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Icefall Lodge, British Columbia

A backcountry touring lodge and home of the 7,500-foot run.
posted: 12/10/2009
Icefall Lodge, BC

“OK, now stay close to my tracks. There are a few holes in here.” And with that, guide Larry Dolecki skis into a wide crevasse, carving out of sight down a snow ramp flanked by two sheer walls of blue ice, six feet apart and 50 feet high.

All of which made Paul Geddes, a quiet retiree who hadn’t produced a profanity all week, suddenly drop an F-bomb in surprise. One after the other we follow Dolecki, screaming like little girls. We trace his tight turns deeper into the crevasse and then straightline through the towering walls. Finally, just as we run out of scream, we clear the ice room and we’re spit into a small bowl surrounded by ice cliffs.

Dolecki discovered this glacial rarity—a skiable snow bridge into a crevasse, winding through vertical ice sheets—earlier in the season. While we’re skiing through a jumble of seracs, the other group sharing Icefall Lodge with us—eight seniors from Vancouver—is just getting back to the lodge for tea and a nap.

Icefall Lodge, accessible only by helicopter, is one of British Columbia’s newest backcountry lodges. It also has the province’s largest ski-touring tenure, with 120 square miles of Canadian Rockies in the same snowbelt as Mica Heli Skiing and Chatter Creek Catskiing. Icefall’s tenure is so large that it’s impossible to reach parts of it in one day; there’s an entire valley that Dolecki, the lodge owner and lead guide, has yet to visit. This coming season, some of the remote terrain will be easier to access, as Dolecki plans to build the first of three satellite huts a day’s skinning apart. The first hut will sit on a rock outcrop on the immense Lyell Icefield, where multiple 11,000-foot peaks and 7,500-foot runs are within striking distance.

On the week I visit, I find the existing terrain to be plenty. When it’s clear, we go high, climbing quickly from the lodge toward glaciers and summits, skiing huge aprons, bowls, and chutes for as long as 5,000 vertical feet. When it’s socked in, we head for the trees—some gladed by Dolecki, some by nature—with tons of pillow drops and an average vertical of 1,500 feet.

The guides punish my group, five guys from Vermont plus me. At the end of each day we stagger into the lodge with just enough energy for a sauna before dinner. And the guides seem as happy leading the seniors’ lunch-and-nap program as they do our crushing routine.

Back at the crevasse, we still have a 5,000-foot run down the Tempest Glacier to ski. We drop into knee-deep powder, skiing by feel through a light snowfall. After 1,500 feet, the clouds lift just in time for a run Dolecki named Playground, a natural terrain park with halfpipes, hips, cliffs, and pillows.

It’s like this all the way to the bottom, and we’re still screaming like girls when we get there.

Lodge: The main lodge is fitted with indoor toilets, a sauna, and cold running water. Two side-by-side cabins, rustic but comfortable, sleep 16 people in single or double rooms. A satellite hut opens this season to access new terrain that’s too far from the existing base.
Food: Start with breakfasts like fruit salad and homemade breakfast burritos. Lunches are bagged sandwiches in the field. Dinners are three-course feasts like salad, pork tenderloin with caramelized vegetables and mashers, and cheesecake for dessert.
Max Elevation: 11,520 feet
Max Vertical Drop: 7,500 feet
Average Daily Vertical: 6,500 feet
Price:
Guided and catered weeks start at $1,800
a person.
Info: icefall.ca

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