Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry skiing on Mount Begbie near Revelstoke (Garrett Grove photo)

Backcountry skiing on Mount Begbie near Revelstoke (Garrett Grove photo)

British Columbia has the most important elements for fantastic backcountry skiing: big snowfalls and huge mountains.

Expect diverse terrain filled with untouched powder, glades, glaciers and incredible scenery. Cozy backcountry lodges and alpine huts allow for multi-day ski touring, and backcountry ski guides can safely assess the snowpack.

What is Backcountry Skiing?

Backcountry skiing in British Columbia typically means “earning your turns” by trekking up slopes with climbing skins or by bootpacking. The reward? Skiing down through untracked snow, usually in remote areas.

Ski amongst glaciers and granite peaks in Rogers Pass, or discover untracked runs over vast ski terrain near Barkerville. Skin through deep snow in Strathcona Provincial Park or follow moose, caribou and deer tracks in Wells Grey Provincial Park. Explore the backcountry of Shames Mountain or cross 14 glaciers on the Spearhead Traverse.

Avalanche safety and route-finding skills are a must when heading into the backcountry. Learn backcountry skiing skills and safety through lodges, clubs or ski resorts such as Revelstoke, Whitewater and Red Mountain, or hire a backcountry ski guide.

Backcountry Skiing in British Columbia’s Regions:

Kootenay Rockies: Massive snowfall, five mountain ranges, and backcountry guides, tours and lodges for all abilities along the “Powder Highway.”

Thompson Okanagan: Plenty of fresh runs over a vast area known for wildlife viewing.

Cariboo Chilcotin Coast: Huge terrain, dry interior powder and no crowds.

Northern British Columbia: Incredible backcountry that Powder magazine describes as “unrivalled.”

Vancouver Island: Warm ocean air meets soaring peaks to create one of the deepest all-natural snow bases in Canada.

Vancouver, Coast & Mountains: Varied terrain, big snowfalls and nonstop scenic vistas.

Whistler: Classic backcountry traverses comparable to the Haute Route of the Alps.

Snow, Terrain and Ski Season

Champagne powder is the star here: it’s deep, it’s dry and there’s a lot of it. Annual snowfall in BC ranges from 10.5m/35ft on the west coast to a substantial 15m/50ft in the eastern Kootenay Rockies.

Terrain exists for all levels of skier. Ski alpine bowls, rolling slopes, steep chutes, epic ridges, plentiful glades and wide glaciers. Ski season generally begins in mid-November and can last until late spring.

Backcountry Guides and Tours

Hire a backcountry ski guide for a safe adventure – and to find the hidden powder stashes. There are trip options for skiers of all abilities: guided backcountry ski tours can include day trips, multi-day excursions, hut-to-hut traverses and backcountry skiing lessons. Many operators also feature excellent meals.

Backcountry Lodges and Huts

Backcountry lodges range from luxury fly-in retreats to cozy alpine cabins. After a day of big descents (and ascents), enjoy amenities such as a cedar sauna, wood burning fireplace, bubbling hot tub or private room. Some lodges are available for private rental, though meeting new friends who share a passion for backcountry is part of the fun. The Backcountry Lodges of British Columbia Association (BLBCA) is an excellent source of information on backcountry lodges throughout the province.

Backcountry huts are another option for multi-day treks or day trips. Huts are generally more rustic than lodges, but most have comfortable facilities and even saunas. The Alpine Club of Canada, local ski clubs, and parks can provide details about travelling to and renting backcountry huts.

Practical Points and Safety

  • Access to routes may require four-wheel drive, tire chains or a snowmobile.
  • Research, careful planning and avalanche skills training are key to a safe trip.
  • Before going into backcountry, check local weather forecasts and avalanche conditions. The Canadian Avalanche Association is a good resource.
  • Travel with and know how to use proper equipment. An avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe, metal avalanche shovel, first aid kit and appropriate layers of clothing are necessary.
  • Ski with a professional backcountry ski guide or with experienced skiers. Always travel with a group and be prepared with rescue equipment.

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