The Mount Moloch hut, the Chalet's minimalist cousin, lies on the other side of Ruedi's snowy empire. As we sit inside and rest, Louis tells us about his life in France. He is a composer and conductor for a Parisian theater company. "If I want to have fun when I am touring with the theater group, I make sure I write music with a big brass section." String players aren't much fun, he says. Too dainty. Same with the woodwinds. The brass section, on the other hand, loves to party.
Backcountry skiers have never struck me as having much brass player in them. I've always seen them as an ascetic bunch, sort of the Amish of the snow-sliding world. This stereotype, I'm learning, is unfounded¿at least here at SME. Louis composes music. His dad, Philippe, is a retired petroleum CEO and has lived all over the world. Gary Bezer has been globe-trotting with his wife and returned home only a few weeks ago. A doctor, a paramedic, a construction worker, and a German guy who just smiles and nods a lot are also sitting around the table with me, and there isn't a wet rag in the group.
On the third day, Ruedi lets us sleep in. We don't have to be down for breakfast until 6:45. Looking out the window as I finish my coffee, I can see that the weather has turned ugly overnight. Too ugly for descents, Ruedi tells us. Instead, we'll make the long traverse back to the Durrand Glacier Chalet and call it a day.
Outside, we step into a whiteout. Since everything on a glacier is white to begin with, a whiteout here is the real thing. The sight of our group is surreal. Clad in shiny, hooded jackets, we look like colorful nomads trekking through clouds. We follow closely behind Ruedi, our trust in his lead absolute.
But...what's this? What is Ruedi fumbling with? A compass...and a map? The sight is initially discomforting, but realization dawns. In this land of crevasses and seracs, Ruedi's use of route-finding tools only proves that he's a reliable and careful guide. In a whiteout, the map and compass are his eyes. On we go.
Up the Juliana Glacier, on to Mount Fang, down the Eagle Icefall, back to the Durrand Glacier, and then down the Needle Icefall into clear weather. A few short hours after we left the Mount Moloch hut, we're back at the Chalet under bright skies. Rejoice. Home sweet home.
With the rest of the day free, I consider my options. Should I start the sauna in the shower cottage? Perhaps head to the reading room? Maybe I'll play with Ruedi's young daughters, who are rattling on in English to one guest and in German to one of the guides. Ruedi has managed to import a slice of Switzerland right into the heart of British Columbia. It's incredibly comfortable. And so damn quaint.
Looking out one of the many windows, I see that most of the group has chosen the deck behind the Chalet, and a beach scene has materialized. Everyone has pulled off their boots and socks, stripped down to T-shirts, and cracked open beers. I do the same. Ayako (the full-time chef) brings out a tray of fresh sushi and an apple torte (she bakes a different one each morning). We soak up the sunshine, the food, and the beer and stare at the surrounding mountains. Life is good.
All too soon, it's Saturday. Six days of the Selkirk Mountain Experience are behind me. I watch five newcomers pile out of the helicopter that will shortly take me back toward home. Among them are a writer and a photographer that I know. The writer approaches me, and he's very excited. He wants to know how my week was. Taking a deep breath, I start to launch into one of my famously verbose dissertations. I want to tell him about the past six days. I've summited 14 peaks, climbed and skied just under 37,000 vertical feet. I want to tell him about the predawn starts and the stumbling finishes two hours after I swore I couldn't take another step. I realize that the Selkirk Mountain Experience amounts to the most incredible views, the most dizzying climbs, the most consisttently perfect snow, the most satisfying meals, and the soundest nights of sleep I've ever had. I want to tell him all about my experience¿but I stop, and I laugh, thinking about the woman I met on my first day. "You know what, man? You'll see."
ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?
SME (250-837-2381; www.selkirkexperience.com) offers ski-mountaineering trips from late December through mid May. The C$1250 price for a seven-night trip includes guide service, lodging ("full bedding with warm quilts"), all meals (beer and wine are extra), transportation from Revelstoke, B.C., and heli rides to and from the Durrand Glacier Chalet. Most SME guests fly to Calgary, Alberta, then rent a car and drive to Revelstoke, which takes about three hours.
Ruedi Beglinger, 45, grew up mountaineering on foot and on skis in the eastern Alps of Switzerland. He moved to British Columbia in 1980 and worked as a freelance guide for various heli outfits. But Ruedi wanted to be in the mountains, not above them. In January 1984, he began discussing the idea of a ski-mountaineering¿only operation with the B.C. government. It took 17 months, but Ruedi finally got the green light and built the Durrand Glacier Chalet in the summer of 1985. That winter he opened SME. He ultimately received a commercial-use permit in 1994, which set aside an area of Crown land exclusively for ski mountaineering.