words:: Taylor Godber photos: Michael Overbeck
Home away from home. The small Hughes 500 helicopter buzzes over the frosted pines that stand proud and tall, stretching almost in ovation to the sky. Wide eyed with amazement the two tykes, six-year-old Lars Andrews and his slightly older sister Megan, sit on the front bench seat peering through the windows of the chopper, imagining the snow jumps they will build and the exploring they will do at their “winter home.”
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Four decades later, faces pressed against the windows of an A-star chopper, we feel almost the same way. Then the cabin comes into sight—Whitecap Alpine Adventures Lodge, nestled in the bosom of the magnificent peaks and curves of the MacGillvary Pass, held by the surrounding nature like the jewel it has always been.
Inside, vintage glass insulators from the telegraph line in the 1900s (the reason the Pass was staged) decorate the pine walls along with an old Swiss bell and a large vinyl collection of the greatest hits of the 70s, 80s and today. Whitecap is recorded as one of the earliest backcountry lodges in British Columbia—only those in Assiniboine and Yoho national parks pre-date it. To help get into the history, we’ve packed throwback ski outfits. Considered ironic on contemporary slopes, here at Whitecap they immediately feel perfectly placed in some sort of time warp continuum.
Each waft of the wood burning fire emanates the sensation of cozy and the poetic essence of being home. Everyone gathers in the early morning, eager to get out into the endless terrain options slowly coming into focus with the glow of the rising sun.
But first a “strong coffee,” that’s how Ron Andrews (Lars and Megan’s father) likes to kick off the day, along with a hearty home-cooked breakfast from the motherly kitchen of chef Gail Morrison. Only one day in and it’s already impossible to separate the conglomerate of new friends created under this roof. It feels nothing less than extended family. These walls are habituated to this, having been erected in 1972 for exactly such purposes.
It was Helmet and Christa Weinhold, an adventurous Austrian couple working in the booming town of Bralorne, who first saw potential for a commercial ski area up the yawning valley. From our spot outside the lodge, surrounded by pristine slopes and walls of powder-caked potential, their vision makes perfect sense. It’s easy to imagine two-seater chairlifts braced up to the slopes, whisking guests up, up and away into the myriad of terrain potentials.
But the resort never came to fruition, and guests in this era are grateful to escape the mechanical assistance and onslaught of humans that ski area life can incubate. After getting an “all clear” from our guides we skin off into silence, each stride bringing us deeper into the meditative flow of putting one foot in front of the other.
Yesterday’s uptrack lends ease into the long day of vertical ahead of us. Quarter-sized paw prints dot the path, suggesting that resident pine marten, “BBQ Doug”, also saw functionality in our route.
Lead guide for our trip, Christina Lusti breaks trail, effortlessly tunneling through the 60cm+ of snow deposited from the last system that rolled inland off the Pacific Ocean. Awash with the feeling of new prospects awaiting at the top, one can only wonder what this adventure felt like for previous generations of Andrews—summiting for the first time on a new peak in the South Chilcotin Mountains.
In the winter months of the 1970s Ron and Karin Andrews would telemark ski or alpine tour these hills in leather boots with super long, double cambered, narrow skis (210-215cm and 40-45mm underfoot). “They were pretty much cross country skis,” Lars says. “And it was all kinds of pieced-together stuff for us kids back then. Ron would build touring bindings out of spare parts and we would use our alpine boots to walk in. Everything back then had a lifespan of about 10-15 days of use, then it broke.”
Back then the Andrews used clips and straps to hold the skins on their skis. Now, as the only snowboarder in our group, I’m especially grateful for the evolution of gear and proficiency of travel in contrast to the Lodge’s early era. Snowshoes and post holing up the uptrack are still fun, I’m sure—but we get more runs this way. The ease of use and quality of contemporary gear has lowered the barriers to entry and made touring an accessible and very rewarding way to enjoy the mountains.
“When I was a kid and a teenager,” Lars says, “doing one or two runs was a full day outing and 1,200-1,400 metres (of vertical) was a big day in the mountains. Now it’s easy to get this in before noon.”
Clear January skies provide us with endless opportunities to mind-surf the objectives laid over stacks of peaks as far as the eye can see. Our morning ascent feels minuscule in comparison to the ups and downs of each surrounding mountain—there are more lines here than would ever be possible to bag in a lifetime. If time travel is ever a real possibility, we know where to come.
Teetering at the top, looking down at the glorious mass of white flakes as the wind slashes at our grins, we couldn’t help but feel—as the French say, “joyeux d’être heureux.” Translation: happy to be happy. Then we’re taking turns diving into oceans of powder, each turn sending cascading white plumes of cold smoke into the air. This is the quintessential experience everyone reaches for when the snow gods deliver the powder: high speed pow carves.
The vibe is high and with one descent in the bag, we are keen to follow Lusti’s lead to the next objective. We meander into the shadow cast by the towering peak above, zig-zagging on the high point of the upward slope towards an opening in the granite wall. Skis and board off, we follow the leader up the chute between lichen-speckled rock walls. The ascent gives us evidence that the snow quality will be pristine on our way back down.
We enjoy lunch with a view through the mountain on both sides with the lodge in eye shot as a freckle in the valley. For all the space and snow and time surrounding us, there isn’t any room to question why the Andrews family has made this locale their home away from home and how their passion to share this special place with guests has people returning on the regular.
Lars says, “I want everyone to feel like they are arriving to their own place, familiar and welcoming. I want their experience to be authentic and rewarding, simple and exhilarating. I want them to feel like they are immersed in the mountains.”
It does feel like an escape from the predictability of the day-to-day. To be thrust into the flow of remote adventure cabin life—eat, tour, ski, tour, ski, tour, ski, après, eat, sleep, repeat. This melodic rhythm churns and feeds everything passionate mountain people crave—the peace and quiet cocktail with a dash of adrenaline, a warm fire at day’s end, and good people to share it with.
It feels a bit like time travel, this glowing place of solitude and snow. And while we know the only definitive thing we humans can rely on is change, the hope is that it yields evolution rather than demise. Gear becomes more technical, perception of terrain widens, souls get a bit wiser, but in one—even two—human lifetimes, the physical features of the earth seem to stay about the same. And at Whitecap the vinyl is always spinning and skiing objectives never end. “The vibe is the same as always,” Lars says proudly. “The clothes are different but people are still stoked to be together having experiences in the mountains. It still feels like home.” –ML