After three days of cold (not to mention the notoriously grey Coastal skies), the sun on my face felt amazing and the snow glimmering below my feet made it feel like the slope was begging me to paint some lines in her beautiful canvas. After transitioning into ski mode, we dropped in one by one. Hearing hooting and hollering as our group headed down the steep pitch into the heavenly hallway we dubbed the ‘burn’ I wait with excitement for my turn. I choose my own line and floated through the fresh snow that mother nature delivered while I was sleeping – quite literally this is the stuff my dreams are made of. Getting unbelievable terrain to ourselves, fresh snow, amazing amenities (read: a hot tub in the backcountry) and even better company – was I dreaming? As I turn into the perfectly spaced trees, it’s already decided, I’ll turn my out of office alert on any time for a trip with Altus Mountain Guides and Backcountry Snow Cats.
Rewind a few days earlier and I’m sitting on the bus when I get a message from my friend, Abby Cooper, and in classic Abby fashion it’s a loaded question, “what are you doing three days from now?” I am supposed to be working so I know I shouldn’t even tease myself, but I still ask, “why, what’s up?”
Abby asks me how I would feel about a guided ski touring trip on the Hurley at the Backcountry Snow Cats lodge with Altus Mountain Guides. That alone was enough to catch my attention, but to top it off she mentions that I’d be skiing with Dana Flahr, Mikey Nixon, while Guy Fattal would be capturing the memories behind the lens.
Alright, twist my arm, I’ll go.
ALTUS + BACKCOUNTRY SNOW CATS DECODED
We met as a group early in the morning at the legendary Mt. Currie Coffee in Pemberton, B.C. With my hands grasping a topped-up coffee and a breakfast croissant, my stomach and I quickly understood why this was the go-to café for backcountry dwellers. We did some quick introductions, chatted logistics, and then discussed the plan for the next three days. In short, we’d be ski touring in different zones in Hurley Pass and would be using snowmobiles and snow-cats for access. I tried to contain my excitement for the truck but couldn’t help it, this was going to be epic.
We convoyed out of town and regrouped at the entrance to the Hurley service road. We packed our snowmobiles with all of our gear, completed a safety session, layered up and were on our way. The journey took a little over an hour and I don’t think I stopped smiling beneath my buff the entire way in. We were greeted by the lovely Backcountry Snowcat team with homemade soup and scones, which were nothing short of delicious. As we warmed up, we received a tour of the lodge – semi-private rooms, bathrooms with showers, a great dining area and communal spaces, and that aforementioned hot tub. Bonus: Kathy was kind enough to plow a walkway to the hot tub for us.
With full bellies and warm feet, we sledded to our zone of choice for the afternoon. Even though we’d all just met a few hours prior, by the time we slapped on our skins for the first time it felt like we’d all been friends for years. We toured up and gained the ridge just in time to catch the late afternoon sun. Despite a recent wind storm, the Altus team found some great snow and a really fun area for us, and this was just the beginning…
The next day, with an early start we hopped into the cat and caught a lift up to top of a new zone. With some fresh snow overnight, the stoke in the cat was very high and we excitedly chatted the whole ride. The zone was stellar; we spent the day ski touring and exploring untouched corridors with fun drops and steep lines scattered throughout unbelievable snow. Any day with face shots is an immediate best day in my books. As the sun was setting, the Backcountry Snowcat team was kind enough to come pick us up and bring us back to the lodge. With another incredible day under our belts, we knew one thing for sure, the hot tub was calling our names.
The sun was out in full force on our last day; so sunny that it called for a goggle lens change, which is always an indicator of good times ahead. We sledded to an old burn area that now had perfectly spaced trees and open bowls above. The Altus team had truly saved the best for last. We lapped the burn and then went off the backside of the peak into an area full of couloirs and bowls. Dropping in between Dana and Mikey was such a surreal experience, it was so fun to watch how beautifully they both danced through the terrain on their board and skis, riding with such fluidity, style, and ease. We ended the day with one final boot pack across a ridge and into a bowl with infinite pillows; with the sun blazing, good snow, and new pals, this was one of the most memorable laps of the trip.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
So, you want to hit up the Hurley? Here is the nitty gritty:
- Check the weather and pack accordingly! Always bring extra warm layers to help with body temperature regulation while touring and skiing.
- Prepare for the 60-75 minute snowmobile ride: Don’t leave cans in your clothing or gear bags as they could explode on the ride up, the Backcountry Snowcat team will help secure all your gear, bags, and drinks.
- Wear extra layers – the ride can be very cold and you will want to have extra warmth (especially on your legs for those of you with shell snow pants!) and make sure your face is fully covered.
- Proper socks are critical! I recommend Dissent compression socks for big days and if it’s really cold out heated socks can be lifesavers.
- Get lots of sleep and be sure to get enough nutrients – these are full days of skiing and touring and you will want to be rested and have the energy to play all day!
- If you join this trip with friends, ensure that you are going with likeminded people with similar skills who are down for an adventure!
Overall, I gave this trip 5/5. The lodge, amenities, food, and staff were fantastic, and the terrain, safety, guides, and atmosphere were incredible. I would highly recommend checking out Altus Mountain Guides and Backcountry Snow Cats for your next trip. There was so much variety, and thanks to the sleds and snow-cats our options were endless. If you want to have a really great time, get after it safely, can put in the work and love hot tubs, this is the adventure for you. Now, you just need to set that out of office alert…
Words by guest contributor Jenna Burge. Always up for an adventure, Jenna Burge is an avid skier, mountain biker and runner working and living in the Sea to Sky Corridor. She lives for the outdoors and is forever up for getting after it.
Photos by the talented Guy Fattal.