Return to Powder Creek

Powder Creek Lodge panorama

View from the lodge helipad

A couple years ago, N surprised me with what was the Best. Gift. Ever. for this skier – a week long trip to Powder Creek Lodge, a backcountry lodge located in British Columbia.  It was a fantastic trip, and we both hoped we could do it again.  When one of the folks we met that week let us know that he was organizing a trip for this past January, we didn’t hesitate.

Skier in Powder Creek Drainage, Purcells

N found his backcountry legs pretty quickly

What was even better this time around was that my brother came along.  He’s become a backcountry skier – I’d like to think in part because of the many tales that N and I have recounted, but I can’t be sure – and since he had a significant birthday recently, he wanted to fete it in a significant way.  We all agreed that a week of backcountry skiing in Canada was significant.

Views from Powder Creek, Purcells, British Columbia

Views like this never get old.

Cue to this winter.  Or rather, non-winter.  We’d had no opportunities to backcountry ski prior to the trip, thanks to little precipitation at Lake Tahoe.  We were not alone, since many of the folks going on the trip were from Oregon, which had also seen little snow by January.    It meant excitement ran high, even if ski fitness ran low.

powder creek lodge sunset views

The views from the lodge weren’t too shabby either

Our timing was perfect this year.  While our helicopter flight in was delayed a few hours due to weather, and while said flight in was much bumpier than I would have preferred, we got into the lodge on arrival day just before the real weather moved in, leaving us with over 3 feet of new snow in the first two days.

Skiers climbing up slope

Ridiculously beautiful scenery made the uphill part less painful

One of the many things I love about Powder Creek Lodge is the location.  It’s situated at 7000 feet, just above treeline.  There are low angle slopes in the trees, along with a variety of slopes in the alpine, ranging from wide open gentle slopes to steeper chutes.  So we had ample options even when avalanche danger was high.  It meant we skied 5-6 hours a day in search of untracked snow, which wasn’t hard to find.

Throw in running water, solar electricity, hot showers and a sauna, a full kitchen (we were self-catered, so this was important), stunning views and comfortable beds, and you can understand why Powder Creek Lodge is my perfect vacation.  I’m pretty sure it became my brother’s as well, as he had a big grin the whole time – especially when he got turns like this.

Powder Creek powder skier

Living up to the name at Powder Creek.

Overall it was another great week.  The group got along well, and had no real gear issues or injuries outside of some colorful blisters.  And we found out later that it didn’t snow again there for another two weeks.  Confirming that our timing could not have been more perfect.

If You Go

Powder Creek Lodge – This popular alpine style ski lodge offers both catered and self-catered options.  Plan to book out a year in advance at a minimum.

Getting there – From Spokane it’s approximately a 3 hour drive to Nelson, where Powder Creek Lodge’s helicopter transportation is located.   There is a shuttle service that goes from Spokane to Nelson if you don’t want to rent a car.

Hume Hotel – This recently renovated historic hotel in central Nelson is my favorite place to stay.

Mountain Hound Inn – These affordable accommodations are located on Nelson’s main drag, and the combination of location and price make it popular with skiers.

The Outer Clove – Groovy garlic themed restaurant with a pretty extensive menu and the ability to accommodate a large group makes it our go-to spot for dinner before we leave for Powder Creek.   Two words – quasar burger.

Oso Negro Coffee – Nelson’s best coffee roaster and café.  Your lodge mates will love you if you bring a pound or so of their beans with you.

Full Circle Café – Tasty breakfasts, and the fact that it opens at 6.30 am makes it a great option if you have to be at the helipad at 8 am.

Fresh Tracks Café – Located at Whitewater Ski Resort, it’s got an amazingly diverse menu (my favorite is the yam poutine with miso mushroom gravy).  Perfect place for lunch on your way back home (assuming you’re not taking the shuttle).  Also worth exploring if you have an extra day to ski or ride before or after your trip.

