Return to Powder Creek

Powder Creek Lodge panorama

View from the lodge helipad

A couple years ago, N surprised me with what was the Best. Gift. Ever. for this skier – a week long trip to Powder Creek Lodge, a backcountry lodge located in British Columbia.  It was a fantastic trip, and we both hoped we could do it again.  When one of the folks we met that week let us know that he was organizing a trip for this past January, we didn’t hesitate.

Skier in Powder Creek Drainage, Purcells

N found his backcountry legs pretty quickly

What was even better this time around was that my brother came along.  He’s become a backcountry skier – I’d like to think in part because of the many tales that N and I have recounted, but I can’t be sure – and since he had a significant birthday recently, he wanted to fete it in a significant way.  We all agreed that a week of backcountry skiing in Canada was significant.

Views from Powder Creek, Purcells, British Columbia

Views like this never get old.

Cue to this winter.  Or rather, non-winter.  We’d had no opportunities to backcountry ski prior to the trip, thanks to little precipitation at Lake Tahoe.  We were not alone, since many of the folks going on the trip were from Oregon, which had also seen little snow by January.    It meant excitement ran high, even if ski fitness ran low.

powder creek lodge sunset views

The views from the lodge weren’t too shabby either

Our timing was perfect this year.  While our helicopter flight in was delayed a few hours due to weather, and while said flight in was much bumpier than I would have preferred, we got into the lodge on arrival day just before the real weather moved in, leaving us with over 3 feet of new snow in the first two days.

Skiers climbing up slope

Ridiculously beautiful scenery made the uphill part less painful

One of the many things I love about Powder Creek Lodge is the location.  It’s situated at 7000 feet, just above treeline.  There are low angle slopes in the trees, along with a variety of slopes in the alpine, ranging from wide open gentle slopes to steeper chutes.  So we had ample options even when avalanche danger was high.  It meant we skied 5-6 hours a day in search of untracked snow, which wasn’t hard to find.

Throw in running water, solar electricity, hot showers and a sauna, a full kitchen (we were self-catered, so this was important), stunning views and comfortable beds, and you can understand why Powder Creek Lodge is my perfect vacation.  I’m pretty sure it became my brother’s as well, as he had a big grin the whole time – especially when he got turns like this.

Powder Creek powder skier

Living up to the name at Powder Creek.

Overall it was another great week.  The group got along well, and had no real gear issues or injuries outside of some colorful blisters.  And we found out later that it didn’t snow again there for another two weeks.  Confirming that our timing could not have been more perfect.

If You Go

Powder Creek Lodge – This popular alpine style ski lodge offers both catered and self-catered options.  Plan to book out a year in advance at a minimum.

Getting there – From Spokane it’s approximately a 3 hour drive to Nelson, where Powder Creek Lodge’s helicopter transportation is located.   There is a shuttle service that goes from Spokane to Nelson if you don’t want to rent a car.

Hume Hotel – This recently renovated historic hotel in central Nelson is my favorite place to stay.

Mountain Hound Inn – These affordable accommodations are located on Nelson’s main drag, and the combination of location and price make it popular with skiers.

The Outer Clove – Groovy garlic themed restaurant with a pretty extensive menu and the ability to accommodate a large group makes it our go-to spot for dinner before we leave for Powder Creek.   Two words – quasar burger.

Oso Negro Coffee – Nelson’s best coffee roaster and café.  Your lodge mates will love you if you bring a pound or so of their beans with you.

Full Circle Café – Tasty breakfasts, and the fact that it opens at 6.30 am makes it a great option if you have to be at the helipad at 8 am.

Fresh Tracks Café – Located at Whitewater Ski Resort, it’s got an amazingly diverse menu (my favorite is the yam poutine with miso mushroom gravy).  Perfect place for lunch on your way back home (assuming you’re not taking the shuttle).  Also worth exploring if you have an extra day to ski or ride before or after your trip.

Taking a breather in Mammoth Lakes

me minarets

The tragic Rim Fire outside of Yosemite hit close to home last week, when the fire’s smoke traveled up to the Tahoe basin – and decided to stay awhile.  We’ve not seen smoke this bad since the Angora Fire, and it affected our morale as much as our ability to breathe and sleep.  With no respite forecast for the weekend, we decided to head south to Mammoth Lakes, where we had heard air quality was much better, thanks to the wind direction.

dog stick convict lake

Since we had the dog with us, our first stop was for her.  Convict Lake is just south of Mammoth Lakes, and while it’s a popular fishing spot, the 2.5 mile trail that circumvents the lake is the perfect distance for a nearly 13 year old dog.  We love the views of Mt. Morrison and Mini-Morrison, and the clear blue skies were only additional incentive.

