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20August 2018

4 Ways B.C. Backcountry Earned Its Fame

First thing’s first: there are definitely more than four reasons why British Columbia has become a mecca for backcountry skiing and riding.

I’ve just picked four favourites, and four that we think are extra important when it comes to comparing one world ski destination over another, and four reasons why heli-skiing really flourishes here.

Three of them are applicable anywhere in the province, but number two is especially true of the world-renowned Interior – right where we call home.

Outta the gate, at number one….

 

Vast Backcountry

B.C. is BIG. Really big. But in the grand scheme of things, there’s hardly anyone here.

Our population density is less than 5 people per square kilometre. Switzerland has 198 people per square kilometre.

Heli-skiing got started in B.C. precisely because of all that empty space: it was the only way to get out into these mountains. It has been, and in most places remains, a wild paradise of snow-covered mountains in the middle of nowhere.

B.C. is blessed with multiple ranges, all with unique features and endless skiable lines.

You can still stand on a mountain top here and see nothing but a sea of mountains, many of which only a few people have ever set foot on.

All that vastness is crucial, since great backcountry riding is all about that untouched pow.

Black and white view of Selkirk backcountry

And the industry got organized to guarantee it.

Operators have designated zones that are set up without (or with very little) overlap so everyone’s got their own slice of awesome. That seems like common sense when you hear it, but the fact is, that’s NOT standard around the world.

Start with massive potential of sheer area, add in foresight and careful cooperation, and you get operators that can keep delivering the untracked good stuff day after day.

 

Dry Powder

Perfect snow is like a work of art. Like the best microbrew you can imagine. A magical recipe of perfectly balanced factors, brewed with skill and sensitivity, but with one uncomplicated goal: to quench your thirst.

If snow has too much moisture, it skies heavy and settles out fast. Sticky.

Too much wind, you get upside-down wind slab. Tricky.

Too dry and cold, and it’s just sugar. No density.

The Interior of B.C. is a powder sweet spot. We don’t just get powder days, we basically get powder winters, every winter. It’s gratuitous, and if we’re being greedy, we’re not sorry!

Silhouette show of skier throwing a wave of powder

By being relatively close enough to the ocean, we get consistent moisture in the winter, but those storms get cooled as they meet the dry arctic air that comes our way from the north.

Plus, as they travel overland to the Interior, they’ve already delivered their windiest, wettest punch to the Coast, and we get the drier version with less wind.

That dryness is what leads to blower conditions, where you can still get faceshots weeks after a storm (yes, really).

Because this is what people often miss: deep skiing isn’t just about how much snow has fallen. The quality and moisture content of that snow determines how deep it will actually ski.

To disappear into pow skiing heaven, you need the dry stuff. Voila.

 

Tree Skiing

Heli-skiing requires a base level of visibility. It doesn’t need to be a perfect blue day, but the pilot does need to be able to distinguish the mountain from the sky. You’ll happily agree, right?

Well, that’s where trees come in. If all you have to work with is alpine, i.e. terrain at higher elevation than the trees can grow, there are no reference points. Nothing to stand out in that world of white on white.

Trees save the day.

And here in B.C. we have a lot of them.

Our tree line (where the trees stop and the alpine begins) sits higher than a lot of skiable places on the globe, and our mountains aren’t as high to begin with, so that leaves us a wide swath of skiable terrain that slaloms through the forest.

Our latitude provides the cool temps needed to ski down to 1000 metres or lower in some places, so the run’s DEFINITELY not over where the open terrain ends.

Skier's pole basket is seen looking up through a wave of powder in the trees

Even without stormy weather pushing us there, we’d happily ride the trees ANY time.

Trees provide perfect shelter from the wind, so the freshies stack up extra fluffy and undisturbed. People are often blown away by how much deeper it feels in the trees, because without any wide to help settle it, the snow is almost floating there, waiting for your tracks.

What I’m saying is: trees are anything but a consolation prize.

The ski movies agree. Most drool-worthy tree skiing segments are filmed right here in the Interior. Along with…

 

Pillows

When we have pros visit, especially Europeans, they verifiably lose their sh** for pillows.

Nobody even mentions trying to get big alpine lines. Just point us to the pillows. That’s what they want to hit all day long.

Becuase you can’t find them everywhere. It’s a unique challenge a lot of the world doesn’t get to ski.

Skiers descend a line of pillows

When you see a clip in a movie or a jaw-dropping photo of someone hitting pillows, it’s almost guaranteed to be B.C.

Pillows are the only answer to the question ‘How could this be MORE fun?’ when you’re already skiing powder.

You just need a couple elements:

Uneven terrain (broken cliffs, boulders and stumps) at tree line or below, and a fat snowpack of tasty champagne powder.

It can be a hell of a puzzle. You need a good eye to see the turns, find the flow where you can link it up, and keep your momentum while you air into small landings one after the other, while getting some serious faceshots.

It’s a thrilling mix of needing to see everything, and actually being able to see very little!

If you’re an expert skier or rider, and want a shot to link it up for yourself, this package is what we’d recommend.

You done good, B.C. We think you earned it.

 

Want to see some footage of deep, dry tree skiing in the middle of nowhere, B.C. style? This is pretty fun to watch.

 

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