DAY ONE – Tuesday 9 March
After a beautifully scenic drive from Whistler to Pemberton Airport, I meet the rest of the group heading out to McGillivray Pass Lodge; three men dressed head-to-toe in Arc’teryx, a couple of guys from Whistler swapping slack-country stories, and a silver-haired man who looks fit enough to take on an Ironman right here and now. The last of the group is having car troubles and is going to meet us there.
We’re ushered over to the helipad where Pierre briefs us on helicopter safety — in short, don’t touch anything, sit where you’re told and never walk to the back of the chopper. Team Arc’teryx and Tim (the silver-haired Ironman) take the first flight over to the lodge while the rest of us drive up to D’Arcy, passing through the old First Nations community of Mount Currie on our way.
We reach Anderson Lake where we’re meeting the heli and it’s a stunning bluebird day. Our gear is loaded onto the chopper before we scramble in, donning ski boots and helmets ready for fresh tracks on the other side. The views over the lake remind me of New Zealand — calm clear waters below, with majestic mountains towering around us as we fly through the valley. The lush green forests slowly turn white as we climb higher, getting closer and closer to the lodge. The adrenaline is pumping!
We start plotting our lines on the bare mountain faces surrounding us before touching down in front of the lodge, snow blowing everywhere. We’re reunited with Team Arc’teryx and Tim, and meet the car guy — Kristian — who is likely training for an Ironman too. Our ACMG guide for the week, Mo, comes out to greet us with gourmet sandwiches.
Mo suggests we leave the lodge tour for later as there’s limited daylight hours left. We like Mo. After quickly prepping our skis for touring, we go through an avalanche safety briefing. Maddie, our tail guide, has buried a couple of beacons attached to chopping boards for us to locate and dig up as quickly as we can. We split into two groups of searchers and probers/diggers and get the job done — though there is always room for improvement.
We set off on our first lap and skin up ‘Minimum Standard’ at a pretty brisk pace, taking in the stunning surroundings of our new home. We eventually reach the top and transition into ski mode. We drop in one by one, skiing the softest powder I’ve skied all season, and it’s a gloriously long run all the way back down to the valley. After a quick transition, we head back up the skin track. Tim lends me his ski strap to fix one of my risers which seems to have frozen. Our second and final run of the day is aptly named Homerun. Perfect pitch, snow and weather — what a first day.
As we reach the lodge, we head our separate ways to de-ski. Team Arc’teryx and the Whistler guys are in the yurts, whilst Tim, Kristian and I are in the Woodhall. We reconvene at the main lodge, where Amy — culinary genuis — plies us with cheese and charcuterie. We pull ourselves an A-Frame pint from the honesty bar as Marty the lodge host talks us through all the essentials. We settle in for the evening listening to different backcountry tales.
I’m still pretty full from the ‘appies’ as Amy annouces dinner is served. It’s a Moroccan feast, which even Moroccan-born Omar is impressed by. We finish with a rich chocolate cake and strawberries before hitting the hay.
DAY TWO – Wednesday 10 March
My alarm goes off at 6am, but I’m already awake thanks to a combination of nerves and excitement. After taking in the incredible views from my bedroom window I make my way over to the lodge for breakfast — eggs benny, roasted potatoes, veggies and sausages. What. A. Feast. There’s certainly no shortage of food at the lodge — we each head over to the snack table to choose our sandwiches and stuff our pockets full of nuts and home-made brownies.
We meet outside the Woodhall at 8:30am and set off up the skin track. An hour and a half later we reach the top of ‘Buzz Bowl’, where we drop in over the cornice one by one and ski our first tracks of the day. The snow is unreal. Mo comments on how polite we’ve all skied, and that we need to head back to the top and tear up the rest of Buzz Bowl. So we do as we’re told!
After another lap we skin up ‘Lolita’s Bowl’ and transition on a pretty steep face. Bernard, the snowboarder of the group, is feeling as uneasy as I am about transitioning here — there’s certainly no room for error. We make our way down the steep face bouncing through the fluffy snow. Next up is the aptly named ‘Nabakov’s Nightmare’. After bootpacking up a vertical wall of snow we transition on the ridgeline and I get lined up ready to drop in. I’m very aware that ‘Going For Groceries’ is directly behind me and it looks ever so slightly more challenging than the activity I carry out at home. Mo radio’s up to Maddie to get us to traverse left as the avalanche risk is higher on skier’s right. The weather starts coming in and it’s hard to make out what’s a ski track, a skin track or avalanche debris. Thankfully the light lifts a little as we get further down and the end of the run is surprisingly stunning. After a quick skin up and a short party-run down we reach the skin track home.
Time for a sauna. I lie back on the hot wood and peer out the back window which overlooks one of the mountains we skinned up earlier. Talk about a view! When I head back into the main lodge Amy hands me a plate of chicken samosas — I need these in my life on a regular basis, they’re incredible! (If you don’t go to McGillivray Pass Lodge for the skiing, go for the samosas!)
Soon it’s 7:30pm and we tuck into our second meal of the evening — a Mexican spread of enchiladas, home-made guacamole, sour cream, salad, and sweet potatoes. Fully carb-loaded, we head our separate ways to the three yurts and the Woodhall and mentally prepare for another epic day ahead.