Nils Mammoth

The real reason for traveling to Mammoth was to mountain bike.  It’s been a few years since I had been to Mammoth’s mountain bike park, and while I had upgraded my bike, Mammoth had done a lot of work to the trail system, adding trails and working on existing ones.  The net result was a whole lotta fun.  Think plenty of banked turns, bridges, more than a few pavers, and a ton of views.

With great meals at Toomey’s and Campo Mammoth, along with food, wine, live music and fascinating people watching at the Mammoth Rocks event Saturday, it really felt like a mini vacation.

For both me and my lungs.

If you go:

Mammoth Mountain Bike Park: Open 7 days a week through September 15, then weekends through September 29.

Convict Lake: In addition to hiking, there’s also fishing, boating and a terrific restaurant.  Go here in the autumn to see the technicolor brilliance of the aspens along the lake.

Toomey’s: Matt Toomey, former head chef at the Tioga Toomey’s at the Whoa Nellie Deli, has returned to Mammoth.  His new restaurant, located near the Village in the old Ski Surgeon building, boasts many of his classics (think lobster taquitos) and some new favorites, like the ½ pound burger served with caramelized onions and blue cheese.

Campo Mammoth:  This Mammoth outpost of the popular Reno rustic Italian restaurant offers wood-fired pizzas, great cocktails (try the Campo Manhattan), and an awesome kale salad.

Old New York Deli & Bakery:  The best (read: authentic) bagels you can find in the Sierra.  Seriously.  Located in the Village, it’s got great breakfasts and happens to be conveniently located on the way to the ski resort.

Ski Safari, Part 5: Mt. Baker

Mt Baker

Smiling ’cause his jacket was waterproofed recently.

While our drive to Bellingham along the Trans-Canada Highway was sunny and clear, the next day’s forecast was wet.  So wet that Mt. Baker’s snow report had the rare statement of ‘light rain’ at the base.  That’s a forecast no ski marketer usually admits to, so we went up expecting a downpour. It wasn’t that bad.  Wet snow, yes, and I quickly learned that I needed to re-waterproof my ski jacket and pants, but the terrain is super fun, and I finally had a chance to ski with my niece.  That she insisted on skiing a double black diamond chute (her first) with us really capped off the day.

It also capped off a fun trip, since from there it was all about the marathon drive back to Tahoe, broken up with a few stops along the way.

Would I do it again? Absolutely – ski vacations are fun, and something we’ve not done often, seeing how we live in such an awesome ski destination like Tahoe. Though the next time I want to stop at some other smaller Oregon and California resorts, like Willamette Pass, Mt. Hood and Mt. Shasta Ski Park.

So, next year – who’s up for it?

Ski Safari, Part 4: Revelstoke

Missed Part 1, 2 or 3?

Revelstoke

Big views & big vertical

The Whitewater to Revelstoke leg of the trip was one of the longer drives, involving high mountain roads, beautiful scenery, some snow, and a ferry crossing.  That was my favorite part of the drive, and not just because it was free.

We arrived in Revelstoke along with the snow, which resulted in our second official powder day of the trip.  New snow + 5620 feet of vertical + high speed chairlifts meant that we quickly racked up vertical, along with face shots and grins.  Revelstoke’s terrain includes some fun hiking, a ton of trees, and sustained steeps.  That there was nothing resembling a lift line during our two days was further reason to love the place.

In its current incarnation, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is a new ski resort, only opened in 2007.  Admittedly there was another smaller ski resort and a cat ski operation before that, so it’s not like skiing is new here.  But it doesn’t come across as your typical destination ski resort.  There’s no lodge around every corner, and not everything is groomed to perfection.    Like Red and Whitewater, this is a skier’s mountain.  And like those two resorts, there are a lot of people that drive up the Powder Highway to hit them all.  We saw a few of the same people at the three resorts doing just what we did.   So clearly this Powder Highway thing has caught on.

After two days of powder, steeps and trees, it was time to start the journey south.  Our next stop was Bellingham to visit family and ski Mt. Baker.  Having visited Bellingham numerous times over the past 4 years, I had never skied there, so I was super excited.

Coming up: Mt. Baker

Ski Safari, Part 3: Whitewater

Snow ghost trees

Snow ghosts at Whitewater

Missed Part 1 or Part 2?

When you’re on a ski safari, it’s as much about the driving as it is the skiing.  Getting from Red Mountain to Nelson, the closest town to Whitewater Ski Resort, was one of the shortest driving legs of the trip, a little over an hour.  Our route took us through Trail B.C., which was the location of the JP Auclair’s creative urban ski segment in Sherpa Cinemas All.I.Can.

Nelson is a town I spent just enough time in last year to want to go back.  It has many of the things I seek in a ski town – great coffee (Oso Negro), lots of ski shops, and a number of interesting restaurants.  Oh, and a ski resort just outside of town, one known for great powder and great backcountry access.  Win-win-win-win!

