British Columbia

Icefall Lodge: A week in Winter Wonderland

In January of 2016, Korey Heatherington, Ian Hamilton, and Danny Arnold took a dream trip to Icefall Lodge, a heli-accessed touring paradise outside of Golden, BC. Here’s the trip report from Ian.

I first heard of Icefall Lodge in the summer of 2015 while I was beginning to plan out my winter.  Bill at Revision contacted me and extended an invitation to do a week long stay at an awesome lodge outside Golden, BC.  When I found out my best buddy Danny Arnold was also going on the trip I was completely sold.  I had never been on touring trip for a entire week, especially not one deep in helicopter-accessed mountains. 

As it snowed more and more throughout December my anticipation built.  At the start of January I flew to Vancouver to shred a couple days at Whistler Blackcomb before linking up with Korey Heatherington for the 8 hour drive to Golden.  After an eventful trip with car breakdowns and snowstorms, we all managed to get ourselves to the meeting point to fly into the lodge. 

Sunset outside of Golden, British Columbia at Icefall Lodge.

The flight in was awe-inspiring.  Gigantic peaks and expansive glaciers entranced us as we stared out the window of the heli.  After a short flight we touched down right in front of the three-story Icefall Lodge.  After unpacking Danny immediately crashed into his bed for some well deserved travel recovery while Korey and I did a little exploring and jump building.  The first thing that struck us was the absolute enormity of the terrain around Icefall. 

Nestled between avalanche paths at 6000 feet, Icefall Lodge offers easy access to both alpine and tree skiing.  There is terrain to please anyone from the hardcore mountaineer to the mellow tree skier.  The added benefit of this wide range of terrain is there are places to ski no matter how dangerous the avalanche conditions become.  The lodge itself is a paradise despite being so far from civilization.  We had three delicious meals a day prepared by our personal chef, Mat.  From salmon and steak to mousse and carrot cake, the food was top notch.  There is even a sauna and showers to relax after a long day.  Lacking plumbing, the showers are repurposed watering pails and there are two outhouses that can also be used as backyard jumps.

Popping and pooping at Icefall Lodge, Golden BC.    

In addition there is even a climbing route on the ceiling of the second floor and yoga mats to stretch out sore muscles.  It is the coziest spot in which I have ever stayed surrounded by the most epic mountains I have ever witnessed.

Serene, starry sky at Icefall Lodge.

Snow conditions and weather are the ultimate dictators of terrain choice and when we arrived the avalanche danger was considerable.  The snow skied great but about a foot down there was an intensely weak layer that sheared very easily and made us reluctant to venture out of the trees.  This was compounded on day two when a storm started puking powder on the lodge. 

We were able to find some great pillows and cliffs in the trees but even some of these were dangerous as the pillows would break immediately and if you didn’t stomp the landing you could be crushed by a pillow falling behind you.  We got a lot of practice in risk evaluation and management, and unfortunately we had to back off of our goals to ski big lines in the alpine but we did manage to to pillage the deep snow in the trees.  In terrain so immense and remote even a small injury can be dangerous so we played it safe. 

Icefall Lodge offers some sick terrain.

The next day we awoke to clear skies and immediately headed into the alpine bowl above the lodge.  We only made it to the first ridge before the an incoming storm and unstable snow conditions forced us to turn around.  You can’t fight the snow Gods, so we got creative with what we had and built a veritable terrain park around the lodge.  Jumps off both the outhouses combined with a pillow transfer jump kept us entertained while the snow kept falling.  Our decision to turn back from the alpine turned out to be a good one as we heard multiple huge avalanches from the lodge, two of which were right next to the zone we had been in. 

The sun finally pops through at Icefall Lodge.

The snow, however, treated us to some extremely deep runs through the mellow trees below the lodge.  The fluff continued to fall and the stability didn’t improve the next day so we had to get extra imaginative.  We adapted our pillow gap into two separate jumps and practiced our timing in order to get a perfectly simultaneous two man jump shot.  It took a few tries but we nailed it on our third attempt. 

Timing double jumps at Icefall Lodge, Golden, BC.