DAY THREE – Thursday 11 March
I wake up to a weather report saying it’s -17 outside (please let that be wrong). After a delicious breakfast of Nutella-filled French toast served with apple, maple syrup, nuts and yoghurt, we start our day with a short ski down to a skin track over the other side of the valley — Tombstone. Mark, the joker of the pack who is often being assisted by Maddie to help with his bindings (maybe intentionally), managed to take Tim’s skins to his room last night, leaving Tim with a slightly shorter, wider variation. Thank god for duct tape!
The skin up is pretty icy and the surface looks almost moon-like from the wind. We reach the summit and quickly transition before making our way down to Sparkle Bowl. Much to our surprise the snow is incredible — Mo knows his snow! We then head up to ‘Middle Finger’, a run Ian has been talking about since we arrived. There’s a bit of a drop to get into it and we meet at the base of the giant rock before skiing down. It’s a long, steep run down and my legs are burning as I pick up a bit too much speed. I meet Mo and a couple of others at the bottom with a “wow, I’m alive!” — what an exhilarating run! Well played Ian.
We head straight back up again, but this time bootpack up past Middle Finger and over to ‘Loafer’. I’m feeling a little nervous climbing up over rocks in ski boots, but hardcore mountaineer Maddie who spends her summers leading expeditions to Denali in Alaska is very encouraging and stays closeby. We transition on the ridgeline, but I can’t see anything below. I make my way to the edge where Marty — lodge host and extreme skier — is standing before dropping into the 30-degree slope. It’s even more exhilarating than Middle Finger. I pick up a lot of speed and ski past Ian who went before me and have a near ‘oops’ as I ski through some slightly heavier snow, but thankfully manage to rescue it.
My adrenaline is pumping as we skin back up for round three. This time we head around the back side over some pretty icy snow where any skin tracks disappear. It’s starting to feel very cold and for the first time this week I put all my layers on. We make our way down and thankfully the snow is much softer. We finish the run skiing through trees — the leg burn is next level! I chat to Maddie on the skin track back to the lodge who appears to have the same amount of energy as she did on the first run. An impressive woman!
Fully loaded poutine and beers are waiting for us at the lodge — what an après combo! After sharing highlights from the day with the guys I head to the sauna to relieve my aching muscles. Not long after, Amy serves up a pork dish with kale salads, squash roasties and lots of other deliciousness. Most of us have brought wine to the lodge so we crack open our bottles and toast to an awesome day on the mountain. It might even be my best day’s skiing. After listening to stories of grizzlies, cougars and broken bones from Team Arc’teryx, Tim and Kristian we call it a night.
DAY FOUR – Friday 12 March
After my best night’s sleep this week (thank you red wine), I tuck into Amy’s home-made egg tartlets — tortillas filled with egg, caramelised onions, asparagus and beetroot. Genuis.
Today we’re skiing closer to the lodge giving everyone the freedom to head back whenever they want. We make our way along the valley trail and up to Minimum Standard. Mo tells us there’s a bit of a drop, roughly 3ft. It’s all lies of course — it’s more like 3 metres. Maddie preps me for it and I drop into some soft snow before making my turns down towards Mo. We stop above the gullies as the terrain is quite variable thanks to a wind skin.
We make our way back up and ski a similar line further to the left. When we get down to the gullies this time I manage to catch the tip of my left ski in some wind-swept snow and faceplant at force. Thankfully the snow is softer than it looks and my ski stays where it popped off. A couple of the guys head back to the lodge whilst the rest of us skin up for another similar line. This time Mo encounters quite a bit of sloughing and instructs us to ski further over to skier’s left. Ian takes the first line and faces similar conditions, so we head even further left to ski a more mellow line down by the trees.
The weather is closing in so Omar and I decide to skin back to the lodge — the sauna is calling. I manage a solid 30 minutes before plunging in the deep snow surrounding the sauna. Re-energised, I join the others in the main lodge and crack open a beer alongside the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches that Amy’s prepared. How I’m going to eat dinner tonight I don’t know. Marty’s built a bar outside made of snow blocks so we soak up the rest of the sunlight out on the deckchairs before heading back in for the final meal. We all share our “glad I did” and “wish I did”s of the trip over Thai chicken curry and plenty of wine. The perfect end to an exhilarating week!
DAY FIVE – Saturday 13 March
Despite a later night I wake up at 6am and pack up my stuff. It’s another bluebird day and we’re all feeling a little sad to be leaving (though bodies relieved). It’s not long before the heli is back at the lodge flying out the first group to D’Arcy. I say my goodbyes and join Maddie on the second flight out, heading back over the stunning Anderson Lake.
On my drive home I give my “wish I had” some serious thought and still find it impossible to answer as I’m not sure I would change a thing. My limits were challenged, my skiing was pushed and I skied some of the best lines I’ve ever skied. I feel like I’m coming away from this trip with more backcountry confidence and so pumped to get back out to McGillivray Pass Lodge for round two.
A huge thank you to the awesome team for an unforgettable week!