Voyages: Exploring the Selkirk Mountains |

Voyages: Exploring the Selkirk Mountains

by Maria Wimmer



Heli-Skiing and Lodges around Revelstoke

Heli-Skiing Outfitters:

CMH – Canadian Mountain Holidays: The biggest heli-ski operation in the world. Four lodges in Revelstoke, Monashees, Gothics, Adamants, and Galena.

STHS – Selkirk Tangiers heli-skiing: Operates out of the Hillcrest hotel and restaurant in Revelstoke.

Ski-Touring Lodges:

SME – Selkirk Mountain Experience: On the Durrand Glacier.

Selkirk Lodge: Amazing terrain, but less-sophisticated lodge.

Battle Abbey: One of the founding lodges in Canada, its been running for 40 years and comes with high recommendations. It’s already full except for one week in winter 2018.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as the list of lodges extends into Golden and the Kootenays; with a little time spent on the Internet, your options become endless.

I had the rare opportunity —after living in the Roaring Fork Valley for 15 years — to actually fly with my skis (something I hadn’t done before) into Durrand Glacier Chalet, which is 15 minutes north of Revelstoke via helicopter and is part of the Selkirk Mountain Range. From Durrand Glacier, our group of 16 people split into two groups and spent seven days skinning in the backcountry. The Selkirks are one of the four mountain ranges in the Columbian Mountains along with the Cariboo, Monashee and Purcell mountains.

Durrand Glacier Chalet has two other huts that you can skin to: the Empire Lake Hut, which my group went to, and the Moloch Hut, which is becoming more difficult to get to because of glacial receding. A typical day started with eating a hearty, two-course breakfast, slamming some coffee and skinning by 8 a.m. We would typically travel 10 to 12 miles and gain at least 5,000 vertical feet — and sometimes bag two peaks a day. We usually were done skiing by 3:30 p.m. and would have afternoon tea along with appetizers and cakes. I really was not roughing it and I did not go hungry — there were five-course meals in the evening along with sauna, showers and Wi-Fi.

Swiss native Ruedi Beglinger and his wife, Nicoline, own the Durrand Glacier Chalet. They raised two daughters at the hut, and one, Florina, who is now 22, is apprenticing to be a guide herself. Ruedi was one of the pioneers of ski touring and guiding from huts in the Selkirks and started the Selkirk Mountain Experience in 1985.

Nicoline mentioned that more women should be doing this sport; women have the stamina to ski tour and usually leave their egos at the door. The owners and guides sometimes go weeks without any women at the hut, but the week I went there were six women and four staff members who were women, which was the most women they’ve seen at the hut. Nicoline thinks the men go home and tell their wives how hard the trip was, but that women underestimate their own abilities.

If you form a group of four or six, Selkirk Mountain Experience can cater to your ability. Nicoline says they welcome people from any where in the world; we had a Ukrainian female that works on Wall Street and a San Francisco female that was seven weeks pregnant. Nicoline also advised to be yourself and bring your fashion with you — you don’t need to be masculine to succeed or enjoy the experience.

Nicoline believes Ruedi is a true feminist, as he doesn’t treat his clients or guides differently based on what gender they are, and she said she’s never heard Ruedi say he wish he had a son. When I asked Florina if they have ever wanted to market an all-girls camp, she responded that her father believes this tactic would cause women to believe they couldn’t go other times of the year.

She thinks sometimes the Canadian huts get bad press that they are all about just chasing vertical, but if you like skiing and you like walking, it doesn’t get any better.

My hardworking, trustworthy guide was Madeline Martin-Preney, who grew up in Nelson, B.C. She left resort skiing at age 11 and hasn’t turned back. She’s a backcountry badass, and this woman definitely loves what she does. She works 16-hour days and doesn’t stop moving; in fact, she was breaking trail the whole week. When we would stop for lunch, she would be digging snow pits, making snow observations or helping in the kitchen. Madeline navigated us through whiteouts with her GPS and kept our group safe. Last year, on May 8, she along with four men completed the first continuous ski traverse of the Canadian Selkirks when they went from Kootenay Pass to Mikah. That journey started on the border of Canada and ran north, taking 36 days, 325-plus miles of distance and about 138,000 feet in vertical gain to complete. Madeline also agreed that if you love skiing and mountain adventures, you should head north. In the Selkirks, it’s a unique mountain culture; it’s a part of who you are, not what you do. It’s a part of life.

British Columbia skiing is known for its endless ski runs, which can stretch for 5,000 feet. The conditions can go from high-alpine powder to the bottom being more like spring skiing. With snow piles in Revelstoke on the side of the roads and in front of houses that look 15 feet high, it makes it look like in Aspen we are living in a high-alpine desert or, as local Lorenzo Semple puts it, the (mining) dumps that it actually is. The large snow pillows on top of rocks are also a classic postcard look for the Selkirks.

When pulling into Revelstoke at the start of my trip, seeing the howitzers lined up over Rogers Pass ready to go was an exciting glimpse into the Great White North. One of my highlights (although every day seemed so impressive) was skinning on the Durrand Glacier. We rounded the bend of iced waterfalls and onto a massive, white field with cervices and then bagged Tumbledown Peak. Having a 360-degree view of the Selkirks on a clear day was amazing, as was looking over at Fang Peak. Hearing a helicopter in the background and thinking it may land below us on a landing spot but knowing we got here via foot felt like I was accomplishing a lot more than taking the motorized way. After skiing back down to an ice cave and hitting one more peak, Goat Heads Peak, before skiing to the Chalet, it just felt like life couldn’t get much better than this. Each day presented its own challenges: mastering the steep, icy switchbacks next to a waterfall or finding our route in a whiteout to skiing through some spring crud to being aware of the high avalanche danger, it was worth the buttery ski turns and soft snow in between the trees and the views of this amazing mountain range.

The Durrand Glacier Chalet operates from Dec. 28 through the end of April. The chalet is open in the summer from July 10 through mid-September. The chalet has renewed a 60-year lease that covers 20,000 acres of amazing ice falls, streams, plenty of peaks, glaciers and wolverines. This place is paradise for anyone in love with the great outdoors.