Hut keeping at my backcountry lodge (Valhalla Mountain Touring) can be a mixed blessing. If I don’t have any friends come up here to stay with me, then I usually can’t be too inspired to go out and ski unless it is dumping copious amounts of cold smoke. The fact is that I try not to go out in the field with self guided guests who don’t know the terrain as well as me, and I end up providing my services for free. Inevitably I always end up skiing a day or two with the self guided groups to show them a little special something; maybe its my way of teasing them to hire me as a guide or to give them a ‘free sample’ of the goods so I know they will come back. It usually works.
Often times I invite a talented friend to come up and shred, and this year I got my buddy Mike, a mountain guide from Revelstoke to come up and play for a few days. The spring had set up to an all time finish, with bottomless coldsmoke up on high north facing terrain with some pretty good stability. So as it happens when things set up like this I roped Mike along into an exploratory mission. The lodge at Valhalla Mountain Touring sits at the end of a cat road at a valley bottom, and is with in a few short km’s (via snowmachine and cat road) from countless other drainages. Many backcountry lodges are located at treeline and require a ton of time over the same terrain to get anywhere new. VMT however has the unique advantage of being low and having virtually unlimited access. Many nights of the year I sit at my computer surfing google earth and topo maps dreaming of new lines to shred. To be honest my hours and hours of geeking out usually pay off big time. It seems that with about 10 of my last missions like this I have walked away with at least 10 new ski lines.
So without much arm twisting Mike agreed to my plan to attempt a ski descent of Mt. Vingolf, the highest unskied summit in the immediate area of the lodge. With good stability I hatched a plan to wrap around into a new drainage on one of the plethora of deactivated logging roads. I new the first leg would be a heinous alder bash on the old road, but I made a promise that if we didn’t escape it in under an hour, we would turn around. 50 minutes later, we emerged at treeline to an unskied north facing bowl with a beautiful north facing line waiting to be climbed and skied.
Before too long we reached the ridge and tagged an unknown summit, and dubbed it Passover Peak (we were 2 jewish mountain guides skiing together on easter after all.) We dropped a sweet 1000 foot run down the east face of the peak to set up for a line to the top of Mt Vingolf. I have been staring at this summit for almost every day of the 10 years I have skied at the lodge and never skied it or even climbed it.
Unfortunately the faces that are easy to access from the lodge are virtually unskiable with massive cliff bands. But I had scoped a possible sneak through to the top on the NE side, so that is where we were.
It looked pretty good from here, but the 45 degree convex unsupported nature of the summit slope had me wary of approaching from the bottom up, especially being so far out there on this tour. We were both spooked enough that we decided on plan B; a short but sweet and steep unskied couloir to the ridge, and we crossed our fingers that maybe we could sneak around the other side to the top.
Perfect knee deep pow led us to a brief cornice fight as we literally punched and hacked our way through a chunk of the overhanging barrier. A classic belly flop, with legs flailing behind, landed us in the sun on the top. However, rock slabs with some pretty big exposure gave us our immediate decision of settling with an 'almost summit' and being happy with 2 new ski lines and 1 new summit.
So we reversed our tour, dropped our two new lines in steep and bottomless pow with a final descent down the ultra classic lodge run the A; a 2300 vertical foot north facing avalanche path back to the snow cat access road.
Big smiles and high fives had us both agreeing this was one of the best days of the season. Now I just have to go back and tag the summit, and with some sweet photos and great memories that won’t be a hard sell to get someone to do it with me.