On The Road Again – classic BC boys trip
Cowboy, Rustin and Les Lapins stop in at Big White, SilverStar, Revelstoke and Whitewater on a classic B.C. boys’ trip.
Attaining a good nickname is a bit like the process of losing a ski: it arrives unwelcome, unexpected and it’s funny to everyone but the recipient. The best, like the one Sean Kerrigan earned on our boys’ 1,000 km road trip, are akin to a double-ejection into a faceplant.
Our group of four friends had just split up at the base of Revelstoke Mountain Resort to look for Chris Pawlitsky, who promised to show us around. Sean and I found him first. While we waited for Paul and Dustin to regroup, the towering man-boy with a grin to match asked us where we wanted to ski. Before I had a chance to suggest a tour of the resort’s steeps or a hunt for pockets of yesterday’s powder, Sean jumped in with geeky enthusiasm. “How about we warm up with a few groomer laps.”
With a heavy wet blanket landing on us from far above, Chris recoiled as if Sean had suggested skiing gates after a half-metre dump. His perma-smile disappeared into something else, either confusion or irritation. Grimacing, I back-pedalled. I suggested, for journalistic purposes, we should ski wherever he would ski and, yes, a few fast groomers would be great…at some point.
With a smile back on his face and Paul and Dustin with us, we jumped on the gondola, oblivious to the workout we were about to receive. We should have known we were in trouble when Chris casually informed us of his exact tally for the season: 52 days and about one-million vertical. It was early February, and Chris has a full-time job.
Chris proceeded to destroy us. It’s not that he skis fast, more that he never stops. He’d ski away into the trees and then pause on a cat track. When the last of us finally slid to a stop, he’d ski away again. I believe the derogatory term for this is “Asshole Laps.”
It became funny. Each time he took off, we tossed commiserating looks at each other, sucked in a deep breath and pushed off. We’d have laughed except it wasted oxygen—and lactic acid burns. Chris deserved a nickname too, like Secretariat, Northern Dancer or Kipchoge, but we were too tired to think of one.
Instead, Sean made the mistake of taking his time—for two pitches in a row. As we stood waiting for him, Chris said dryly, “Groomer Boy is getting tired.” Sean didn’t hear it, while the rest of us cracked up.
“How are your legs?” Chris asked Sean when he was last again, this time to the lift.
It was Sean’s turn to look confused. “Fine, fine,” he lied. As we slid into the lift line, Sean leaned toward me, “Did he ask you guys that?”
“Nope, and he didn’t call us Groomer Boy either.”
Something always happens on a road trip to set the tone, give it shape and define its greater purpose. On this journey it was the power of a nickname. It not only works as a running joke, but as a place mark, a way of succinctly summing up a person or place. Everywhere we went last winter we found them: along a loop through the central interior mountains of B.C.—even in our rental car.
It was supposed to have been the “electric road trip” story. Our plan was to rent a Tesla in Kelowna and test the feasibility of an electric car for a ski trip. We were to chronicle the challenges and rewards of using hydro power instead of fossil fuels, of the adventures we’d have while recharging as well as testing an electric car’s performance in winter conditions. But the day before we left, the lone electric car for rent in Kelowna broke down. In a very warped irony, instead of a Tesla Model 3, we rolled out of the airport in a GMC Yukon XL.
If you don’t know what that looks like, imagine the tinted SUVs that diplomats and drug dealers use in the movies. We literally climbed aboard to find seating for eight; our gas-guzzling behemoth was pretty much the exact opposite of an electric car. No surprises that this hilarious juxtaposition became a well-repeated punchline for the trip.
And we were laughing about it as we stretched out in our leather seats and basked in space for the hour up to Big White. Of course it was snowing. The massive banks on the side of the road dwarfed our SUV and when we finally arrived at the hill, we were in four-wheel drive. Score one for the Yukon.
After settling into our comfy condo right in the village centre we took our electric ski trip joke for a test run. First, a race up Big White’s ice-climbing tower at Happy Valley Adventure Park, a unique (and really fun) après ski activity. Even with ice axes and crampons, scaling the 20-metre, textured, colossal icicle is harder work than it looks, so we regaled our belayer with the Tesla-Yukon XL story. He yacked it up.
Dustin and Sean encourage Paul on the Big White Ice Tower. “Hey, did you know your bum looks really big in that harness?”
