As the south coast drowns in another atmospheric river (I’ve counted four since September and now this one), other parts of the province bask in exceptional early-season deep powder conditions, where tours and tur
As the south coast drowns in yet another atmospheric river (I’ve counted four since September and now this one), other parts of the province bask in exceptional early-season deep powder conditions, where the tours and turns were there. menu since before Thanksgiving. One of those places is Shames Mountain outside of Terrace. Seeing the Instagram gold of this Shangri La ski reminds me of my last trip there a few seasons ago.
On a stormy day in late December, my photographer friend Mattias Fredriksson and I skated from T-bar Shames like big snowflakes skiing dreams. If we went to the left, we would pass through some off-limit glades, which are part of what is called the best slackcountry in all of North America. But with the sky too heavy to see much, we opted to go right, choosing a thigh-high dip in one of Shames’ infamous black doubles – mechanical bulls of stumps and rocks that need at least two basic meters to be skiable. On such a snowy day, however, it felt more like swimming with dolphins as we plunged in and out of the depths, sucking in air at every turn.
After a few races, we still hadn’t competed for lines or face shots with anyone, and, as the clouds lifted to reveal a Himalayan view of glacial cirques and mountains fringed with deep valleys superlatives flowed from my mouth as Mattias, a local, looked puzzled. Days this deep and uncrowded can be blithely mundane for those who live here, but they demand to be shouted from the rooftops by visitors like me.
A unique, snow-capped ski area averaging 12 meters per year, Shames is not owned by any faraway company or conglomerate. Instead, it has been operating since 2013 as the only non-profit community service ski cooperative in Canada. An image of basic ski culture painted by legendary figures who could provide food for a designer for a lifetime, the group of skiers hugging each other on the back exchanging information and helping each other around a plate of Putin inside the base lodge welcoming that day, reflected a community ethic of affordability, sustainability, collaboration and innovation. All on a mountain range of such generous proportions that even if everyone in town was there, it would have been difficult to find them.
If space is the last frontier of skiing, Shames is its own planet.
As you can imagine, the co-op is the latest chapter in a long history of keeping skiing alive in a thriving resource town. When the lower elevations of the town’s original ski resort, Kitsumkalum, fell victim to climate change in the late 1980s, its infrastructure was uprooted and moved to Shames Mountain, located 35 kilometers to the west. de Terrace with, as the master plan says, a more “favorable” base elevation. Favorable indeed: the inaugural opening of the new hill in December 1990 was delayed after the groomer buried itself in four meters of fresh snow. That season, the area received a shocking 24 meters of white matter.
Snow was never a problem in Shames, but the isolation (a 15 hour drive from Vancouver) and low numbers of skiers blessed and cursed it from day one. Eventually, the financial end of this equation caught up with the original owners and a local group was formed to buy the mountain and operate it as a cooperative. The mountain still averages only 340 skiers each of the five days a week it is open and rarely exceeds 600, many of them only using the ski lifts to access the surrounding plateaus and ridges which offer 26 separate routes in the hinterland. Plus, the ski area itself has embraced the backcountry experience, offering avalanche lessons, selling single-run lift cards and tickets, providing rentals, and working hard to keep up. ensure that skiers are informed with a control barrier and danger signs.
The curtain would rise over Shames’ huge backcountry options the next day, but for the rest of the afternoon, Mattias and I, along with our loved ones, were content to walk through some off-limits glades. on a cat road that wrapped us right back to the base of the T-bar for another turn, punctuating the cycle with a few tracks on the main tracks that were now buried in over two feet of snow and seemingly filled with every tower. I remember thinking I could get used to the pace and punch of this kind of place, where naked skiing is all that matters.
In addition to the lure of Shames, Northern Escape Heli Skiing, Skeena Cat Skiing and Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area attract more skiers to the Hwy 16 area often referred to as “Northern BC”, but which is really right in the middle. of our vast province. To meet the demand of locals and backcountry visitors, change is coming to Shames, but not in the form of restaurants, hotels, or shops (although you still have to pay for WiFi in the lodge. – the Lunch Hour Special is 250 MB for $ 2.95 CA). The upcoming change is the only one that matters: more skiing, as Shames cuts a series of unique 600-meter vertical slackcountry trails over a wooded ridge up front.
This basically adds up to another set of dreams for a stormy day.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist, and bon vivant who has never encountered a mountain he didn’t like.