Just our luck we arrived in Nelson on the eve of a holiday – Family Day. It’s a new holiday for British Columbia, but new or not, local citizens took it very seriously.  As such, all stores, including most restaurants, were closed, outside of the one located at the Hume Hotel, where we were staying (the newer rooms have great beds & groovy decor).   Americans, particularly those of us living in resort towns, might learn from this example.

I was eager to ski Whitewater, as much to explore the terrain as to enjoy another awesome lunch.  Our timing meant mid-week ‘crowds’ and a cloud layer up high, the latter which kept us gravitating towards the trees, and the former meaning there were not many people besides us in said trees.

Endless vertical

Endless vertical

Like Red Mountain, Whitewater doesn’t have a whole bunch of lifts, and ZERO high-speed quads.  But its geography means that the two lifts we rode accessed a lot of fun (and steep) terrain.  By lunchtime I had worked up an appetite, and since I had eaten well the last time we were here, I was looking forward to lunch.  Whitewater’s Café is still as interesting and delicious as I remembered.  We split an order of vegetarian poutine with yam fries that I was still talking about the next day.   Were we not on a schedule to get to Revelstoke that night, I might have insisted on returning to Nelson to find the Whitewater cookbook with that recipe.  As it was, we were on a mission ski safari.

After another few hours of endless turns past snow ghosts, we packed up in order to get to Revelstoke by dinner time.

Next stop: Revelstoke

Ski Safari, Part 2: Red Mountain

Red Mountain ski resort

Bush league sidecountry at Red Mountain.

Missed Part 1?

From Wenatchee we headed north to the small town of Omak, which is near another small ski resort we didn’t hit – Loup Loup Ski Bowl – but it got us closer to the Canadian border, and our next destination, Red Mountain.  Red’s located near Rossland, B.C., a mere 10 km from the U.S. border.  It’s also part of the Powder Highway, and the official start to that part of our ski safari.

Red’s one of those ski resorts that’s a bit under the radar for many Californians.  I’d heard of it as having great terrain, and remembered its tongue in cheek ad from a few years ago.  Most people, when they asked me where we were headed, automatically assumed Whistler-Blackcomb, and when I mentioned Red Mountain and Whitewater, had never heard of them.

Red Mountain ski resort

No steeps at Red either.

But as the ad so clearly states, Red sucks.  So you definitely don’t want to check it out.  No fun steeps, no easily accessed sidecountry, huge crowds, only 4,200 acres of terrain, and it has no personality.

Yeah.  That’s it.

Red Mountain

No powder snow either.

It sucked so much we spent two days there, including a day where a 15 minute hike resulted in some fun powder turns…days after a storm.

Next stop: Whitewater

Ski Safari

When much-anticipated plans to take a ski vacation to France didn’t quite pan out, we found ourselves looking north.  Canada north.  We had passports and fat skis, vacation time, and a yen to ski new terrain – ideally with new snow.

This idea wasn’t totally out of the blue.  Last year’s trip to a backcountry lodge near Nelson, B.C. piqued our interest in exploring that part of the world, and an article in a ski magazine on the Powder Highway further encouraged us.  The final straw was the dry and springlike weather in Tahoe, with a forecast that offered no immediate relief.  So off we went.

Mt Bachelor powder skiing

First day of vacation – not bad.

Considering that Canadian border is nearly 1,000 miles from Tahoe, we decided to hit a few U.S. ski resorts on the way up.  First stop was Bend, OR, to see N’s parents…and sneak in skiing at Mt. Bachelor.  This is not a new resort to us – it’s where N learned to ski, and we’ve had more than a few memorable powder days there already.  But to have fresh snow after weeks of sunshine and high pressure in California was a welcome start to vacation.  

Mission Ridge Ski Resort

Short hike, big payoff.

From Bend we drove to the town of Wenatchee in eastern Washington.  Located on the east side of the Cascades, it’s home to Mission Ridge, a 2,000 acre ski resort right outside of town.  It’s not your typical PNW resort, in that there’s a lot of sunshine (300 days a year – like Tahoe) and the snow is drier than those resorts on the western side of the state.  Like a few other ski resorts we visited, Mission Ridge does not boast villages or lodging.   There’s a base lodge and a smaller lodge mid-mountain, but it was refreshingly simple – and the lift ticket rates reflected it ($53).  Our timing was good, for a recent storm meant that fresh tracks could be had if you were willing to hike.  And we were.

Mission Ridge ski resort

Fun terrain…and a bomber plane!

Mission Ridge’s terrain is varied, with plenty of advanced/expert steeps to keep us skiing until the end of the day.  It offers night skiing as well, but we had to get on the road for the next stop on our ski safari.

Next up: Red Mountain