Well it seems like winter has finally started to shape up; I managed some time off of work, it was starting to snow and we had Trophy Mountain Chalet booked for a heap of fun and skiing in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The setup at Trophy is spectacular and our man Ian, (who’s an old-school bad-ass and runs Wells Gray Adventures,) and met us early on a frosty February morning in Clearwater before leading us to his magnificent 1962 Tucker Sno-Cat… magnificent in the sense that it actually still runs (with the help of a propane torch and some TLC/duct tape/bailing wire) and grumbled us up the 11 km of logging road to the trailhead.
The beginning of our week was the tail end of the widespread pow-depression that afflicted much of BC in early 2014 and allowed incredible vistas and reconnaissance of the surrounding peaks. The Trophy Mountain complex is tucked away to the North and Raft looming in your face from nearly every window in the hut just to the South. The hut itself is setup with propane heaters, stove, oven, lights and, more importantly, sauna, and comes with all kinds of luxurious hut accessories like blankets, sleeping mats and crocs/boots. Leaving the trailhead, I heaved a huge pack onto my back, briefly cursed the 18 beer and bottle of Auchentoshan I packed earlier in the day, and started climbing the last 2 km up to the Chalet. After a long drive, a slow -20 deg start, some hassles with the 50+ year old Sno-Cat, and a gruelling 1.5 hour climb to the chalet, we made it up just in time for some refreshing beverages and a final push up Cabin Hill to take in the first of many epic alpine sunsets.
The next few days slowly warmed but didn’t offer much in the way of fresh precipitation, a welcome weather pattern as it allowed the abrasive sun-and-wind-mega-crust time to soften and prepare for the eventual onslaught of snow… Still, we managed to scope out some highly variable wind-loaded features and bag some of the smaller surrounding peaks to get a lay for the land and a better idea of where the snow was – tucked away on the Northeast aspects of Terminator and Ptarmigan Ridges. My friend Bret (of last season’s PhAtwell mission) was a welcome last minute addition to the crew for the first three days as he had skied as much this year as the other 10 of us combined and was happy to stomp in aggressive skin tracks up the surrounding slopes. We spent these first cold days exploring terrain and ended up in some interesting situations (Grundlesmuggler’s Notch and the Vinegar Ice Bridge come to mind) but everyone was having fun and the nightly sauna was there to scrub away the pain (whilst adding new pain) upon arrival back home. Yes, two days in and the hut is now home.
Sometime early in the week (days of the week are easily forgotten in the mountains) the weather pattern finally changed and Ian informed us over the radio of a series of imminent incoming pacific frontal systems. We braced for impact and mentally prepared ourselves with a rigorous regime of beer and saunas so when the snow came we pounced with equal amounts enthusiasm and caution. The wind that brought the snow was moving it around constantly and there were abundant pockets of windslab, wind scour and soft and deep wind deposits. We searched out the deposits and did our best to safely ski cut before smashing them apart with as many runs as possible (all in the name of avalanche control, of course). This started an unbelievable sequence of heavy storming all night, followed by clearing and blue skies during the day and capped by vivid sunsets and the onslaught of more snow into the evening.
With a perfect weather routine, we entered a Groundhog Day-like vortex of relentless pow shredding, drinking, saunas and full slope resets every night, waking the next day to repeat until we could barely stand. I lost track of how many lines we skied on Ptarmigan Ridge and how many sandwiches were eaten on Lunch Lake, but like the days of the week, the actual number is meaningless. The only relevant measure of the fun had by all was the face-cramping smiles and the jittering, adrenaline-fueled high fives at the bottom of each bottomless pow run before collapsing into the snow for transition.
Going through these photos and writing these words, I remember with a smiling heart the wool suit I donned each evening (thanks Granted!), the delicious meals (thanks everyone!) and the floating sensation that makes my face ache with the memory of a huge powder-eating grin. I’m already planning the next trip, relaxed with a sublime happiness knowing that I’ll get to see Ian and his Tucker again, and will have another chance to ski the crap out of any and every snowflake we can find in the mountains of Wells Gray Provincial Park.