Eagles soar overhead, and I fixate on countless coves I wish to build my dream cabin on as we sail across the scenic Strait of Georgia to the isolated northern Sunshine Coast on the BC Ferries Queen of Burnaby. Powell River is a town that has ridden the tumultuous wave of boom and bust for years, starting when the first pulp mill was built there in 1908. With the last downturn in BC’s forestry industry, the town saw significant job cuts, and another cycle of depression. More recently, Powell River has turned to other forms of industry, such as eco-tourism. The BC Bike Race is the perfect fit, as proven by our reception upon arrival. We depart the ferry on foot, walking up the main street toward the start line, crowds of locals cheering us on. Tiny cheerleading squads toss each other in the air while teenage boys smash out rhythms on drums. Storeowners hand out watermelon to racers, while bagpipers stand at attention on a street corner. We make our way to the start line, which is also our campsite for the evening, located right beside the ocean on the green grass of the town park.
The singletrack of the day’s stage proves to be equally welcoming. We quickly dive into flowy singletrack winding through the temperate rainforest surrounding Powell River. The riding demands full concentration, but whenever I raise my focus from the task at hand I am rewarded with a beautiful view of a pristine lake, river or some other natural wonder. The community spirit overflows onto the trails as well. On the first of two timed Enduro sections of the day, hundreds of people line the freshly-built track called Death Rattle, yelling encouragement and smashing cowbells. There’s even one fellow railing out rock anthems on his guitar and battery-powered amp. The energy is electric as I rail turns down the mountain, carving up berms of dark coastal dirt, cascading my way through some of the most enjoyable trail I have ever ridden. The stage ends right where it began, next to the ocean, and many racers take advantage of that fact, soaking tired muscles in the cool waters of the Pacific.
That evening we convene for dinner at the local sports complex. The hockey rink is devoid of ice, and now features cloth-covered tables and silverware, complete with candles and decorative white lights adorning the sides of the rink. Girls on rollerskates float around serving local craft beer and wine while we dig into barbequed pork roast, shrimp and asparagus pasta, local organic veggies and caramel-glazed cake for dessert. While we loosen our belts and sit groaning from the herculean amounts of food we have just ingested, local talents hit the stage for the evening’s entertainment. The night is capped off when an awkward, chubby teenager shuffles on stage to sing. He starts off with Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” and has the crowd on its feet cheering incredulously after the first few pitch-perfect notes, like a scene out of an American Idol audition. Later, as the sun sets over the ocean, and I fall asleep to the sound of waves on the shore, I marvel over how this was just one of seven amazing days of this race. Each day is an experience unto itself, and the whole week an incredible adventure.
With the arrival of spring comes the introduction of new trails, poking up out of the melting snow like so many April flowers. They may have been lovingly crafted over the previous summer, granting a lucky few passage before the winter took hold, or they are a result of a trail builder’s many dark, wet, cold days digging and sculpting while others are riding powder on the higher reaches of the mountains (myself included).
Regardless of when they were built, these fresh nuggets of mountain biking pleasure reveal themselves to us in the spring, bringing exciting new experiences to share with our friends. New climbs to conquer, gaps to clear, or technical DH lines to master, these handcrafted pieces of dirt artistry hold in them the potential for another season’s worth of adventure, fun and challenge.
Nowhere is this celebrated more than at a trail opening. I grew up in Nelson, a town where these events were revered, looked forward to. The trail builder was not asked about certain nuances of their work in progress, but rather the details of the celebration that would take place once the trail was complete.
The openings would be a raucous affair, including all the characters that made my home what it was. More frat party than group ride, entire crowds would gather around key features on the new trail, cheering on the local legends and heckling others that timidly approached the line. Riders, spurred on by the crowd, took their risk taking to a whole other level, greeted by loud cheers upon success, and catcalls and laughter with failure. This would continue all the way down the trail, adding an element of spectator sport to the ride.