To celebrate we took a pow lap and did some backflips.  Unfortunately Korey managed to find the only skin track in the landing, with his ribs, and put himself out of commission for the last day.  Although the weak layers were beginning to heal we were uneasy venturing up into the alpine one man short.  Instead we followed the other two guests at the lodge, Tom and Chino, to some of their favorite runs for some great POV pillow popping. 

Popping pillows at Icefall Lodge.

We were exhausted after a week of touring through deep snow, so the Icefall Lodge sauna was much appreciated and we slept like rocks.  The next morning we woke early to pack and clean with a sense of nostalgia.  The week truly flew by. None of us could believe it was over and we still can’t wait for our next trip back to the majestic Icefall Lodge.

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Fernie Wilderness Adventures Snowcat Skiing

Untracked lines.

 

 

Screaming quads. Cold beers with friends while soaking in the hot tub after a 10,000 vertical foot day of knee-deep pow. That’s what it’s all about at Fernie Wilderness Adventures (aka “FWA”), just outside of Fernie, BC. We wanted to take a moment to describe the FWA experience and do our best to convince you to go there.

Cat skiing with toothless Canucks. (Photo Pat Besile)

Cat skiing with toothless Canucks is the best. (Pat Belisle Photo)

Snowcat skiing at FWA is a laid-back, kick ass experience. For a long time now we’ve enjoyed an awesome partnership with them as a testing ground for our skis, for some sweet filming trips for our athletes, and running contests like the Fernie Wilderness Adventures / Revision Skis Giveaway. Most of the FWA guides are on Revision Subtractions, and FWA has a full fleet of Revision rentals to choose from when guests need powder skis. We’ve gotten to know the guys and the operation pretty well over the years, and they are seriously some of the most chill, well meaning folks in the ski industry.

Our most recent trip wasn’t about filming, testing, or marketing though. It was just for fun and bromance. Coming from the states, four of us flew into Kalispell, Montana, for an easy two hour drive north to Fernie. Along the way you can stop at Whitefish Mountain to get the legs warmed up, or ride at Fernie Alpine Resort when you get to town.

The lodge at Fernie Wilderness Adventures. (Photo Pat Belise)

The lodge at Fernie Wilderness Adventures. (Pat Belilse Photo)

 

Stay at the lodge!

 

 

You can day ski at FWA, or you can stay in the lodge, which is the way to go. It’s a relaxing, rustic luxury, badass little hunting camp experience tucked into the mountains. The hot tub mentioned above? It’s heated by a welded aluminum wood fire box which sits right inside of the water, and is cooled by with a stream of ice cold hose water when you need it. It’s an awesome example of backcountry ingenuity.

And if you’re staying at the lodge, once you’re there, you’re there. You can bring in your own beers (and for God’s sake, stock up at duty free if you can!), but all of the cooking is taken care of for you when you stay at FWA. No need to run out to the grocery store, or to a restaurant, but Fernie is just a short drive away if a night on the town is in the cards.

The lodge at Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

The lodge at Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

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Go ahead, fall asleep early like this wanker.

Arguably the best part to staying at the guest lodge is that after the day is over, and the day’s slideshow has been run (FWA provides professional photography to shoot pics throughout the day), the day crowd takes off and sweet silence descends on the cabin. At this point, you have the place to yourself and a small group of friends, and it feels like your own cabin. Pop a beer, sink into the comfy leather couches, enjoy a home cooked dinner, or watch the stars on the deck out back. Crash in a super comfortable bed and sleep good after a long day of catskiing. It’s awesome.

There are eight guest rooms in the back of the lodge, with single or double occupancy. We were lucky enough to score our own rooms, which was awesome, but if they are booked up a double occupancy room is more than enough for a pair of friends.

 

 

 

The skiing

 

Each ski day at FWA begins with the guides and day skiers arriving at around 7:30 or so in the morning. After the safety briefs are given and waivers are signed, the snow cat takes off at around 8:30 for the 45-minute or so trip up the mountain. The first run is generally pretty mellow to help you warm up and to let the guides check out the group’s ability.

