Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Skiing Rogers Pass

The Wasatch has some great backcountry skiing, but Canada….Oh Canada!  The Columbia Mountains – which is the grand lot of the Selkirks, Monashees, Bugaboos, and probably a bunch of other major mountain ranges that I can’t even remember  -has many, many lifetimes’ worth of terrain,  a comparable intermountain snow pack, and it’s all BIG!  There are lots of great huts to fly into for ski touring, there are some great ski resorts, and of course there’s the famous heli skiing, but for approachable glorious day outings that are BIG there’s no place like Rogers Pass. 

My first time to Rogers was an eon or two ago when we had a bit of time after flying out of the Golden Alpine Holidays huts and we did a quick little tour up the awkwardly-named Illecillewaet Glacier, where I got my first taste of the Rogers bigness.  Mount Sir Donald looms high above...everything, including the road:
And while there aren't many/any ski lines off that (the left horizon is a long, exposed 5.4 route) the surrounding skiing is endless.  It took a few years to get back there, but around 2001 or so Ash and I spent a couple of weeks exploring the area, staying at the iconic - but pretty beat  -Best Western lodge that straddled the pass.  It was a sweet but strange deal:  you had to specify getting the "Skier's Special" when you checked in to get the $25/night rate (if you didn't say the magic words it was substantially more) and the rooms were pretty cheesy Best Western-like, and the food was famously bad, even by skid ski bum standards, but the ability to stumble outside and flop your skinned skis on the ground and march up the Connaught drainage to 3000 foot avy paths was worth every drawback.   And there was a bar, where Ash and I spent a memorable evening once talking with (yelling at the very deaf) Fred Beckey,  within site of one of the innumerable "Beckey" routes.  It was interesting to watch him hit on Ashley; his flirting seems to be as famous as his climbing!  

Since then the venerable Best Western has closed, and now the only lodging is in Revelstoke or Golden, 35 and 45 minutes away, respectively.  Supposedly some ambitious guy wants to try to revive it, but apparently it has literally given way to the harsh environment and any revitalization would start with razing the existing building then dealing with the complex rules of Glacier National Park.  So for now you gotta either drive up or stay at the nearby dreary Wheeler Hut or march for hours up to the beautiful Asulkan hut.  

Mike Elovitz and Greg Hanlon  -two good federal government employees who love to recreate hard on their prodigious taxpayer-subsidized vacation plans  -and I only had a few days to ski there before we met flew into the Ice Creek, but any days at Rogers are invariably great.  One of the hardest things to do once there is decide where to go; between the hugey terrain, the avy danger, the weather, the popularity, and the national park permit system it can be a bit overwhelming, but we were able to go up the very popular McGill Shoulder and go just a few mins farther than the rest of the gagglers through some unlikely-looking terrain 

And found some nice untracked turns
Everything's big in Canada, including the crazy snow Huffalumps!
The next day we were excited to reconnect with our old friend Russell The Love Muscle Lybarger.  Russ had been our guide at Golden Alpine Holidays 6 or 7 times, and is the consummate guide: safe, fun, super fit, super safe, remembers more jokes and old clients' names than anyone should be able to, plays a mean "Brown Eyed Girl" and "American Pie" on his guitar and mouth harp simultaneously, and his love for skiing and mountains is infectious.  Back in the day his influence almost - but not quite! - convinced me to quit a real job and become a ski guide.  For all our New England, Portland, and SLC friends who have had the great pleasure of skiing with Russ back in the day, know that he's still at it and lovin it!
We did a classic tour up the Asulkan drainage to Dome Peak for a coupla runs:

and then topped out on the col between the Dome Glacier and the Lily Glacier (we were accompanied by a few Italians who were sporting harnesses and ice screws; we weren't sure what pile of snow they were going to use those in!).  The entrance to the Lily involved a quick down-boot:
We probably shoulda skied it, but it was pretty bulletproof from windblasting
And then it was 400 feet of goodness that loomed below:
the good Dr Mike layin down the line
Greg given'er near some cool cliff bands looming above
resting burning quads
Our grand weather did not hold for the next day, however, and things got a bit foggy:

and damp:
Whodathunk we'd need skin wax in Canada in mid-February?  
Snowpacks don't much like rapid change, and with temps soaring above freezing and plenty of "precip" happening we ended up with a forced rest day in damp Revelstoke:
So it goes!  
We then headed back south to meet the gang for the next stage of the adventure, taking a cool ferry along the way:

It had been long enough since I'd been at Rogers that the details of my memory were a little fuzzy and I've had the good fortune to ski plenty of good big terrain since I was last there, but this trip was a good reminder that regardless of many other great ski options in BC, Rogers Pass still rules!  Thanks again to Russ for making the time to meet up with a few old time clients, and if you ever need anyone to help you navigate the hugeness of Rogers or a sweet place to stay let me know and I'll put you in touch with him.  And thanks to Greg for taking some of the nice pics above.  

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