At the trail end, the rowdy group would then spill out onto the beach, or backyard, or backroad and the real trail opening celebrations would commence. My few friends and I were youngsters amongst this motley group of mountain freaks, and we would watch from the fringes, content with the ride we just had the chance to share with this crew. Eventually we would pull ourselves away, resigned to a curfew imposed by parents, riding away from the crackling bonfire, skunky clouds of smoke, and laughing voices recalling trails of the past, and talk of ones in the future.
I was happy to see that the trail opening tradition is being revived here on the Coast, perhaps in a slightly more commercial fashion, but managing to keep the raw excitement and spirit of a new trail launch party. Ted Tempany in Squamish is dropping the ropes on his new masterpiece, Full Nelson, on May 5th. With support from the Province of BC, SORCA, Anthill Films and Red Bull, Ted and others toiled over this berm and jump-filled snake run all winter, and are launching it to the public this coming weekend. The Red Bull-sponsored party is an all-ages celebration, unlike the trail openers of my youth. Lawlessness aside, the spirit is still there: a party to commemorate the hard work of some dedicated and visionary trailbuilders, and a chance to have some fun with your buddies on a brand new mountain bike trail.
From my last post you might think that all it does is snow up here in the Selkirks of BritishColumbia. Well, usually it does and for most of January it sure did. Alas, last week the snow hose shifted its focus, and squinty eyes and sun burned noses returned to the mountains of BC.
With my father in law, the original owner of my backcountry ski lodge Valhalla Mountain Touring, in place as the hut keeper, I knew I needed to get out of my neck of the woods and go play in the big peaks of Rogers Pass. A quick 2.5 hour drive from home (not including the snowmachine ride to my truck and the half-hour ferry ride inland), Rogers Pass is the number one place I go to play when I have some time off. If you haven’t been, its time to change that, as it is host to some of the best road-accessed ski touring in the world, hands down.
What constitutes a great day?
Is it the people you spend it with, or the activities that conspire on that “ultimate day?” Or is perfection attained through carefully laid plans or fortuitous timing and good ol’ luck? The best day ever is the holy grail that we all search for; that little thing that gets you out of bed, wondering if the sun is rising on your best day ever.
But I don’t claim best days. There are too many things I enjoy in life to fit them all into one day. I would rather spread them out over a series of days, weeks, years. Best life ever, maybe.
There is nothing quite like standing on an untouched mountain ridge surrounded by friends and looking down at untracked powder-laden rib lines that beckon for a descent.
Last week my team and I were embedded in the Esplanade range, less than a two-hour ski tour from a warm, large ski lodge, where no person had ever skied before and no other person was to be seen for miles around. We were alone in the vast expanse of the backcountry.
It had to come to an end… the best season of powder skiing I have ever had at Valhalla Mountain Touring. Something like 80 of 90 days of the calendar winter with measurable precip. WOW… that just says to me, non-stop blower pow with no weak layers. I have never skied so much deep powder over 35 degrees in my life. So many new lines opened up at the lodge, and so many runs skied in the best conditions ever.
The winter has been mind boggling in the interior of British Columbia. So good. Quit your job (or use all of your vacation time) and get up here now and ski your brains out, because hey, it’s going to be spring soon. As I write this, the cold smoke is piling up AGAIN, but I need to share some spectacular skiing from last week. A brief 2 days of sunny skies allowed us to explore some new zones in my backyard at Valhalla Mountain Touring, and what we discovered was one of the 5 best ski runs at my lodge. Check it out, we named it Fireball. Why? Because at the bottom of this mind boggling run, when we were reveling in the pure ecstasy of the moment, my buddy Tony busted out a flask of Fireball cinnamon whiskey. That is classy, and that is how ski runs get named.