Then, you just go from there depending on the group’s ability that day, riding lines from alpine meadows, flowy and open ridgelines, to steep and glades. You’ll drop into aptly named runs such as Heaven, Stellar, Paradise, and Sweetness. FWA operates up to three snowcats, with groups of around 10-12 riders each. You can tag along with a group of new faces, or even rent out your own snow cat for you and your buddies. Expect to rack up from 8-10 runs through the deep, legendary powder that Fernie is known for.

Fernie Wilderness Adven

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Jamie Warner Photo)

On our second day of skiing, we began skiing with photographer Pat Belisle. After climbing into the snow cat at the bottom of one of the first runs of the day, we were laughing about how nice the snow was. Light, and fast. We were flying through the meadows on the runouts and grinning our asses off. I asked Pat if we were blessed by Ullr with perfect snow, or if this was pretty regular. He just smiled and said “We get this type of snow all the time.”

Thanks to some terrain changes coming down the pipe for the 2016/2017 season, there has never been a better time to go snow cat skiing at FWA. Working with the forest management company which leases the tenure area to FWA, they will build a series of new snow cat routes and glade out a bunch of additional new terrain this summer. What that means is that the snow cats will be able to more efficiently move around the 5,000+ acres of amped up Subtraction playground. FWA has been daydreaming about improved snowcat routes for years, and now is the time to make it happen.

Guiding at FWA is a good gig! (PatBelislePhoto)

Being a guide at FWA seems like a good gig! (Pat Belisle Photo)

 

In the white room with black curtains near the station (Jamie Warner Photo)

In the white room (with black curtains near the station?) (Jamie Warner Photo)

At the top of a nice steep, open line at FWA in the "Heaven" zone.

At the top of a nice steep, open line at FWA in the “Heaven” zone.

 

Same line as the photo at left, looking up at Heaven..

Same line as the photo at above, looking up at Heaven.

 

Heli vs. cat?

 

So, maybe you’re ready to pull the trigger on the ski trip of a lifetime (or at least, that’s what you tell your wife while also scheming another “trip of a lifetime” for the following winter). So what’s the difference between cat skiing and heli skiing? We’ve been lucky enough to have done a little of both and were talking about it with other skiers in the cat who have also heli skied and cat skied. What’s better?

Taking a cruise at TLH Heli Skiing

Taking a nice ride at TLH Heli Skiing

To a lot of people, heli skiing is the holy grail. The birds quickly and repeatedly drop you onto untracked lines. However, you better be in damn good ski shape, as there’s not much time for rest in between runs. You might be surprised by how mellow many of the runs are (though still amazing nonetheless). Additionally, during storm cycles there may be days when the helicopter can’t fly due to low visibility, and if the operation doesn’t have a backup snow cat…. you’re f*cked. There’s no more cruel way to torture a skier’s soul than knowing that the powder is out there, but you can’t get to it.

 

 

Heli weather? Nope. (Pat Belisle Photo)

Heli weather? Nope. (Pat Belisle Photo)

 

Snow cats, on the other hand, can run in any conditions and keep you skiing in the trees when visibility is garbage. Additionally, you will often get into more challenging terrain than typically catered to heli clientele, such as glacier milk runs where farmed turns and figure 8 contests are the ticket. And with a cat, once you’re done with a run, you have 10 minutes or so before the cat gets back to the top, plenty of time for a quick rest and to refuel on food and drink. (By the way, FWA stocks each cat with a full day’s supply of snacks, food, water, and juice.) So, it’s not always true in our experience that heli skiing is necessarily better than cat skiing. They are just different, each in their own good way, and one is a lot, lot more affordable than the other.

 

Thinking about going to Eff-Double-you-Eh? Here are some tips.