Ski Safari, Part 4: Revelstoke

Missed Part 1, 2 or 3?

Revelstoke

Big views & big vertical

The Whitewater to Revelstoke leg of the trip was one of the longer drives, involving high mountain roads, beautiful scenery, some snow, and a ferry crossing.  That was my favorite part of the drive, and not just because it was free.

We arrived in Revelstoke along with the snow, which resulted in our second official powder day of the trip.  New snow + 5620 feet of vertical + high speed chairlifts meant that we quickly racked up vertical, along with face shots and grins.  Revelstoke’s terrain includes some fun hiking, a ton of trees, and sustained steeps.  That there was nothing resembling a lift line during our two days was further reason to love the place.

In its current incarnation, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is a new ski resort, only opened in 2007.  Admittedly there was another smaller ski resort and a cat ski operation before that, so it’s not like skiing is new here.  But it doesn’t come across as your typical destination ski resort.  There’s no lodge around every corner, and not everything is groomed to perfection.    Like Red and Whitewater, this is a skier’s mountain.  And like those two resorts, there are a lot of people that drive up the Powder Highway to hit them all.  We saw a few of the same people at the three resorts doing just what we did.   So clearly this Powder Highway thing has caught on.

After two days of powder, steeps and trees, it was time to start the journey south.  Our next stop was Bellingham to visit family and ski Mt. Baker.  Having visited Bellingham numerous times over the past 4 years, I had never skied there, so I was super excited.

Coming up: Mt. Baker

Ski Safari, Part 3: Whitewater

Snow ghost trees

Snow ghosts at Whitewater

Missed Part 1 or Part 2?

When you’re on a ski safari, it’s as much about the driving as it is the skiing.  Getting from Red Mountain to Nelson, the closest town to Whitewater Ski Resort, was one of the shortest driving legs of the trip, a little over an hour.  Our route took us through Trail B.C., which was the location of the JP Auclair’s creative urban ski segment in Sherpa Cinemas All.I.Can.

Nelson is a town I spent just enough time in last year to want to go back.  It has many of the things I seek in a ski town – great coffee (Oso Negro), lots of ski shops, and a number of interesting restaurants.  Oh, and a ski resort just outside of town, one known for great powder and great backcountry access.  Win-win-win-win!

Just our luck we arrived in Nelson on the eve of a holiday – Family Day. It’s a new holiday for British Columbia, but new or not, local citizens took it very seriously.  As such, all stores, including most restaurants, were closed, outside of the one located at the Hume Hotel, where we were staying (the newer rooms have great beds & groovy decor).   Americans, particularly those of us living in resort towns, might learn from this example.

I was eager to ski Whitewater, as much to explore the terrain as to enjoy another awesome lunch.  Our timing meant mid-week ‘crowds’ and a cloud layer up high, the latter which kept us gravitating towards the trees, and the former meaning there were not many people besides us in said trees.

Endless vertical

Endless vertical

Like Red Mountain, Whitewater doesn’t have a whole bunch of lifts, and ZERO high-speed quads.  But its geography means that the two lifts we rode accessed a lot of fun (and steep) terrain.  By lunchtime I had worked up an appetite, and since I had eaten well the last time we were here, I was looking forward to lunch.  Whitewater’s Café is still as interesting and delicious as I remembered.  We split an order of vegetarian poutine with yam fries that I was still talking about the next day.   Were we not on a schedule to get to Revelstoke that night, I might have insisted on returning to Nelson to find the Whitewater cookbook with that recipe.  As it was, we were on a mission ski safari.

After another few hours of endless turns past snow ghosts, we packed up in order to get to Revelstoke by dinner time.

Next stop: Revelstoke

Ski Safari, Part 2: Red Mountain

Red Mountain ski resort

Bush league sidecountry at Red Mountain.

Missed Part 1?