After two ascents we were all feeling the burn, so we skipped the tube park, skating and dogsledding and retreated to dinner. Before we had a chance to tell our joke again, I stumbled into my own nickname. I’m a couple drinks into the evening at The Woods restaurant when we met some people from the resort. I’m listening hard, too hard it turns out, as Dustin introduced himself, after which I self-christen myself by blurting out, “Hi, I’m Rustin…wait, no I’m not.” I was “Rustin” for the rest of the trip.
We were thanking ourselves for signing up for the First Tracks program when we awoke to 10 cm of new snow and blue skies. Some pale liftees with big arms from shovelling told us it’s the first sun Big White had seen in a month. Before the lifts opened for the public, we ripped down a perfect groomer—Sean is in heaven—followed by a lap of shin-deep fluff. The new snow on top of the day-before’s snowfall, on top of a month of steady Big White dumps, was effortless.
Soon the public was joining us, the clouds closed in and we retreated from the alpine to the stand-alone Gem Lake area for several long, rambling runs through playful terrain in and out of the trees. We’re skiing with a couple from Mont Tremblant, who started calling us Les Lapins because we were bouncing down the mountain from little jump to powder pocket to mogul, just like rabbits. The name stuck.
So did Paul’s habit of swigging from his WhiSki Pole, which looks like a regular pole, but is hollowed out and works discreetly as a flask. We did our best to keep them balanced throughout the day and regularly found ourselves asking, “Time for a pole?”
The Yukon deftly led us down towards Kelowna the next day and then after the Vernon exit, up to SilverStar, where we found more new snow falling and more bouncy terrain. The next morning we teamed up with Jon Meyer, a ski host at the resort, for a tour. He led us to the backside and then pointed us into the steeps of the Putnam Creek area, where we picked up where we left off: zipping through trees, bucking through bumps, harvesting fresh tracks and racing down groomers to the bottom.
After a half-dozen laps, Jon led us to the frontside and what was likely the best run of the day. Instead of taking the long traverse back to the base, we dropped down Silver Meadows to the lower part of the mountain. Just off the mostly intermediate runs are well-thinned trees and nearly untracked powder. It was midday on a Saturday but we didn’t waste time being surprised. Paul took off and we chased in pursuit like a pack of dogs on the scent, bouncing our way down through powder and playing with the jumps and rolls that were everywhere.
We spent the afternoon doing more of the same before piling into our very non-electric SUV and driving on to Revelstoke. The next day we were back at it, chasing Chris, lap after lap, on the Stoke Chair. Never repeating a line, a pattern had begun to emerge: traverse off the lift into a set of trees, ski a fall-line shot, move over to another line, ski that, wait for the group to (almost) catch up, re-position and do it all again. Every line was different, except the perfect fall line.
After ripping 6,000 vertical metres in four hours, Chris finally led us down to the base for lunch at Rockford Grill. We took a top-to-bottom groomer (ostensibly to tease Sean), but we were all secretly glad for the reprieve. We began rehydrating with beer then burgers, Chris said goodbye and left us to finish our afternoon of skiing. We feigned getting ready for another lap, but as soon as Chris was out of sight we limped instead to the hot tub. Groomer Boy led the way.
The name stuck, but we took pity. Paul toughened it up to Corduroy Cowboy. “Cowboy” for short. Sean still doesn’t like it. But that was kind of the point.
With another day in Revy and all the near-powder thoroughly chewed up, we took an invitation from long-time Ski Canada photographer Ryan Creary, friend and Revy local, and headed into the lift-accessed backcountry. Right off the upper Stoke Chair we followed a well-skinned line, gradually gaining elevation away from the resort, and dropped into a grove of monster trees with alleys leading down through nearly waist-deep snow.
Regrouping on some flats, we climbed again through former cat-skiing terrain. We took a couple of dream runs and then headed for a summit. When we got there the sun was gone and it had begun to snow, even though we could see light shining on the town more than a kilometre below. We all knew this wasn’t unusual around here.
“It’s the Mackenzie Tophat,” Creary explained. “It can be sunny everywhere else and then there’s this cloud stuck on the top of Mount Mackenzie, right above the ski hill.”