 

  • If you don’t already own a pair of powder skis, FWA has a full fleet of rental skis to choose from, including a stable of Revision Subtraction Powder Skis. Based on the smiles we saw on faces of guests who had rented pow skis, they were glad they did.
Part of the Revision Subtraction rental fleet at FWA

Part of the Revision Subtraction rental fleet at FWA

  • Listen to your guides. They want you to have fun while keeping you safe. They are happy to point you towards whatever you want to ride, from a meadow to a cliff drop. It’s all up to you. But, stay within bounds. Nobody likes waiting while a straggler who went off course is rounded up.
  • There can be friends on powder days at FWA! Take turns dropping in from first to last. There is plenty of powder for everyone. Nobody likes the guy who cuts in front every time.
  • Leave some room between skiers. While everyone will have a partner, you don’t need to ski up their keester. It’s all a lot more fun when you can bomb down the entire run without getting jammed up in the woods.
  • Pay attention during the safety instruction. You don’t want to get run over by a snowcat or be a bump on a log if you need to help out in an emergency situation (that being said, FWA has a stellar safety record).
  • Go for a few days in a row. You will relish the look of envy when you tell your new friends in the snow cat that yup, you get to do it all again tomorrow.
  • Take some backup gear like an extra set of goggles and mittens. There is plenty of room on the cat to stash a small backpack. Make sure you have everything, because once the cat is up for the day there’s no coming back.
  • Be a pretty good skier. You don’t have to be an expert, but to have a good time you should be comfortable skiing most runs at a resort. While a lot of cat operations will accept almost anyone in the name of a profit, FWA really encourages strong riders so that everyone has a great time, and tends to shoo away people who might not be ready to cat ski yet. That’s a really cool part about cat skiing at FWA.
  • Fernie Wilderness Adventures is easy to get to from Kalispell, MT for travel via the states, or via Calgary. It’s about a 2-3 hour drive from either airport. If you are coming from the US and intend to drink some beer on your trip, definitely stock up at duty free at the border. Canadian beer prices are through the roof.
  • Stay at the lodge!
  • Tip your guides, (and if staying at the lodge, the hostess). A good amount to tip is $25-$30 for a day of skiing, which goes into the tip pot and is divided up between the guides and snow cat drivers. If you are skiing multiple days you can just pay into the pot after your last day.

 

Fernie Wilderness Adventures ( Jamie Warner Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures ( Jamie Warner Photo)

 

Oh, and one last thing.

Come back for the fly fishing:
When the snow melts, FWA turns its attention to guided fly fishing on the waters of the Elk Valley. We haven’t personally been able to make it to Fernie for the fly fishing, but it’s on our bucket list. FWA goes above and beyond to get you to the best secret, uncrowded, remote locations. You will catch fish and you will have fun.

FWA_guidedfishing_logo-300x234

 

Parting Shots.

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

Fernie Wilderness Adventures (Pat Belisle Photo)

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Advance Ski Movie

While filming the Advance ski movie, we spent the last season chasing snow with friends in both the backcountry and the streets. We had some deep days cat skiing with our friends at Fernie Wilderness Adventures, where the snow always seems to hit for us.  Our time at Grand Targhee was great as well, but we weren’t as lucky on the weather. Other legs of the trip while filming included street skiing in Sweden and Russia, along with a bunch of other great spots across the Western states. Hit play, sit back, and enjoy the Advance ski movie, featuring skiers Mike King, Sandy Boville, Chris McKeever, Tobias Sedlacek, Erik Pousette, Sakarias Majander, Leo Bjorklund, Douglas Kallsbo, Ian Hamilton, Danny Arnold, Sam Zahner, Jake Fagrelius, and Tanner Berg. We hope you enjoy watching ‘Advance’ as much as we did filming it.

Advance Ski Movie Locations

  • British Columbia
  • Wyoming
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Sweden
  • Russia
  • More….

Advance Ski Movie - Targhee

Danny Arnold Skiing Season Edit 2013-2014

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Danny Arnold

Danny Arnold spent last season living in Whistler, British Columbia and traveling around BC. Here is Danny’s season edit with a bunch of great powder skiing and big lines in Fernie, Whistler, and Revelstoke.

While Danny was living in Whistler, he supported his skiing lifestyle by working at a hostel. When Danny wasn’t working, he was taking advantage of the vast terrain at (and near) Whistler Blackcomb. Whistler Blackcomb is located 75 miles north of Vancouver and is considered the largest ski resort in North America.  It is 50% larger than the next largest competing resort and also features the iconic Peak 2 Peak gondola which transports skiers from the top of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The Peak 2 Peak gondola holds two world records – it is the highest cable car above ground and the longest unsupported span between two cable car towers.

