Sally Verbiest discovers the ultimate powder skiing experience in a remote part of the Kootenay Rockies, Canada.
“Yay. The Kiwis are back!” exclaims the owner, Paul (Ozie) Osak, when we arrive at the small farmhouse in Meadow Creek, after a 4-hour drive from Revelstoke. It’s the rendezvous point for 24 guests beginning a five-day adventure with Selkirk Snowcat Skiing. From here we are bundled into two snowcats and transported up a steep snowy road to a remote backcountry lodge, nestled amongst the snow laden pine trees.
This is my third visit to Selkirk and my husband’s fourth. We are part of a small group of New Zealanders and Americans who discovered this place while trawling the Internet in search of something special to round out a trip to Revelstoke – our favourite BC resort.
It is dark by the time we walk into the rustic but cosy lodge and we are surprised to be greeted by another Kiwi – Oly Hopwood. This is his first year as Lodge Manager, but he has been based in Meadow Creek for several years. He and his partner operate a river-rafting venture in the summer months. Oly seems delighted to hear our familiar Kiwi accents – as does Lead Guide, Kevin Marr, who now knows us so well he enjoys teasing us about the way we speak. And so begins five days of laughter, banter, fantastic food and perfect powder snow.
Snowcat skiing in Canada is regarded as more affordable, more relaxed and less reliant on weather conditions than heli-skiing. Allan and Brenda Drury pioneered the concept of snowcat skiing, when they established Selkirk in 1975. The business, which is now owned by Paul and Megan Osak, has commercial tenure over a backcountry mountain area extending approximately 30 square miles. To get an idea of the size of this place, imagine an area almost double the size of Whistler/Blackcomb; then remove the people and lifts!
The lodge, sited at an elevation of 4,200 feet (1280 metres) is located at the base of this area. Ski weeks run from Sunday evening until Saturday morning with a maximum of 24 guests, divided between two snowcats.
In spite of an atmosphere of relaxed informality, the daily routine at Selkirk operates with absolute precision. The area receives about 15 metres of snow each season. Safety is paramount, beginning with an extensive briefing and avalanche search practice on the first morning. Every skier, and boarder, carries a safety transponder, a radio and a light pack containing a shovel and avalanche probe. The guides put a lot of time into choosing the daily ski runs, not only to ensure safety, but also to find the ideal terrain for the guests in their group. Each run is up to 4000 vertical feet long, and interconnected with the others by an elaborate network of snowcat roads. Most runs start in the open alpine area and continue through gladed areas amongst the trees. The ‘buddy system’ and radios ensure nobody gets lost. Even when the avalanche risk is moderately high, there are plenty of safe slopes to choose from. If you prefer tight rather than spaced trees, the guides will find some: if you want cliffs to jump off, the guides will point you in the right direction!
The staff, many of whom have worked at Selkirk for a long time, appear to be one big happy family. Their welcoming and informal manner ensures we all feel part of that family. In spite of their specific skills and daily routines, all are masters of multi tasking. It is not unusual to see many of them, including highly skilled snowcat drivers, Lily and John, helping serve dinner before sitting down to join the guests.
Food is certainly a highlight of our week at Selkirk. Head chef, Kate Riddell has been producing nourishing meals for lodge guests and staff for 26 years. The story goes that she came here to ski, and ended up staying on to cook!
Our day begins with an optional early morning stretch class, followed by a hearty cooked breakfast. Lunch is eaten between runs, in the cat, followed by a cup of the chef’s famous sweet spicy ‘tea’. The last run of the day, leads back to the verandah of the lodge, where après ski drinks and ‘appetizers’ await. There’s a hot tub, sauna and a skilled massage therapist to sooth away any sore muscles. Dinner is the gastronomic highlight of the day, followed by various forms of entertainment, including the daily ‘Shot-ski’ award ceremony. To qualify for such a prestigious award, you must be guilty of an amusing antic or misdemeanor (or perhaps nothing at all) Nominations are numerous!
There is only one drawback to this place – it is highly addictive! Ozie told us that at least half their bookings this season were from people who had been visiting Selkirk Lodge for ten years or more.
Selkirk Snowcat Skiing is, indeed the ultimate powder skiing experience.
(For more information, visit: www.selkirksnowcatskiing.com)