OK, just to get this clear right off the hop, powder skiing beats the beach any day and in so many ways. Especially when done on big, fat, rocketed, or reverse camber skis — but more on that later.
For many Canadians, having to endure the depths of winter, with its short days, cold, slush, snow, ice and horrible driving conditions for months on end, a mid-winter trip to somewhere warm and sunny is a dream.
For those who love winter and crave steep runs in deep powder snow, however, unless its white, soft and piled deep on steep mountain terrain, the beach is just not where it’s at.
Sol Mountain Lodge, located south of Revelstoke, B.C., in the Monashee Mountain Range, is renowned for deep, light snow and delivers just what the powder skier craves.
There is perhaps no better place on the planet to experience powder skiing than in the Interior mountains of British Columbia. Sol Mountain Lodge offers a wilderness skiing experience where an average yearly snowfall of about 20 metres or 60 feet makes for virtually guaranteed powder days through their season, which runs from December into April. That makes for a snow base of three to four metres of settled snow and a whole lot of fun.
The helicopter-accessed lodge boasts 30,000 acres in its tenure, made up of alpine slopes, high mountain bowls and tree skiing in old growth forests offering gentle terrain for tourers, a classic ski track in the meadow outside the lodge and steep glades and alpine slopes that will challenge the best skiers.
The trip into Sol Mountain Lodge starts out with a short helicopter flight but after that, any elevation gained while at the lodge is done by ski touring. To get to the top of any run while touring, climbing skins are fastened to the base of the skis, the heels of your boots are freed up and the walking begins.
The walk, however, is well worth the effort when the group points the skis down and rips through untracked snow.
Sol Mountain offers guided, catered and self-catered options with no guide. For our group of 17 skiers, Association of Canadian Mountain Guides lead us to the best skiing and steered us away from dangerous terrain where avalanches were a risk, while lodge staff prepared all meals and kept us comfortable.
Whether alpine touring or telemarking, when it comes to equipment to get around where the snow is deep, the latest wide, rockered, reverse cambered skis are the way to go. New powder skis let the skier float through the snowpack, getting an almost surfing feeling when skiing steep terrain.
For the first two days of the trip, I was riding a new pair of wide telemark skis that had a free-heel set-up. Turns are accomplished by using an alternating lunging motion.
Following a hardcore group of women, including Kate Forbes, Kirsti Binns, Shelly Sochr, Pauline Van Roessel and Dee Stokoe (AKA the Glaidies, aptly named for their love of skiing fast and hard through the trees), I soon found that floundering around on my teles was not going to work for me if I was going to keep up.
Aaron Cooperman, our guide and the owner of Sol Mountain, offered a “Telemark Therapy Session” for me and got me on a pair of big fat Volie Chargers with an alpine touring binding for the next two days of the trip. With the heels locked down, I was no longer floundering in the deeps and again was able to hold my own while charging after the women in the group.
“See,” he said, “powder skiing is easy.”
Yes, but I couldn’t help but feel it was like stepping over to the dark side or turning my back on hundreds of years of telemark skiing tradition.
After a big breakfast each morning, we hit the trail skiing for about eight hours, logging 1,400 to 1,800 vertical metres of elevation gain. We did repeated laps up and down a variety of runs, seeking out steep and deep lines in the trees, and in the alpine when the visibility allowed.
At the end of each day on the mountain it was back to the comfortable lodge to relive our adventures with the other guests and dive into the apres-ski appetizers and beverages, followed by a quick trip to the sauna to warm or up to the yoga room to stretch out tight muscles.
After filling up on appetizers, local beer for $4 a can and $2 for a glass of the Okanagan house wine, it was time for yet another gourmet meal served up by lodge chef Ian Cowan and lodge staffer Irene MacLennan. Proving their skills are not just limited to all things skiing and the outdoors, the ski guides Todd Anthony-Malone, Jeff Mitchell and apprentice ski guide Igor Bernas helped to serve up our meals and keep us all happy through the evenings.
For Cooperman and his partner Paul Person, it’s evident that building Sol Mountain Lodge and offering up a world class wilderness skiing experience is a passion they love to share with their guests.
“The big picture is to provide access to mountains and ski touring and powder skiing for a wide range of ski tourers,” said Cooperman. “We have terrain that is suitable for gentle touring or cross-country skiing and then lots of exciting terrain for powder skiing.
“The other big plus is that it’s in a deep snow pack area of the Monashees — we have steady snowfalls throughout the winter.
“The traditional ski touring model is that you organize your group of 12 friends and go and book a lodge,” said Cooperman. “What we offer is you can book individually as couples or small groups, then once everybody gets here, we split the groups accordingly and we ski in small groups of four to six with their own guide.
“To give it some perspective, I think it’s about three times the size of Whistler Blackcomb or its equivalent to some of the larger cat-skiing tenures in British Columbia,” said Cooperman, of the extent of the terrain offered up at Sol Mountain.
“A large portion of our terrain is north-facing tree line terrain — that’s where you are always guaranteed to find good snow.” There are also a good handful of peaks to choose from in the area for ski ascents as well, said Cooperman. “So when conditions permit, you can go up to the summits.”
When it came to our day to fly out from the lodge, a fresh dump of snow overnight got us up early and out climbing the hills for some final turns before our trip back to reality and a long drive home.
For me it was back to my telemark skis and after two days of riding alpine touring skis, the classic tele turn felt oh so right. I might just have to stay away from the dark side, putting off the jump to the ease of alpine touring and keep the heels free and the turns classic for another few years.
After all, telemark skiers live by the saying, when you free the heel you free your soul, and what better way to be free than on a pair of skis.
During the summer months, Sol Mountain offers accommodation for hikers and new this year, mountain bikers can come to the lodge to ride single track trails in the alpine. Stays at the lodge in the summer are less expensive as guests can drive in on forestry roads instead of flying in by helicopter.
For further information, go to www.solmountain.com.