 

Whistler Blackcomb is situated in the Fitzsimmons range of the Coast Mountain range in BC, Canada. It is located on the north western edge of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Whistler was originally called London Mountain because of the frequent fog at low elevations. Consistently ranked as the top resort in North America, more than 2 million people visit annually. Whistler Mountain has a vertical of 5,020 feet and a skiable area of 4,757 acres. Blackcomb Mountain has a vertical of 5,133 feet and a skiable area of 3,414 acres. The longest runs at both Whistler (Burnt Stew) and Blackcomb (Green Road) are 6.8 miles long. Whistler Blackcomb is a large enough resort that they have terrain options for any type of skier.  Options abound for skiing legendary chutes, steeps, cliffs, couloirs, high alpine, powder filled bowls, gladed trees, and flowing groomers.

Whistler also has a wide variety of summertime activities and is famous for the Whistler Bike Park.  The bike park is world class and draws both amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world.  Other summer activities include camping, hiking, bungee jumpingglacier skiing, and more.

Catskiing Canada with Fernie Wilderness Adventures

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Catskiing Canada

After a few months of somewhat hit or miss conditions here in the states, we were ready to go catskiing in Canada. The Trimmings crew along with the Revision Skis crew packed up and rallied north to go to the Canadian promise land. As we pulled up to the lodge at Fernie Wilderness Adventures (FWA), the snow had been hammering down all afternoon and we knew instantly that we would not be disappointed. Located in the northern Rockies, Fernie Wilderness Adventures’ catskiing Canada paradise has over 5,000 acres of gladed meadows, pristine pillow fields, and endless tree skiing. Serviced by two large passenger snowcats, and a handful of the happiest employees I’ve ever met, we knew we were in the right place. After day one, the common phrase repeated by everyone on the trip became, “I’ve never experienced that before!” Whether we were describing the bottomless powder, the amazing terrain, or the guides who couldn’t have been more accommodating, FWA had literally everything we could have asked for. Each day began with a delicious hot breakfast cooked by the staff before we piled into the snowcat and headed straight up to 7000 ft. Our options seemed endless plowing up and over knife ridges through blower pow as we hung our heads out the cab windows in anticipation of our next run choked with the lightest snow any of us have ever experienced. Each day was concluded with countless high-fives, a huge feast, and a soak in the wood-fired hot tub complimented by a few ice cold beers. After four days of living the life of luxury, reluctantly, it was time to part ways and return to our own lives. It goes without saying that we will, without a doubt, be returning next season to pick up where we left off! Thanks again to the entire staff at FWA for showing us the goods! Words by Jake Fagrelius.

Jake Fagrelius Hand-Drag Cork 360 Skiing

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Hand-Drag Cork 360 Video from British Columbia

This hand-drag cork 360 video is from last winter when we went on a snowcat skiing trip in British Columbia, Canada. We had a blast skiing deep, untracked powder while testing out Subtraction prototype skis. We were pretty nervous leading up to our trip as it had been a season with very little snowfall.  A week before the trip we were considering cancelling and rescheduling for the following ski season.  We ended up deciding to go on the trip as planned and hope for the best.  To our suprise, the weather unexpectedly turned in our favor on our drive up from Montana.  When we arrived at the snowcat skiing lodge in British Columbia, it was a full on storm.  The next morning we woke up to some of the deepest snow any of us had experienced in our lives.  The snow kept falling over the next few days and nights. We were skiing insanely deep powder for the entire trip and ended up scoring lots of great video and photo.

Snowcat Skiing in British Columbia, Canada

Do you dream of taking catskiing laps in the backcountry of British Columbia?  There are a lot of great snowcat skiing operations that can guide you safely in large, uncrowded powder skiing tenures. If your looking to ski some deep powder in BC and land your first hand-drag cork 360, a good starting off point for learning about the many lodges and operators is Catskiing Canada.