Exploring the backcountry happens in stages. First, it’s ducking the boundary rope and following your friends to a pow stash. That evolves into exiting the resort gate in full touring regalia. Then one day, you’re bushwacking back to the car under the glow of a headlamp, wondering how a cruisy day trip somehow morphed into a 14-hour epic. As the desire to explore bolsters, so does the need for longer and more arduous approaches to remote backcountry objectives.
words :: Vince Shuley
On foot, those uneventful approaches—mostly on logging roads—can eat up critical travel time. But if the self-propelled purist is ready to accept the noise and exhaust fumes of a snowmobile, they can spend less time sweating and more time shredding. However, the prohibitive cost of sled-assisted touring keeps it a pipe dream for many backcountry skiers and snowboarders.
Dan Cudlip saw this problem as an opportunity. At the start of the 2015/16 winter, Dan already had an impressive list of local backcountry peaks and couloirs under his belt but like most burgeoning backcountry enthusiasts he wanted to travel deeper into the Coast Mountains. The trick was how to do it on the budget of a frugal ski bum. The solution? Assembling a team of like-minded self-propelled dirtbags to invest in a backcountry sled co-operative.
Cudlip offered three friends a unique investment opportunity—help him get the sled running and he would rideshare members into remote backcountry zones.
“I got the idea during that sh*t snow year [winter of 2014/15],” recalls Cudlip. “I was able to do a bunch of trips into areas I hadn’t explored before by driving up the (snowless) logging roads. I knew if I wanted to return to those zones, I’d have to get a sled.”
After scoping out a decrepit Polaris RMK 600 at the campground where he worked and making the owner a fair offer, Cudlip offered three friends a unique investment opportunity—help him get the sled running and he would rideshare members
into remote backcountry zones. All three friends went for it.
Every motorized toy needs hauling, so with the limited budget he had, Cudlip picked up a 2006 Ford Ranger that had seen better days, but according to the manual, met the minimum criteria for carting around his 11-year-old snow machine.
“I ruined that truck in one season driving fully loaded up and down the Duffey [Lake Road],” says Cudlip, now wise to the pitfalls of cheaping out on a vehicle. “The cost and maintenance of a truck is easily the most expensive part of owning a sled.”
But a beater truck-sled combo was the least of the troubles in making the co-operative a successful venture. Cudlip had zero experience riding a snowmobile, so the first few outings in early season conditions were an interesting learning experience.
“I wasn’t part of a sledding crew and didn’t really have anyone to mentor me,” he says. “But after a while, I could tow two skiers no problem, in good conditions. Early and late season conditions on the roads slowed things down with the snowmelt and ditches, but the biggest challenge was the logistics; having the right people with the right avalanche skills available on the right days. That was the only way to keep it economical.”
Together with a stack of maps and many hours trawling Google Earth, the sled co-op crew succeeded in accessing zones far beyond the standard, well-punched skin tracks of local touring hotspots.
After a few trips to work out the kinks, Cudlips’ co-op system actually worked. He managed 10 sled-assisted ski touring trips last winter (including a few multi-day excursions) and together with a stack of maps and many hours trawling Google Earth, the sled co-op crew succeeded in accessing zones far beyond the standard, well-punched skin tracks of local touring hotspots. Of course, the season included plenty of days of touring without the sled, but seizing those motor-assisted opportunities on the right days with the right people allowed Cudlip to reach corners of the Coast Mountains he previously didn’t know existed.
“Where the dividends paid off was on the multiday trips, where the trip cost for fuel rewarded us with up to three days of touring in these remote zones,” says Cudlip. “Over the season it still came out as a substantial cost per day, but I don’t see how anyone could have done it for cheaper than we did.”
This particular backcountry sled co-op is not currently accepting any new members, but enthusiasts are encouraged to form their own.