REVELSTOKE, B.C. - Snow in my mouth, flakes up my nostrils, crystals plastered to my goggles … I must have missed the snorkel advisory on the equipment list. It’s my first run on this fluffy paradise, and after a spectacular tumble, I’m already in way over my head — literally. Backcountry lesson No. 1: leaning on ski poles crossed in an X is the only way to rescue yourself after falling in waist-high fresh powder.
This is my attempt to introduce some Australian friends to alpine ski touring Canadian-style here at Sol Mountain Lodge in the Monashee Mountains. That means you earn your turns during four days in a remote wilderness known for its annual 18-metre accumulation of snow.
Sounds like heaven to most skiers.
And I’ve promised them comfort, too. No rustic (read, uncomfortable) lodges, igloo-like outhouses, frigid bucket showers or frosty dorm rooms at Sol Mountain. Here, we learn how the other half lives.
Sol Mountain Lodge is on a broad plateau at 1,920 metres, just south of Monashee Provincial Park in south-central British Columbia, strategically placed between tree line and alpine elevations with ski terrain ranging from valley bottoms at 1,299 metres to alpine summits at 2,599 metres.
Fresh off the helicopter and rewarded for completing avalanche beacon practice with a warming bowl of soup, we spend an afternoon gliding leisurely across snow-fluffed meadows, pumped for the first downhill powder run.
Left: Helicopter rides over the mountains is an exciting option. Right: Skiers leave their marks on the Monashee Mountain slopes.
Lodge owner and ski guide Aaron Cooperman, who shuffles gently uphill to a reggae beat hard-wired in his brain, leads us up to Mission Ridge and a wide-open, gladed tree run called Merlot.
Sweaty but exhilarated, we strip skins off skis and split snowboards, lock down heels and turn to face downhill to our secluded terrain park.
The afternoon has its ups and downs … skins on, skins off, heels up, heels down. Every rhythmic climb through the old growth spruce forest is a mindful meditation. We round out the afternoon dropping lines on Chardonnay, Shiraz and Premium Red, each an exhilarating, thigh-burning blast of whoops and hollers where there’s only one rule: Don’t cross another skier’s tracks … so everyone can look back and marvel at their artistry.
“We’ve got eight hours to sleep and eat,” bellows Aaron as the afternoon wears on. “The rest is for powder skiing. Let’s go. One more run.”
It’s dusk when we call it a day and shamble back across the meadow with the lights of the lodge a beacon under the stars. We’re longing for a shower and a glass of the real stuff whose names are given to the runs we’ve been shredding.
We leave our skis, boards and poles cooling in a snow bank, bang the snow off our boots and stroll in. The heat of the drying room envelops us. Our damp boots, backpacks and jackets are left to toast overnight while we head upstairs.
On the third floor, three shared bathrooms and showers service private bedrooms with mind-boggling views of surrounding peaks in the late afternoon.
Sure, you have to walk to the sauna, and yes, for the traditionalists there is a bucket shower, but it’s only steps away and the lodge provides boots.
There’s just enough time to stretch out weary muscles in the yoga room before we hit the bar to sample an impressive selection of B.C. wines and the best “appies” west of the Rockies. The favourite: anything with roasted garlic, home grown by Aaron’s wife Sabine.
Moments later, Aaron flashes by the window as his snowmobile circles the lodge, laying down a track for anyone keen on an after-dinner cross-country or snowshoe run.
Left(1&2): Well trained guides lead the ski adventurers.Right: Patti Lefkos is left with a frosty outlook.
Award-winning chef Ian Cowan whips up hearty three-course dinners, such as barbecued organic rack of lamb rolled in roasted pumpkin seeds with lemon parsley-infused couscous, or grilled bison rib eye steaks with celery root mashed potatoes and Mission Hill red wine sauce. My friends want gluten-free and my husband is a vegetarian, and that’s no problem.
After dinner we lounge by the fire swapping tales of epic runs. Others play board games, read, strum guitars or play cards until about 9:30 p.m. when we hobble upstairs to our cocoons of fluffy duvets, just made for dreams of perfect powder.
Mornings at Sol Mountain Lodge are all about reggae. Coffee and juice at 6:30 a.m. to Bob Marley’s One Love, yogurt, fruit and granola at 7 a.m. to Positive Vibration, then a hot entrée at 8 served up with I’ll Never Grow Old with Toots and the Maytals.
Somewhere around 7:45 a.m., Aaron cranks up the volume. “I know the rules. Must be time to get ready for some powder skiing,” I say.
“Not the rules, just the guidelines,” says Aaron with a boyish grin. You can tell he’s eager to get going as he heads downstairs to check on avalanche reports, while we pack sandwiches, fruit, raw veggies and Ian’s signature chocolate caramel energy bars before joining Aaron on the snow by 8:30 for the morning avalanche beacon check.
For the next three days we earn a lot of turns. Some of us try the fat powder skis Aaron has on hand. We marvel at the sensation of floating in deep snow and keep climbing back up to recapture the sensation of drift.
There’s easy access from the lodge to five distinct drainages which offer north-facing glades and trees that hold cold and dry snow long after storms have passed. The terrain is a mix of steep and moderate tree skiing, open glades, open alpine bowls and steep alpine chutes that are between 1,310-metre and 2,590-metre elevations.
Some groups stay relatively close to the lodge, returning by 2:30 p.m. for tea and a nap; others make the long trek to climb and ski Sol Mountain peak, returning after dark high from the views of Odin and Fosthall, the highest peaks around (not to mention the downhill rush).
The possibilities are endless. Snow conditions and personal fitness are the only restrictions in this vast pristine terrain.
On the last day on a wide-open moderate run called Crystal Vision, I cruise past Aaron, laughing at the smooth top-of-snow ride on the wide-under-foot rental Voile Drifter skis.
“You’ve got it now. Bob Marley on the way up and fats on the way down,” says Aaron.
Earning your turns is a challenging proposition — a serene slogfest on the way up, an exhilarating euphoria on the way down. But with a gourmet chef, a reggae beat, a comfy duvet and a bit of Sol, anyone can get the drift.
to get there, fly Westjet direct Toronto to Kelowna, rent a car for the hour and 15-minute drive past Vernon to Silver Star Mountain Resort. Or let the Vernon Airporter (250-542-7574) deliver you to the doorstep of one of the charming hotels or vacation homes in the magical gaslight-era themed village. Stay slopeside for a day or two of skiing to acclimatize to the West Coast powder and altitude increase. / For the Helicopter Staging, drive 45 minutes east of Vernon to Cherryville to meet the chopper or hop on a helicopter transfer right from Silver Star village with Arrow Helicopters. (250-837-6288). / The cost at Sol Mountain for a four night stay, guided and catered, including helicopter ride in to the lodge is $1,450 per person. For more information Sol Mountain Touring, go to www.solmountain.com
/ For information on British Columbia Backcountry Lodges go to www.backcountrylodgesofbc.com