December 5, 2010 in Outdoors

Cabin fever feels just right for backcountry skiers

Remote lodge owners are a rare breed
By The Spokesman-Review
 
File photo

Sarah and Mark Yancey make a break high in the Purcell Mountains for one quick ski run before dinner.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

If you’re lucky enough to see them at all, they might look like simple shelters in the woods.

But behind the scenic backdrop, the region’s backcountry lodges – the ones accessible only by long treks or mind-blowing helicopter shuttles – are a work in progress operated by a unique breed of capable people.

The United States has been slow to embrace the backcountry lodge concept in the Northwest, although some notable options are available (see related story).

British Columbia, however, has spectacular choices from at least 28 remote operations that require time to study online at the Backcountry Lodges of British Columbia website.

Costs are what you might expect for good food, personnel trained in rescue and avalanche awareness, and cozy accommodations far from any road.

The operators are a tough breed that come with and enhance the package.

Skiers familiar with the long-established Mount Carlyle Backcountry Lodge north of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park will find the operation under new management this winter.

The new owner is Brian “The Bald Bomber” Cross, a British Columbia native who’s been involved in backcountry ski touring since 1976 and the backcountry ski lodge industry for 25 years. He’s also been a part-time prospector for 20 years.

“I come from an avid ski family, my parents having been ski instructors for many years, and of course, all the boys in my family had to do our time as ski racers,” he said. “On powder days I was always allowed to skip school.”

Cross did a stint as a winter custodian at Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, which has its own state-of-of the-art backcountry lodge complete with its own hydroelectric plant. (Winter accommodations are booked by lottery through the Alpine Club of Canada.)

Cross said he’s anxious for his new crop of customers – and open to any suggestions for improving the lodge experience, “except shaving my beard!”

The Boulder Hut, which is a short heli-ride out of Kimberley is operated by a Sandpoint family that raises its two young children on the site during winter.

But while there’s a bit of kid stuff going on in the cabin behind the lodge, Mark and Sarah Yancey and their guides are serious skiers with extensive training and a passion for taking their clients into stunning alpine ski terrain.

They pour their passion into the operation during the season and during the off-season as well.

Here’s a sampling of what they did last summer in their remote piece of heaven:

“We renovated the Casa de Suenos bunkhouse, adding an indoor evening toilet,” Sarah said, noting that Mark is a finish carpenter and contractor by trade.

“We got a new place built for the family, back behind the old place, which is now back to being the toolshed-workshop.

“We improved the hydropower system and did some ground work for a kitchen expansion slated for next summer.”

The Yanceys and helpers also used chain saws to open more glades through the trees to create more runs safe in all snow conditions as well as building a trail from Kimberley for summer visitors. Whew!

The easy part is catering to customers who fly in expecting to be guided to great powder skiing and treated to gourmet meals and the highest-elevation wood-heated hot tub in Canada.

“Our great scenery and terrain delivers most of the experience; we just enhance it,” Sarah said.

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