Half Human | Half Machine – Backcountry Snowcat Assist in the Chilcotins
All Photos by Guy Fattal //
Let’s face it. Without the use of chairlifts, snowmobiles, helicopters or snowcats, The Coast Mountains are a real pain in the ass. Sure, they’re all beautiful with their granite spires, fluted faces and pillow stacks through old growth forests.
But if you’re trying to access the good shit from the valley in some old-timey, self-propelled fashion, you’re probably gonna have to eat the weakest member of your group just to make it to treeline.
The struggle is real.
That’s why, when Ross Berg from Altus Mountain Guides invited me to do some mechanically-assisted ski touring out of the Backcountry Snowcats lodge near Hurley Pass last season, I gave him a resounding YES.
There was a great crew of other people who accepted Ross’s invitation as well:
Dana Flahr – pro skier, soup enthusiast
Guy Fattal – photographer, hot tub connoissuer
Jenna Burge – skier, writer, nemesis?
Evan Southern – SAR heli pilot, splitboard ninja, Van Isle true
Either way, our trip was an experimental one. Altus just started running ski touring trips out of the BSC lodge and we were the first group to test out the program.
It’s an epic set-up. We used BSC’s snowmobiles to cover the long distances on the roads. And, on one of our three days out there, we got a bump into the alpine with the snowcat.
After that, we were left to our own devices for three separate days of touring in zones that would require at least 69lbs of granola to get to without the assistance of fossil fuels.
Our group went into BSC towards the beginning of what will henceforth be referred to as “The Great Polar Vortex of 2019”. And yes, the shit winds had been blowing from the north, so we had no idea what to expect.
Luckily BSC’s tenure has all sorts of options for finding good snow, and we batted 100% on every run we shredded over our three-day trip. We even got a sneaky little ~10cm refresh on the second day, but we would’ve still found good snow without it.
With two sunny days and one stormy one, we got a little bit of everything: sub-alpine ribs, old growth hallways, pillows, a perfectly-spaced burn and even some bonafide spine riding.
Also, the Backcountry snowcats lodge is the BEST. Sitting at 5000 feet (1430 metres) above sea level, it looks so modest from the outside. But hot damn are the vibes ever good on the inside.
Kathy, who lives there year-round with her husband Reg, is an amazing host. She keeps the hot tub at 104 degrees and can navigate BSC’s cat roads with a blindfold on. And the lodge is BYOB, which makes things a lot more affordable if (hypothetically of course) you’re a raging alcoholic.
It’s weird, with such a large demographic of backcountry users in the Sea to Sky, that there are so few mechanically-assisted backcountry lodges out here, especially guided and catered ones. Compared to Revelstoke, the number’s astoundingly low.
BSC’s home-cooked meals will give you the power you need to get rad out there. And while it may be more glamourous to fly in somewhere, it’s unlikely that the terrain will be as good as the stuff you can access from BSC’s lodge.
So yeah, the Altus x BSC co-lab is a viable one. It’s a great way to taste the South Chilcotin candy, especially if you don’t have a snowmobile of your own. And/or if you don’t wanna resort to cannibalism just to make it to treeline.
Huge thanks to everyone who made this trip happen! Check out the Altus Mountain Guides website and the Backcountry Snowcats Website if you’re interested in slotting yourself into a trip like this one.