From Wenatchee we headed north to the small town of Omak, which is near another small ski resort we didn’t hit – Loup Loup Ski Bowl – but it got us closer to the Canadian border, and our next destination, Red Mountain.  Red’s located near Rossland, B.C., a mere 10 km from the U.S. border.  It’s also part of the Powder Highway, and the official start to that part of our ski safari.

Red’s one of those ski resorts that’s a bit under the radar for many Californians.  I’d heard of it as having great terrain, and remembered its tongue in cheek ad from a few years ago.  Most people, when they asked me where we were headed, automatically assumed Whistler-Blackcomb, and when I mentioned Red Mountain and Whitewater, had never heard of them.

Red Mountain ski resort

No steeps at Red either.

But as the ad so clearly states, Red sucks.  So you definitely don’t want to check it out.  No fun steeps, no easily accessed sidecountry, huge crowds, only 4,200 acres of terrain, and it has no personality.

Yeah.  That’s it.

Red Mountain

No powder snow either.

It sucked so much we spent two days there, including a day where a 15 minute hike resulted in some fun powder turns…days after a storm.

Next stop: Whitewater

Glory Bowl Dressing

Spinach salad with glory bowl dressingThe one tangible souvenir that I brought back from Canada during our recent backcountry ski vacation was a cookbook.  The Whitewater Café Cookbook, to be precise.  Whitewater is a ski area just outside Nelson, and we were strongly encouraged by our Calgarian comrades to stop there for lunch on our way back to the U.S.  I should note that these Canadians are die-hard skiers, yet they were recommending that we stop by a ski resort not to ski, but to eat.  That is a telling sign.

The Whitewater Café is not your run of the mill ski resort restaurant.  It offers an incredibly varied and large menu for its size, featuring dishes that go beyond the greasy burgers and fries that are commonplace. Think bison burgers,  homemade soups and a ton of tempting baked goods. The cookbook includes signature recipes like samosas (which someone made while we were at Powder Creek and I’m still dreaming about), granola bars, and the Glory Bowl, a rice and tofu bowl with the most addictive dressing.

I’ve become a fan of nutritional yeast of late, so the dressing for the latter was particularly interesting.  But instead of going to the effort of cooking rice and tofu, I decided to riff on it with a salad.  We’ve been home a little less than a month, and I’ve made this salad in some variation at least once a week.  The dressing is that good!

In parsing the ingredients, it appears to be a version of the peanut sauce I use on noodles, albeit with less peanut butter and more nutritional yeast.  The original recipe does call for tahini, but as that’s not something I keep on hand, I subbed out peanut butter and added a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, and it works just fine.

Glory Bowl Salad (Adapted from the Whitewater Café Cookbook)

Salad
5 oz spinach leaves, washed
½ cup grated carrots
½ cup grated cooked beet
Optional– ½ cup each diced cucumber, diced red pepper, blanched and chopped broccoli
¼ cup toasted and crumbled pistachios or pumpkin seeds (optional)
¼ cup feta, crumbled (optional)
Glory Bowl dressing to taste

Glory Bowl Dressing
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Braggs or soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
½ cup nutritional yeast
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 cup vegetable or canola oil

Blend all ingredients except oil in food processor.  Add oil in a fine stream through the top of the food processor until emulsified.

Backcountry Skiing in Canada

Skinning above Powder Creek Lodge

Skinning above Powder Creek Lodge

Last week N and I packed up our skis, avalungs, skins & assorted backcountry gear and headed north to Canada. You see, we had reservations at the Powder Creek Lodge, a backcountry lodge located in the Purcells in southern British Columbia.

Skinning to the back door

Skinning to the 'back door'

We’d talked about doing a backcountry hut trip for years, but never quite got around to it. After all, with such excellent terrain and conditions here, we got distracted. So I was grateful that N took the initiative and found a group that had 2 spots available. That he happened to pick one of the drier snow years at Lake Tahoe only made this trip more awesome.

