ridge of Vantage Peak. We called this run "The One's and Two's"
Me straight lining the "One's"
(Image by Wigley)
Jesse following me down the "One's"
We came across this zone on Mount Cheif Pascal by accident while trying to get to a chute that turned out to be sun fucked and wind blasted. Everything worked out in the end though as this face had ridges, chutes, cliffs, pillows, and all that good stuff that makes skiing so fun. We decided to call it "Easy Stylin'"
Jesse following my boot pack up to the top of "Easy Stylin'".
Luke coming out of a small chute at the top of "Easy Stylin'".
Looking across to Vantage Peak in the late afternoon before dropping into "Divided Highway"
Our new friend Jeff (from Salt Lake City) coming out the bottom of "Divided Highway". One of the widest couloirs I have been in.
Getting our skin on.
(Image by Wigley)
Looking up to the top of Anniversary Glacier at sunset from the hut. The "Dinner Run" is in the foreground coming off the ridge on the right. This run was a super quick lap and brought us right back to the hut so we made a habit of finishing off every day with a quick run down the trees and around the cliff band to the hut before having dinner.
By the time Friday rolled around we were all feeling pretty tired, but Wigley and Jesse had one last mission on their mind - sunrise mission up the face of Joffre Peak above the hut. While I would have loved to join them, I just didn't think I'd have the energy to do the run, ski back to the car and drive the 6+ hours to Revy that day. They left the hut at around 5:30am and started skinning up the ridge to the face above.
Pre sunrise before the bootpack up the face.
(Image by Wigley)
Let the bootpacking begin.
(Image by Wigley)
The sun pokes his head up from behind the mountains to warm things up a little.
(Image by Wigley)
This is about the time I crawled out of bed to see how their progress was.
Sunrise on Joffre from the hut.
Jesse and Wigley are about halfway up the face.
a shitty quality video of the two of them skiing the face in the morning light. Not a bad way to end the trip I must say.
Overall, the trip was a great success and the celebratory burgers and beers when we got to Kamloops was straight up delicious. I am back home in Revelstoke now wondering what to do for my next adventure. Luckily it's snowing out, so I will just have to go ski Rogers Pass for now until the answer comes to me. Until next time!