Osprey launches its 2009 Brand Team with this post, from Nick Spring, a Brand Team member from Nelson, BC. Osprey Brand Team members are being dispatched to outdoor events all over North America this year, reporting from the ground back to our friends through this blog! Nick will be spreading the Osprey word and wreaking havoc on the many events planned for this year’s fantastic Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder festival. This is Coldsmoke in a nutshell (for more check out the event’s official site here):
The Kootenay Cold Smoke Powder Fest is a grass-roots gathering where both experienced and debutant backcountry skiers and snowboarders can celebrate the culture of backcountry pursuits amongst breathtaking scenery and world renowned snow. Nelson, British Columbia, the powder mecca of the Kootenays is a natural choice, and so the 3rd annual Kootenay Cold Smoke Powder Fest is slated to be held from February 20-23, 2009. In addition to seasoned veterans, this event will also draw “keen to be” backcountry skiers and snowboarders who want to give off-piste adventures a try. Whitewater resort’s terrain combined with the Selkirk’s legendary snow, provides fantastic opportunities for all levels to ski, learn, compete, and celebrate off-piste and backcountry riding. The festival revolves around 4 full days of clinics, films, beer drinking, and competitions for all ski/snowboard pursuits as well as a ski/snowboard photojournalism competition.
Nick will be demoing the brand new for ’09 Kode 38 pack (check the sneak peak Outdoor Retailer review here) and will be able to show all you eager souls what we think will be a huge hit for next season’s snow crowd. Enough of the babble – here’s Nick.
I can’t believe we are in the middle of another deep winter. The Cold Smoke Festival for people in the Kootenay Region is a platform to showcase the beauty of our mountains, people, community and of course legendary deep snowpack. The 2008-09-ski season has been riddled by many unusual circumstances. We had an unusually long fall that held the early season snowfall at bay, we dealt with a wrath of unfortunate avalanche fatalities and hazards, and one of the longest sustained high-pressure systems recorded to date. Words like catastrophic, epic and “never seen before” were used to describe the storm and avalanche cycle that we dealt with in early January.
So where does that put me? Aside from the edge of my seat it puts me into a state of Zen like patience. One thing is known about the interior of British Columbia, the snow comes for those who are patient. Snowfall amounts that trump most ski area’s monthly snowfalls are a weekly occurrence up at Whitewater Ski hill, host and creator of the Kootenay Cold Smoke Festival. With a week of sunshine behind us I find it hard to believe that I spent that last two days lapping deep untracked blower snow just minutes outside of the ski area boundary. Currently Whitewater holds one of the deepest snowpacks in the province and is set up well for future storms to come. If you have not been to the area the festival is a great venue or “sampler pack” if you will of what goes on here daily.
My name is Nick Spring, and I moved to Nelson to pursue a lifestyle in the mountains. I chose Nelson because it is different then other mountain towns; we don’t have any large and over powering hotel chains, restaurants or tourist attractions. People come here for the exact opposite, to get away from the rat race, to walk down a main street littered with independent unique shops and eateries owned and operated by local residents. I have an active role in the community and find my time spread thin across my many adventures. I spend my day outfitting the coolest clients in the best gear shop possible, Valhalla Pure Outfitters, whether it is an Osprey pack for extended trips or short day journeys. When I am not at the shop I spend a good deal of my time training and practicing with Nelson Search and Rescue and am ready at a seconds notice for a variety of emergency situations. I have a Talon 44 packed and ready to go regardless of the situation. On my weekends I patrol up at the ski hill and tour the phenomenal backcountry we have in the area on my split board. Come on up to the festival and just maybe if you catch me at the right moment I will divulge some of the deepest of local backcountry secrets. Nelson gets a mixed bag of bio-diesel powder hounds, dedicated heli ski clientele and industry professionals intermingling together in the many cafés and bars around town.
The festival is a great reason to make your way up here, it is action packed with all sorts of events, clinics and demonstrations. The vendor village is a great opportunity to catch up with the latest trendsetters in the industry and talk shop with the brand representatives. The après ski will be full of delicious food and local brewed organic beers, musicians that have set roots in the Kootenay area will entertain until the sun comes up with their eclectic world beats. Bring your ski boots and dancing shoes with you and come spend a week in a powder hounds paradise! I hope to see you out on the hill and keep your eye out for me on the hill; I will be showcasing some of the coolest new innovations from Osprey!