The Sea to Sky Gondola’s Annual Pass Sale is back! Get out and enjoy everything the Summit Lodge and beyond has to offer.
Words :: Eric Carter // Photos :: Chris Christie
The Kwékwetxwm (Shannon Creek) valley situated high above the oceanside town Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), is a very unique place for backcountry skiers on the South Coast of British Columbia. It’s easily overlooked while driving to the mega-resort just 45 minutes north but well worth a visit.
One of the things that makes being a backcountry skier on the Coast a challenge is the difficulty we have just to access the alpine terrain of these mountains. The keen skier has to deal with rough logging roads, steep overgrown trails, and a deep rainforest that thrives up to 1600 meters above sea-level! This makes for long and tiring days.
Access to the Shannon Creek Valley however, is made easier thanks to the Sea to Sky Gondola. An eight minute lift ride whisks you from rainy conditions at sea-level to a winter paradise at the upper lodge. On good snow days, it’s a no-brainer to enjoy a sleep in, have a lazy breakfast, and then head to the gondola for skiing when they open at 9am. The morning line-up is a community gathering to catch up with friends, and strategize where to find the best skiing (and get first tracks).
Groomed tracks lead up a logging road to access the valley. At the end of the road, you turn into the old growth forest on a steep switchbacking skin track. It’s easy to forget amongst the giant trees, but as soon as you stride past the end of the grooming, you’ve entered extremely complex avalanche terrain. Be sure to check the avalanche advisory at avalanche.ca and pick up the topo map for the area at www.seatoskybackcountry.com.
The alpine terrain offers mellow glacier runs, fun playful ribs in the sun, and some incredibly complicated micro-terrain to explore. There’s a few cliffs to be mindful of while skiing but for the most part, if a run looks good, it goes! The real jewels of the area are the alpine couloirs found in the Ledge and Goat Ridge basins. All north facing, the couloirs hold snow and benefit from Squamish’s unique position, getting moisture off the ocean and cold temperatures from the interior.
Climbing up can be intimidating, with massive walls above you dropping continuous spindrift while cornices loom. Several lines require a mandatory rappel to enter from the top and get established for skiing, making this an exciting playground for the budding ski alpinist. The vertical drop per run isn’t necessarily massive but all are in a spectacular setting. The most unique part of all of this is reaching the ridge and looking down on the valley bottom to see Átl’ka7tsem (Howe Sound), the fjord providing the moisture to keep the trees growing bigger and bigger and the skiers deep and happy.
With so much adventure concentrated in a small area, you can find year round exploration from simple cross country skiing on the groomed road, to opening new ski mountaineering and climbing routes in the high peaks. It’s easy to think of this valley as a training ground to practice the breadth of our skills in a variety of environments. We certainly can’t complain with one skin track giving multiple options to ski a new line and finish the day back at the Summit lodge with a healthy amount of gain/loss.
Don’t miss the Sea to Sky Gondola’s Annual Pass Sale!
Happening now until April 30th.
Get yours and experience everything the beautiful Sea to Sky has to offer!