Whether you’re arriving by boat, plane or helicopter, the sight of Silvertip Lodge is welcome after the inevitable long journey to reach it. Classic, rustic, authentic, Silvertip appears, surrounded by trees, on a bench above a lake, like the Canadian wilderness lodge you’ve always imagined—or seen in a movie. Unsurprisingly, it’s indeed one of the most remote and exclusive powder-skiing destinations on the planet.
by Leslie Anthony
As we descend past a large moose to land on a late February day following a scenic 45-minute chopper ride from Williams Lake, it immediately feels like home.
Abutting B.C.’s storied Cariboo Mountains at the end of the East Arm of 100-kilometre-long Quesnel Lake (a rare, inland fjord some of which never freezes), Silvertip is a one-of-a-kind heliskiing destination.
Although all B.C. heli-ops offer variation, most are known or celebrated for a certain type of terrain. The calling card for Silvertip’s 1,440 square km of tenure would be its extreme diversity—and proximity to the lodge of some of its best terrain. Here, serrated peaks rise above long ridges harbouring exceptional tree skiing that spiral below, the radiating arms of an alpine octopus. Whether steep or mellow, the trees here form perfectly spaced glades, almost preternaturally so.
Our bags have barely hit the floor when we’ve downed a hot lunch, geared up, and marched right back out to the heli-pad. Silvertips’s best and deepest turns are only moments away. Big glaciers, wide-open alpine, naturally spaced trees, and reliable powder all speak for themselves, and we waste no time letting them talk.
“Your group then has a virtual skiing menu to choose from: select your own runs; have runs that suit you recommended; maximize vertical or minimize stress; stay in one place or explore distant peaks; ski morning, afternoon, or both.”
Within minutes we’re shredding Old Macdonald, where the snow is good on most aspects despite an avalanche cycle that keeps us out of more exposed areas. The north faces we plumb over the next few days are equally exquisite—deep and powdery, shaded enough from a warming spring sun to maintain quality. When the guides approve, we pick and choose, skiing mornings in one area that we’ve decided we like, another in the afternoon.
Silvertip bends over backwards to provide its guests a custom-designed experience—basically, heliskiing as it was first imagined by heliski pioneer Hans Gmoser back in 1966. To begin, you bring your own chosen 8–16 skier posse. Your group then has a virtual skiing menu to choose from: select your own runs; have runs that suit you recommended; maximize vertical or minimize stress; stay in one place or explore distant peaks; ski morning, afternoon, or both. You get the picture: your schedule is up to you, with safety the only rule religiously followed.
Silvertip Lodge first opened in 1967 as a remote destination for fishermen and hunters. In 2002, Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) purchased the 14-acre lakeshore property, winterizing the triple A-frame lodge and raising accommodation standards to appeal to high-end heli-skiers. In 2009, post-recession, CMH sold it to someone who envisioned a unique, member-only heli-ski operation. That never came to fruition, and Silvertip passed to its current owners in 2015. The lodge’s delicious isolation was the first thing that attracted current owner-operator Mike Binnion.
Inside, walls decorated in the usual post-colonial kitsch—elk and moose heads, mountain goat and fox skins, homesteader’s tools, a trolling rig for the massive rainbow trout the lake is famous for—channel the same notion of wilderness. But this is no backwoods bacon-and-beans operation. Talented chefs serve communal four-star meals around a long wooden table that accommodates the entire group.
Located in an airy wing, the table looks out onto the lake and it’s constantly shifting moods on one side, backed on the other by an artistically rendered antique wood boiler feeding a glycol heat system that circulates throughout the buildings (the sauna is wood-fired; a diesel generator adds electricity).
“After dinner, the atmosphere and energy is ribald, raunchy, ridiculous—and fun….Not the sounds of a bunch of people hunched all-too-intensely around a game board, but running, leaping, laughing, tequila-fuelled camp activities involving everyone.”
After dinner, the atmosphere and energy is ribald, raunchy, ridiculous—and fun. Led by owner Michael and ever-hectoring wife Maria, the spacious living room rings with the sound of play. Not the sounds of a bunch of people hunched all-too-intensely around a game board, but running, leaping, laughing, tequila-fuelled camp activities involving everyone. It’s no all-night party, mind you, but ephemeral bonding that simmers down as fast as it boiled up.
What else is different at Silvertip? Well, unlimited skiing for one. The helicopter is at your group’s disposal. Want to make three runs before lunch? Cool. Ten? Also cool. Maybe you like your soup in a ceramic bowl instead of a plastic cup and prefer dining in the lodge over lunching in the snow. Again, with so many ski zones minutes from the lodge, it’s easy to do. Here, you move at your own pace.
Perhaps most surprising is that despite its remoteness, Silvertip is a powder experience for all level of skier, having hosted everyone from Norwegian pros born with skis on their feet, to first-timers from Papua New Guinea. Is there a story to go along with that last one? You bet. And Mike and Maria will be sure to tell you about it
For more information, visit http://silvertipheliskiing.com