Skiing The Kootenay Skyway
Part 1: Don’t Forget The Pickles
It was still dark at 7:30 when I arrived at Malcolm’s new home in Kimberley, it was cooler there than it was in Fernie where my journey always begins, and with warm temperatures spreading all across BC the cold temp was a good sign. I met his elderly neighbour in the street and as I exited my car and he said to me,
“What the hell are you doing up so early?”
“Going skiing” I said proudly, “We’re heading to Kootenay Pass.”
“Right on!” said the old-timer, “I hope to see you back safe, stay clear of those avalanches you hear?”
I chucked and agreed then headed inside where I was greeted by the smell of coffee and Malcolm’s dog Mac, or Mac Daddy as we call him.
Before we left, Malcolm and I prepped our food for the two day adventure; tuna salad with pickles, shrimp with cheese and tomato sauce, noodles, six buns, one avocado, a few strips of ham, one pack of local bacon, a few eggs, a giant bag of trail mix, one bag of wine gums and a bag of mini eggs, man were those mini eggs the hit of the trip. We sure didn’t skimp on food, that was going to be a decent amount for the two of us but after a big day of hauling in gear to camp you never know how much you will need, best to be prepared. Once we were ready to go we bid our fair well to Wiz, Malcolm’s lady and set off on our adventure. First stop Creston to get Malcolm a nine dollar headlamp which we thought about returning on our way back through.
Part 2: Kootenay Pass
Kootenay Pass is a mountain pass on the Crownest Highway between the towns of Creston and Salmo, BC, in the Selkirk Mountain Range known as the Kootenay Skyway. Elevation 1,775m. We parked the car at the top of the pass, booted up, threw our heavy packs on for the first time and headed south on our skis. The skin track began as a super highway but soon after two hours of skinning we reached a summit where we could see some true alpine skiing, the kind of terrain we were seeking. One couloir called out to us more than anything and we wanted to ski it. From that peak we planned our base camp and started our own skin track.
Part 3: Base Camp: Camp Campground
It didn’t take us long to reach Camp Camground, it was an amazing place slightly below Ripple Peak and another sub peak filled with rowdy mini golf lines right back to camp. The warm temperatures had gotten to that face so we ended up skiing a mellower line lower down that ridge we called the Campground Couloir.
We were back at camp no later than 4:30, our kitchen was set up, Malcolm’s snow cave was dug out and my tent was ready to go, all we had to do was cook the noodles and watch the sunset. For roughing it in the backcountry our dinner was delicious and after realizing my new snow pants were fully capable of wicking mayonnaise we watched the stars then crawled into our designated locations.
Part 4: Crack in the Mountain
Neither of us slept well that night, we would like to say it was because of anticipation but between Malcolm’s faulty thermarest and my sweats during the night we maybe got a few hours of sleep between the two of us, but the warm sun and the thought of that couloir made it easy to rise. Before we knew it we were on top of Ripple Peak looking way down on our camp and even further down into the bowl we were going to be skiing into. The sun was already heating up the snow of the backside of Ripple Peak as we made out way through cliffs and trees down the ridge towards the entrance of our line of choice. There was no other option but to come below the entrance so we un-clicked our bindings and boot packed ten meters into a crack in the mountain behind what we later learned was known as The Devils Couloir. As I creeped my way to the edge of the chute I noticed an anchor for rappelling, something we didn’t expect because from what we could see the day before the line looked like it went, but after I broke the cornice away I could see it was very technical; fifteen meters of fifty degree slope to a mandatory forty footer. Manageable with the right snow and knowledge of what’s below but from our angle and the remoteness of our location it was a no-go without rope and the proper gear. What a line though, we are going back for that one.
Part 5: Plan B and the Mystery Couloir
After being forced to opt out of our line of choice we made our way down the ridge, knowing there was more goodness to come, Plan B. On our traverse over we sidestepped up to another crack in the mountain feature, another chute that was very narrow and very inviting looking but we hadn’t seen it from our lookout the day before and knowing the gnarlyness of the face we were on we moved on to our second line of choice. Plan B Chute had the best snow we had found all trip, some really fun steep spine features on the side and a few airs at the bottom then it turned into wicked tree skiing down to the bottom of the basin where we looked up at the few lines we stood on top of. All I can say is it is a good thing we didn’t ski the skinny, inviting looking couloir. We agreed that we didn’t think anyone has ever skied that one.
Part 6: Wine Gums and Bacon Water
After that we skinned back up to base camp, packed up, drank some bacon flavoured water and started climbing back towards the car. The sun was intense as we side-hilled around to Ripple Ridge, but our packs were lighter than when we came in. We had just enough wine gums to make it to the top, then from there it was an easy ski back to the car where we felt the relief of taking our boots and packs off. We both grinned and our high five was loud and crisp. What a mission. That is how I like to spend my days; fully immersed in the mountains exploring by skis.