Jhe little A-Star helicopter seemed to strain every nerve to get us over one last ridge before descending to drop us off in the valley below. It was battling a light crosswind, thin air and a heavy load of gear, our week’s supply of food and drink, and passengers.
To my left, Pete sat, excitedly pointing out the jumble of pristine peaks stretching to the horizon, his squeals of delight barely audible above the roar of the rotor blades. To my right was James, and the contrast couldn’t have been starker. A nervous sailor at the best of times, James was decidedly on edge as he clung to the seat in front of him, no doubt regretting the extra crate of beer that had arrived on board at the 11th hour.
Luckily the driver was cool as a cucumber, sporting the expression of a professional rally driver maneuvering a Smart car around an empty Lidl car park – it was clearly something he could do while he slept. Sure enough, two minutes later we were safely on dry land, huddled together like Gore-Tex-clad penguins blasting each other with rotor-washed snow as the helicopter was unloaded. . Finally, he stood up, dipped his nose, and puffed out where he came from, letting us admire the surroundings that would be our home for the week.
Fueled by formidable stoves within, twin pillars of wood smoke emerged from the chimneys of two log cabins, nestled in a glade in the wooded hillside. Boulder Hut was the kitchen, dining room, and board game arena, while Casa de Sueños was the sleeping quarters. Split between two six-person dorms, it would comfortably house 12 of us in rustic duvet-covered beds.
Beyond was Whiskey Jacks, another cabin housing the guides, cook and lodge keeper. A pair of open A-frame outbuildings stood on one side, and on the other stood an unidentified hut, with an intriguing-looking metal barrel-shaped contraption built into its side. Before I had time to investigate further, we were driven to Boulder Hut for soup and a safety briefing, followed by an avalanche transceiver drill.
After two years of being locked in by closures – with no skiing and nothing else for adventure – we had come to this wild spot in BC’s Purcell Range to scratch both itch. But also, to escape the tyranny of television and the smartphone. Without cellular reception and satellite Wi-Fi offered only in emergencies, cell phones were hidden away and the outside world was quickly forgotten.
For the next week, our universe consisted only of these huts, the wooded slopes that surrounded us, and the jagged peaks that pierced the sky above. There were no lifts, no snowcats, and no other human beings for miles around. We would earn our turns the hard way, climbing with touring skins on our skis, pushed only by the air in our lungs and the force in our thighs. With 21st century life in London having become quite complicated, we sought to transition into a simpler time.
In our pre-trip correspondence, Managing Director Kevin Ostlund had spoken of the Boulder Hut ski terrain, promising that their exclusive access to a 15,000-acre area (about two-thirds the size of all of the Three Valleys in France ) had something for everyone. Led superbly by head guide Brent Peters, we ventured high, low, far and wide through the valley, our days shaped by weather and snow conditions, both of which changed considerably throughout the week.
Riders on the Storm
When the wind picked up or visibility dropped, we stayed below the treeline, doing short climbs and working the sheltered forest slopes where we found cold, creamy powder. These ranged from gentle clearings in Boulder Basin to steep, steep descents in an area aptly called The Roll. In the even more aptly named Stent and Cardiac, we carefully weaved our way through intricate terrain punctuated by marshmallow-shaped pillows and scenic icefalls.
At the end of the day, a preferred route to the cabins was via a pair of exhilarating locations named Hey Jude and Come Together. Tree skiing here wasn’t all that different from what most of us were used to in the Alps, it really was a different sport – such was its scope and variety.
After a hearty breakfast, prepared each morning by camp cook Ann (featuring pancakes, bacon, eggs and maple syrup), we each prepared a simple packed lunch of sandwiches, cakes, a piece of fruit and some nuts, washed down with a flask of tea, which kept us going for a whole day on the hill. My secret weapon – a pocket of Haribo – was somewhat incongruous among home cooked meals.
We would slip out of the cabin shortly after dawn – as the pink and yellow glow of the Alps tiptoed down from the sky, illuminating the highest peaks – and back to base as the sun slipped behind the line ridge to the west. Apres-ski was largely about comparing notes on the day’s exploits (we were often split into two groups of six), browsing the topographic map, and plotting out the next day’s adventures. There were also fierce games from Perudo, Yahtzee and the like, and occasional outbreaks of yoga, valiantly led by Sophia, the only woman in our group.
On days when the weather gods smiled upon us more benevolently, we left behind the close-at-hand fruits of the forest and went to the haute cuisine of the high mountains. The 12 of us zigzagged to the top of Grace’s Peak, before plundering its northeast slopes one by one in smooth powder that had escaped the notice of the wind.
We did some serious distance on another day – running 23km horizontally and climbing 1800m of elevation – as we ascended the Spring Creek drainage at the northeast end of the tenure. We crossed a pretty pass, before a long and varied descent to the shores of a frozen lake. Then, with the wind affecting the open slopes above the tree line, we headed down a row of north-facing couloirs that descended from the rock faces of the mountains, climbing them directly with our skis on our backpacks. .
By this time the snow was firm and chalky rather than the soft fluff that had enjoyed earlier in the week. But when you have to sink steps into the slopes, it is better not to wade. Skiing the thin strips of white material sandwiched between dark rock walls, we made sure our turns were careful, precise and precise. A fall here would have meant a long rag doll to finish.
Back from the first of those great days, we discovered the reason for that last mysterious hut, with the barrel sticking out of its side: it was Boulder Hut’s signature wood-fired sauna, whose stove was powered by the goalkeeper Sebastian. Once inside, we threw pots of water over the innards of the stove, which made for a hugely efficient steam room – a rare and unexpected luxury in such a remote setting. It proved an ideal way to soothe weary limbs and wash away the day’s exertions, before jumping into a nearby snowdrift, the contrast of hot and cold proving a revitalizing rush, as evidenced by our high-pitched cries. .
On our last day, it was with great reluctance that we boarded the helicopter and returned to civilization. Our bodies were tired, but the spirits were invigorated. After two years without it, it’s hard to imagine a better place to reconnect with old-fashioned fortune-telling than this little corner of mountain Nirvana.
Matt Carr stayed at Boulder Hut.
British Airways, Air Canada and WestJet offer direct flights from London to Vancouver. From there, WestJet, Air Canada and local providers Lynx Air and Flair Airlines offer flights to Kimberley, where Boulder Hut’s helicopter picks up guests.
Matt’s trip was funded by the BC Tourism Board. For more information, visit HelloBC.com.