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Take Off: Coast Range Drifting

Take Off: Coast Range Drifting

Travel
By Leslie Anthony
posted: 01/04/2006


You're making your first trip to B.C. and want to check out the big show in Whistler and rub your nose in a cross-section of the province's weather, geography, and other ski experiences. First, fly into Vancouver and drive a few short hours on the upgraded Sea-to-Sky Highway—formerly known as the Sea-to-Die—to Whistler Blackcomb. If 5,000 vertical feet of steeps don't bring you to your knees, the Black Party Hole of Whistler surely will. Which is why your next stop is the sleepy town of Pemberton, 30 minutes north. This is where you'll hook up with Coast Range Heliskiing, an unpretentious operation that, fortunately, boasts no bar. Once you've detoxed with unadulterated powder, it's time to head to the Interior.


The road from "Pembie follows Duffy Lake Road, one of the continent's most scenic. The massive spires and mist-shrouded forests are sure to distract, but keep your eyes on the asphalt: Duffy's heinous, and often guardrail-free, hairpin turns demand full attention. In a few hours' time, you're in the Okanagan Valley. Keep tracking south through sage-and-pine ranch country, and don't fret about the desert-dry veneer—the area's higher peaks hijack plenty of light, eastbound moisture. You'll know I speak the truth after a day or two of cat-skiing with Monashee Powder. (Its staging area is in Cherryville, about an hour from touristy Vernon.) You finish with a few relaxed days at Big White, the province's best off-radar resort, before easing back to Vancouver on the strangely scenic—high mountains, no towns—toll superhighway.

STARTING POINT: Vancouver, British Columbia
TOTAL MILES: 740
RESORTS/OUTFITS: Whistler Blackcomb, Coast Range Heli-skiing, Monashee Powder Tsuius Lodge (cat skiing), Big White Resort
MINIMUM # OF DAYS NEEDED: 7
ROAD INFO: 800-550-4997; drivebc.ca

["Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler, B.C."]
WHISTLER BLACKCOMB, WHISTLER, B.C. (right)

ELEVATION: 7,160 feet (Whistler); 7,494 feet (Blackcomb)
VERTICAL DROP: 5,020 feet (Whistler); 1 mile (Blackcomb)
SIZE: 8,171 acres
SNOWFALL: 360 inches
CONTACT: whistlerblackcomb.com

THE LOWDOWN
As North America's largest, wildest, most international resort, Whistler Blackcomb gets tons of press. Most of it is deserved: It's simply unmatched in terms of size, scope, and terrain—to say nothing of its debauched nightlife.

FIRST TRACKS
Queue up early at the Village Gondola to beat the masses to classic Whistler runs like wide-open and 35-degree-or-so Raven and steeply gladed and narrow Chunky's Choice. There's fewer people but less snow on Blackcomb; beeline for the moderate steeps of Bark Sandwich and the glades off Expressway.

GIVE 'ER
Hike above Showcase T-bar to ski 11 miles down Blackcomb Glacier. Another classic is to climb the Spanky's Ladder boot-pack to access Ruby, Diamond, Sapphire, and Garnet Bowls. For more beta, purchase the Ski & Snowboard Guide to Whistler Blackcomb (available at local shops).

BEER-THIRTY
The two mountains converge only at Whistler Village Skier's Plaza, making this chunk of slushy real estate party central. The GLC, Black's, Dubh Linn Gate, Longhorn—they're all there, they're all rowdy.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Whistler presents a veneer of international sophistication, but wherever there's money, there's vice. If you're naughty, saddle up at The Boot, Whistler's venerable peeler pub.

["Big White Resort, Kelowna, B.C."]
BIG WHITE RESORT, KELOWNA, B.C. (right)

ELEVATION: 7,606 feet
VERTICAL DROP: 2,550 feet
SIZE: 2,765 acres
SNOWFALL: 294 inches
CONTACT: bigwhite.com

THE LOWDOWN
Canadians think this sprawling, family-oriented mountain is cheap—so Americans are going to flat-out freak out when they see the prices forood, lodging, and tickets. Another bonus: Recent lift and terrain expansion just might negate the resort's past reputation as "Big Whiteout.

FIRST TRACKS
For a big-mountain feel, hit The Cliff, a wide, 30- to 40-degree cirque that faces east and gets morning sun. If that's too intimidating, head to the Gem Lake side to rip steepish, fall-line pine glades off Powder and Falcon chairs.

GIVE 'ER
Corkscrew, which lives up to its name by rolling, tipping, and banking in every direction, has to be one of the finest cruising runs in North America. Visits to The Cliff and Gem Lake Express areas are de rigueur, and the shadowed, northeast-facing Black Forest hoards the best snow on the mountain.

