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Untracked Line: Baldface Lodge, BC

How to unlock the buckle of the snowbelt while keeping your pants on.
posted: 07/29/2009
Baldface Lodge action.jpg

High above the historic city of Nelson, deep in British Columbia’s famed West Kootenay region, Jeff Pensiero is smiling so big, it’s unnatural. “It’s been like this for weeks,” he says, standing on top of a glistening ridge, steep tree shots falling 1,000 feet down each aspect, buried under a foot of fresh. “Just snow, every day,” shrugs the 38-year-old, who originally hails from Cleveland. Pensiero worked as a snowboard rep in Tahoe before moving to Nelson to start Baldface, a semi-remote cat-skiing operation, with his wife and another business partner 11 years ago. As an owner, Pensiero gets to carve deeply into what he’s worked for, and does so regularly.

And without another word, he slashes a big heelside turn into a February snowpack that’s already 12 feet deep. It has been snowing every day.

There are 11 snowcat operations in British Columbia, a chunk of land 11 times the size of Austria. They range from day operators that begin and end each day at cat barns (usually no more than diesel-soaked garages) to rustic lodges hidden miles away from the nearest settlement. And while they all share a certain penchant for 400-horsepower machinery and delivering blower pow to guests, they vary significantly when it comes to overall experience.

Tucked away in a subalpine forest in a subrange of the Selkirks, Baldface does “overall experience” extremely well. There are three quick and reliable snowcats for guests. Sixty miles of cat roads to mine the terrain for all it’s worth. Forty feet of annual snowfall. Private chalets. And all of this is a seven-minute helicopter flight from downtown Nelson, a hip mountain enclave.

Even though Baldface hosts 12 guests in each of its three snowcats—most snowcat operations host no more than 24 skiers at a time—there are plenty of fresh lines. Baldface’s 50 square miles of operating area form one of the biggest cat-ski properties in the industry. The efficiency gained by starting off at 6,750 feet doesn’t hurt either, and the confluence has attracted the likes of the Foo Fighters’ bassist and Davis Love III.

But you don’t come here to see celebrities. Or Jeff Pensiero, for that matter. You go to slash turns of your own, to lose yourself in huge bowls and steep forested valleys disappearing in every direction, floating through snow that never seems to stop.

Lodge: Baldface has a beautiful post-and-beam main lodge and six timber-frame chalets that sleep four each. There’s a dedicated gear-drying room, bar, wireless internet, cell service, and Ping-Pong. And you can dehydrate yourself in the sauna.

Food: Backcountry gourmet. There are breakfasts like eggs Benny or fruit-drenched waffles. Lunches of sandwiches, wraps, and fresh-baked snacks in the cat. Appetizers await after skiing, followed by dinners like beef tenderloin and BC wild salmon, and fresh-baked desserts.

Max Elevation: 7,300 feet
Max Vertical Drop: 3,300 feet
Annual Snowfall: 40 feet
Average Daily Vertical: 13,500 feet
Price: From 450 to 825 Canuck bucks per day, depending on the time of the season. Three- and four-day trips are available.

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