The group we joined up with was primarily from Calgary, and many of them had been doing these trips together for years. Apparently there is no shortage of backcountry huts and lodges in this part of the world, so you can do a trip like this once a year and never stay at the same place twice! The Powder Creek Lodge is definitely a gem, located at about 7000 feet in a drainage east of Kootenay Lake, with electricity, heat, a fully functioning kitchen, and a sauna.  And super comfortable beds.

The heli at Powder Creek Lodge

The heli

To get there, we flew to Spokane, and then drove onto Nelson, a funky little town that N told me was where the film Roxanne was filmed. The evening we arrived gave us just enough time to grab dinner with the group and then sprint through the local supermarket to stock up on supplies. You see, our group was self-catered, which meant that each couple was responsible for cooking one dinner (including the ever-present ‘appies’, or appetizers) and one breakfast for 14. The next morning we were up early to rendezvouz with the helicopter, which met us at a location near the town of Kaslo north of Nelson, and from there it was a super short ride into Powder Creek.

While our group was self-catered, Powder Creek does provide a custodian for groups like ours, who handles important responsibilities like getting the wood-fired sauna ready in the afternoon, and monitoring the propane incinerating outhouse. Chris, our custodian, offered plenty of value adds, including hilarious stories and amazing samosas, and even helmet cam footage. The group itself was a varied lot, including 3 other women, which was a huge relief for me, as I had fears of trying to keep up with a pack of super-fit guys.

Some amazing views from the skin track (photo: S Thorson)

Ridgeline skin track leads to deep powder

There is some very interesting topography around Powder Creek, which meant we could find everything from longer descents in neighboring drainages, steep pitches above treeline and gentle meadow-skipping runs through forested areas, all within a short-ish distance of the lodge. We traversed ridgelines and skied wide open bowls, and I learned to farm turns, something we don’t need to do much of at Lake Tahoe. While we saw little new snow during our week there, the conditions were surprisingly good, with cold winter snow on most northerly aspects, and a snow pack that stabilized as the week went on. We had no weather days, so I was only limited by my physical fitness. I skied all 7 days, though I’ll be the first to admit that there were more than a few afternoons where I was eager to get back to the lodge, kick off my ski boots and enjoy the views from the comfort of the couches.

Views of the Purcells

Views of the Purcells

It was truly a fantastic week. I boarded the outbound helicopter feeling like I gotten my backcountry powder skiing fix, along with 12 new friends and a slew of terrific memories.

And a desire to do it all over again next year.

More photos from the trip can be seen on Flickr.

Big mountains eh?

views from banff

I don’t travel much for work, but each year I do attend a mountain travel conference that’s typically held at some pretty awesome ski destinations.  This year, I went to Banff Lake Louise.  It was my second trip to Banff, having come here in 2004 for the same event.  Both times I was lucky enough to stay at the Fairmont, a tremendous old castle (with a history) that is now a world-class hotel. I can safely say that the combination of the exceptional service of the Fairmont coupled with the spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies makes for a very memorable trip, whether work is involved or not.

In my case, some work was involved, and while I won’t bore you with details here, I did learn that Canada’s DHL service does not work on weekends, and will not drive through sleet, snow or rain to deliver packages,  unlike, say, FedEx, UPS, or the U.S. Postal Service.   .

Lake Louise

Despite package delivery issues and work requirements, I did get out skiing at Lake Louise with some old friends who I met when I first started working in the ski industry in the last century.   It was a blast! The Canadian Rockies are very different from the Sierra, and while they may not see snowfalls measured in feet (it is a metric country after all), the local ski resorts have some legitimately big mountain skiing, with steep lines and chutes that are often in-bounds.  Lake Louise definitely boasted some steep lines, ones  deserving of the expert/double black diamond rating.  I didn’t get a chance to ski Sunshine, but based on the raves I heard from Nils, Delirium Dive is on my list for next time.

And I’m pretty sure there will be a next time – ideally one wholly dedicated to play.  Besides skiing, there are a slew of other things I missed out on, including a chocolate shop whose name made my inner 9 year old boy giggle.