School of Powder
Boot camp for big mountain skiers
*Editor’s note: Canadian outdoor lifestyle journalist Paul Karchut, whose first post as a Toque & Canoe correspondent took him into the frozen Yukon wild, is back – only this time with a report from the mountains of Western Canada where he was continuing his life-long pursuit of the perfect powder stash. We hope you enjoy. Oh, and by the way? That’s Paul in the photo below!
“Hit it with maximum speed,” our guide’s voice squawks over the radio. “I want to see you go big!”
I point my skis and sail off a perfect 20 foot cliff. The cool spring air rushes over my face as I touch down in a pristine field of powder and a chorus of cheers from fellow skiers waiting below bounces off the Monashee mountain range towering around us.
This is Freeride Camp at CMH (Canadian Mountain Holidays) Revelstoke in B.C. Call it a big mountain skier’s boot camp complete with a helicopter to get you back to the top. And I’ve been waiting all year for this.
The concept behind ‘Freeride Camp’ falls under what CMH calls Powder University – a program that spans across their eleven different locations dotting the mountains of Western Canada.
Students – if you can call them that with a straight face – can start with beginner courses aimed at getting people comfortable in powder. And they can work their way up to expert classes targeted toward highly skilled skiers and riders who want to get into the steepest and tightest terrain out there.
Freeride Camp is about getting experienced guests onto big slopes, through tight trees chockablock with pillow drops around every corner and, yes, over the occasional cliff, too.
The course launches with a meeting at CMH’s helicopter landing pad where we’re given a quick introduction to avalanche safety. It’s here where I meet Paul and Wauter – twenty-something year-old ski fanatics who’d painstakingly saved-up their Euros to get here from the Netherlands – and Tom, the owner of a Michigan-based office furniture company, who is treating his two young sons to a week of hard-hitting skiing.
As it turns out, I’m the only Canadian in the group. What am I up to? I’m squeezing the last few days out of my twenties.
Before we know it, we’ve piled into a helicopter that lifts skyward and the 1500 square kilometre sandbox we’re about to play in for the week stretches across the horizon – spanning both the Monashee and Selkirk mountain ranges.
At one point, we get dropped onto a high alpine perch on the shoulder of Mount Copeland. A perfect 1600 metre north facing pitch rolls down to the valley floor far below. One by one, members of our group peel away down the slope. Wisps of light powder hang in the air behind them for impossibly long stretches.
I take a minute to soak in the view. CMH guide Mike Aucoin is the only person left at the top of the run with me. He must be able to read my awe. “We look at this terrain and the palette is just unbelievable, what we get to play on. It’s just ridiculous. I mean, if you’ve never been here, there’s no way to explain it,” he says with a grin.
And it’s true, run after run, as the helicopter delivers us to to the top of yet another amazing slope, I peer out the window at the tracks we’ve left in the snow down below.
Each of us brings our own interpretation to the mountain. Tight controlled turns by some. Huge high-speed racer carves by others. Ribbons of powder slashes that occasionally break away from the snow, a sign that a skier has defied gravity for a brief, beautiful moment of airtime.
As the week progresses, our guides are almost giddy with excitement. Freeride Camp (a new concept for CMH) has been beyond successful.
Students, after a little coaching here and there, are pushing the envelope. Guide Jeff Bellis beams: “We can see the progression. Even Jaap (a Dutchman in the group) who wouldn’t take air the first couple days was hitting booters today. It’s awesome to see the energy in the group. Everyone’s just going for it.”
After each day of skiing, we return back to The Regent Hotel in Revelstoke. Without fail, over grilled steaks and beer, Paul – a young guest from Amsterdam – exclaims yet again: “That was the best day of skiing in my life.”
Each day outdoes the one before. Throughout this incredible week, we get to sample a huge variety of terrain. We ski beneath dramatic overhanging teal-blue glaciers, through tight steep chutes and over spines of endless jumps, cliffs and pillows.
Towards the end of our final day, I look up, wide-eyed, at all the tracks we’ve laid into the mountains around us.
Guide Mike Aucoin, who doesn’t miss a beat, sees my reaction as an opportunity to point out that powder skiing is “British Columbia’s finest renewable resource.”
It’s true. In just a couple of days another weather system will blow through. And a heavy mat of new snow will refresh the canvas for the next lucky group of skiers.
Interested in knowing more about Powder University CMH-style – click here. Any thoughts on Paul’s story? Feel free to comment!