Wednesday, 15 February 2012

White Gold....


I found myself wondering the other day what it had felt like the first time I travelled the length of the Sea-to-Sky Hwy from Vancouver to Squamish. For the last two years I have driven this highway almost everyday as I travel from my home in Squamish, to the city of Vancouver for work. The highway, not short on grand vistas, traverses the slopes of the Coast Mountains as they cascade in green sweeps down to the Pacific Ocean. Tourist buses lean precariously to the ocean view side of the bus as awestruck tourists press their faces against the windows unable to take their eyes from the scene before them.

The Tantalus Range. Rich's photo

The first few times I experienced the grandeur of sea rising to mountain on this highway, I too was absolutely flabbergasted. A small town girl from southern Ontario I had just never had the occasion to experience nature on such a scale. I continue to be amazed as I drive this highway in late evening alpenglow, or through misty sunrises, but I just don’t have that same sense of amazement at what I am experiencing. I crave this feeling of wonderment. It is, in a way, a natural high for me. I thrive off of it, and perhaps this is why I am so drawn to climbing, and life in the mountains.

It was in the winter of 2006 that I discovered that “thing” that would deliver the high I sought, again, and again, and again – skiing! For me, skiing, and particularly skiing outside of the safe boundaries of a resort, leaves me shrieking with joy every time.
Rich's photo
As a transplanted Ontarian my “love” of winter, was just not that, it was deep seeded disdain. Before experiencing my first taste of snowy powder, I had only horrid memories of waking at 5:30 am in -20 c temperatures to start my car a good half hour before I actually had to be on the road to work. Failing to do so was certain to result in near hypothermia while driving.

I distinctly remember telling friends and acquaintances as I was preparing to move to British Columbia that I was, “jumping ship, and heading to Lotusland, where winter didn’t happen”. But two years into moving west I could no longer deny that fact that a few short kilometers away from the city, winter was indeed happening in a big way, and it was time I tried skiing.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, my first ski experience wasn’t confined to the safety of a ski lesson at a reputable ski resort, it was in the "backcountry" where no chair lifts exist. In this magical place referred to as the "backcountry" every 400 metres of glorious ski down, requires a solid hour of upward sloggingto arrive at the top, but every run is perfectly untouched snow. That first day in the mountains, in winter, would change my life forever. I felt so small skiing into the mountains that day. The blue of the sky was so blue, the white of the snow so white. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
It is difficult to explain to someone who has never had the experience of being two, maybe three, small people kilometers from any other human being, nothing but white silence surrounds you.

As my appetite for skiing grew, so too did my circle of “skier” friends. I share a very special bond with these people, and there is little better than a day in the mountains, clear blue skies, and in the company of your dearest ski buddies. I smile every time I think the sound of their yips of delight echoing off the surrounding mountains, while they ski sweeping lines of untouched powder of the summit of some unnamed peak lost among the myriad of other Coast Mountain summits. Sharing a bite to eat on the summit, while picking out what line to ski next is one of my favorite feelings, and piling into the car, exhausted at the end of a huge day, everyone giddy over the 500 vertical metres of perfect powder we just skied brings a smile to my face just to type this sentence.


This winter, like the 4 before, has been no different, by the time Friday rolls around, I’m frothing at the mouth to get out into the mountains, and every weekend is taken with plans for skiing. This winter will be a little different though; I’ve just bought my first pair of fat skis and super burly boots. I’m determined to master steep skiing this year, or at least make a healthy start at it. The North face of Fitzsimons, North couloir of Fissile, Aussie couloir,  North West face of Mt. Matier, these are all on my tick list. Whether I get there or not remains to be seen, but I sure want to try.

It has unfortunately been a slow start to the season with a big dumping in November, then a very dry December/January, but I’ve managed to get out almost as many weekends as I’ve been in the country. Below are some photos of my ski hero's, favorite ski memories, and a selection of photos from some of this seasons ski adventures. I hope you enjoy…

Lena Rowat, one of my ski hero's! In 2001 Lena, along with Guy Edwards, John Miller, Vance Culbert, and a few others, traversed on skis some 2000 km's from Vancouver to Skagway, AK. Lena is always having fun in the mountains, and this photo, taken by my friend Rich, pretty much sums her up; bright colours, big smile, and rippin'. 
Ski hero no. 2; Jacqui Hudson shredding on Steep Pk. Like Lena, Jacqui has her own history of ski radness, and in 2002 along with Lena and 2 others, skied from the Pacific Ocean into the St. Elias Mountains of British Columbia and over the south summit of Mt. Logan, Canada's highest mountain. Jer's photo
 Here Jacqui skis up the shoulder of Mt. Joffre with Vantage Peak lost in the mist behind. In those early days I was the grasshopper, she was the sensei.
Sarah, Ned, and Joel scouting the next line from the summit of Mt. Cassiope. Rich's photo.
Look at all those S's. Lapping the open slopes -- with this much space, everyone gets fresh tracks.
Late October on the south coast is considered "shoulder" season by many. The term refers to the fact that for roughly a month long period between Oct-Nov you're in between sports. For me, it's too wet to rock climb in Squamish anymore, and there's not enough snow in the mountains to start skiing. It's become a shoulder season ritual now to head to the Pebble Creek hot springs a couple times during this dull period. Below is a shot of the crew enjoying a hot soak as freezing levels FINALLY begin to fall, and the snow sticks. 

The crew in a boiling hot pool, right next to the freezing cold Lillooet River. Eric's photo
One of the first days out on skis during the 2011/12 season was to Mt. Sproatt. Just across the valley from Whistler, it's easy access, and on this day in particular, conditions were perfect!


Ah, coastal skiing. The ski slope, and the ocean!
Next adventure was to Steep Creek. Things were still pretty bony at this point and we ended up having to boot pack to the summit proper in very sketch sugar snow on loose talus. After some sun bathing we skied a long line NE off the summit. 
Joel's photo 
Ned, Regan, Sarah, Davey, and Joel on the summit. Joel's photo
The following weekend we were back at it, this time to ski Snowspider Pk. We left the car at the Cerise Creek parking lot at 10:00 pm, and arrived at Keith's Hut sometime around midnight, then at the crack of dawn on Saturday hightailed it to Snowspider Hut, my favourite hut on the coast. Our plan was to ski off the summit of Snowspider Pk. on Sunday. Unfortunately, conditions were still sparse and our Sunday summit attempt was denied again by sugar snow on the final boot pack to the summit.

A huge hoar frost crystal during the skin into Snowspider Hut. Davey's photo

Our little piece of paradise, the Snowspider Hut. Davey's photo
The lemmings. Davey's photo
Sarah on the boot pack to ski Heart Strings. We lapped it twice on this particular day. Conditions were radical. Rich's photo
There's a story behind this one! Rich, holding the sandwich, is a part of the Alpine Sandwich Club.
I most recently skied the NE Face of Vantage Pk., and a fun little couloir off the NE shoulder of Joffre, in the company of my boyfriend, Colin, and my two most faithful ski buddies, Davey and Regan.
Colin on the summit of Vantage Pk, getting ready to ski the NE face with Mt. Howard in behind.
Regan booting up to the summit of Vantage Pk.
Davey looking oh so core with Mt. Howard in behind.
















2 comments:

  1. YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

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  2. Sarahhhhhh, Holy Sheep Sh*t girl! What a great blog! I love the photos and the stories. I am so jealous of the snow you are experiencing this season.Thank you for letting me peek into your life. (BTW, this is Francine). Be safe, and keep on keeping on.

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