BEER-THIRTY
You might start out in one of a handful of places (try Raakel's, a Greek-styled bar), but you will always end up at Snowshoe Sam's, an Aussie-favored institution at Big White since forever. Chugging, chanting, and dancing on tables are nightly occurrences.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
As befits its family orientation, this place has one of the best baby-sitters in the region: the Telus Terrain Park. Featuring a superpipe and 28 jumps and hits, the park is part of 1,600 vertical feet of night skiing.

["Coast Range Heliskiing, Pemberton, B.C."]
COAST RANGE HELISKIING, PEMBERTON, B.C. (right)

MAX ELEVATION: 8,000 feet
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 5,000 feet
AVERAGE VERTICAL/DAY: 9,000—15,000 feet
PRICE: from US$800/day for the six-run Powderhound package
CONTACT: coastrangeheliskiing.com

THE LOWDOWN
Only a few years old, operating with five-man A-Stars, and just 20 miles up the road from Whistler, CRH prides itself on taking guests into the big stuff: the glaciated, big-mountain Coast Range terrain favored by movie companies like Warren Miller and Matchstick Productions.

THE TERRAIN
With drops of up to five grand underfoot and steeps, couloirs, and glades on every horizon, you get the sunnier, drier inland aspect of B.C.'s spectacular and glaciated Coast Mountains, located between the soggy coast and the parched Chilcotin plateau to the east.

THE SNOW
Thirty to 40 feet per year is the average—more abundant than in the adjacent Interior, and drier than the stuff on the coast. The snowpack also splits the difference—not as bomber as the coast, but infinitely less volatile than the Interior.

DIGS AND GRUB
Pemberton is a microcosm of the entire province, an Indian-reservation-meets-logging-camp-meets-organic-farm sort of outpost. Grab dinner at the Wild Wood Bar and Bistro. There are no standout places to stay—back to Whistler you go.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
You might be tempted to hire a Whistler-based heli-ski operation. If you're an expert skier, don't: CRH is almost as convenient (it picks up at Whistler hotels) and offers more fly days and generally more advanced terrain.

["Monashee Powder Tsuius Lodge, Vernon, B.C."]
MONASHEE POWDER TSUIUS LOSGE, VERNON, B.C. (right)

MAX ELEVATION: 7,000 feet
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 2,500 feet
AVERAGE VERTICAL/DAY: 14,000—16,000 feet
PRICE: US$385—555/day
CONTACT: monasheepowder.com

THE LOWDOWN
Tucked into an obscure wrinkle of the province, and a slight detour east from the lakeside town of Vernon, lies the best cat-skiing anywhere near the Okanagan Valley. It's a popular outfit, and to keep up with demand, MP recently opened up 32,000 additional acres and a second, 24-person lodge (near Revelstoke).

THE TERRAIN
If it's clear, expect to spend most of your time farming turns above treeline on five main ridgelines. When it's coming down, you'll stay lower, yee-hawing through the burns, glades, and cut blocks that round out the 17,000-acre playground.

THE SNOW
Among B.C.'s famously powder-laden Interior ranges, the Monashees are revered for their combination of quantity and quality of snow. They often get over 60 feet of light-and-fluffy per season. The Canadian Avalanche Association runs early-season courses at MP because of its consistent early-season snow.

DIGS AND GRUB
The rustic lodge sits smack in the middle of the cat-skiing area, so it's a quick ride to the goods. The food is hearty and German-style, and outdoor hot-tubbing under the stars is a bonus.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Vernon is a touristy, family-fun sort of place. Your best bet for a bed is the Best Western Vernon Lodge (bestwesternvernonlodge .com), while the Italian Kitchen serves up surprisingly tasty fare and pours an array of regional (Okanagan Valley) wines.g B.C.'s famously powder-laden Interior ranges, the Monashees are revered for their combination of quantity and quality of snow. They often get over 60 feet of light-and-fluffy per season. The Canadian Avalanche Association runs early-season courses at MP because of its consistent early-season snow.

DIGS AND GRUB
The rustic lodge sits smack in the middle of the cat-skiing area, so it's a quick ride to the goods. The food is hearty and German-style, and outdoor hot-tubbing under the stars is a bonus.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Vernon is a touristy, family-fun sort of place. Your best bet for a bed is the Best Western Vernon Lodge (bestwesternvernonlodge .com), while the Italian Kitchen serves up surprisingly tasty fare and pours an array of regional (Okanagan Valley) wines.

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