But the clouds broke enough for us to see and we made first tracks down another alpine bowl of knee-deep fluff. Followed by some trudging back inbounds and eventually to the Yukon, which we loaded up and headed south.
We had budgeted just enough time for a much-needed soak at the Halcyon Hot Springs on our way to Nelson, a 3.5-hour drive down the Columbia Valley. We’d been going hard with little down time. A leisurely soak in the various pools, overlooking Upper Arrow Lake and across at the Monashee Mountains, proved to be a perfect recharge. We even dragged the visit out with luxe pizzas for dinner in the hot spring’s restaurant—exactly what was needed.
The next day found us at an empty Whitewater Ski Resort. It was snowing, but with only a few centimetres on the ground it wasn’t enough to motivate the spoilt locals, I guess. Just for the Cowboy, we opened with a groomer and for the rest of the day we saw barely a soul, let alone a liftline.
We spent most of the morning lapping the Glory Ridge area, poking around in the woods and bounding through bump runs. After three days of charging, a day of punishment at Revy followed by another in the backcountry, we could all feel our legs. Or in a few cases, couldn’t feel them. We were now taking lots of breaks, and at the top of every lift we laboured over where to go. Mostly we’re killing time until we could slide into a booth at Whitewater’s well-known Fresh Tracks Cafe, the day lodge restaurant.
I’ve personally been making dishes from the Cafe’s cookbooks for years, but prepared by a chef, at 1,600m, and after a morning of skiing, the gourmet classics taste much better. We dug into towering Fancy Pants Burgers and were distracted only by the organic and fresh goodness in our Ymir Bowls. As we relaxed the Velcro closing on our ski pants, everything was washed down with specialty coffees.
Missing out on Whitewater’s trademark blower none of us was motivated after lunch, but we hadn’t skied the Silver King side of the resort so we needed to investigate before it was time to push on. Like Silver Woods at SilverStar, it’s only blues and greens at Silver King, but halfway down our first run we were already talking about a second lap. The snow was soft and there was a nice skiff of fresh to push around. It was the best skiing of the day.
After every run, we kept saying it would be our last, but then we would find ourselves sliding into the non-existent line for “just one more.” Five laps later, we finally called it. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening, our last, in Nelson, exploring historic buildings (Nelson’s nickname is Heritage City), funky independent shops and the many memorable eateries.
In our original “electric road trip” plan, getting back to Kelowna, with a slow charge midway, would have involved most of the day. Instead, with the Yukon gassed up and new snow overnight, we pinned it back to Big White. Arriving at 11, in the sun, we immediately headed high to all the open alpine terrain we couldn’t see before. Turned out a half-day rest is enough to revive sore muscles, and with five days of skiing under our feet, our skills were honed. We lapped steeps in the Cliff area, and hunted for air and tight lines elsewhere. Every time we hit a groomer we’d holler at the Cowboy. And he’d fire back at Rustin.
Then it was time to go home. For our last run of the trip, we started at the top and raced down the mountain, carving like cowboys, bouncing like rabbits and then tipping our top hats to the sun before we jumped into our anything-but-electric car and raced for our flights. We’d save the planet next trip.
STAY: Inn at Big White is a short walk from the lifts and the heart of the mountain’s village.
EAT: In the old owner’s timber frame home, The Woods is a cozy and comfortable place to nosh.
PLAY: Earn bragging rights that don’t involve skis by scaling the 20m man-made ice tower.
STAY: The only way to sleep closer to the lifts than at the luxurious Snowbird Lodge is to camp in the snow.
EAT: Don’t want to come back from the frontside from Putnam Creek? Eat lunch at Paradise Camp, a good place to warm up too.
PLAY: Bakery hop through the village, sampling pasteries and goodies.
STAY: The new Best Western Plus sits just off the Trans-Canada and has easy access to town and the hill.
EAT: Near the bottom of the gondola, Rockford Grill is the place to end your ski day.
PLAY: Eat pizza at the Village Idiot and then knock down some pins at the revised bowling alley, The Cabin.
STAY: The Prestige Lakeside Resort is a short walk to downtown and has a gourmet créperie in-house.
EAT: Oso Negro in Nelson might have the best coffee in BC.
PLAY: Uncover retro gold and wicked deals at Boomtown Sports, a Nelson consignment sports store.
by RYAN STUART * photos: SEAN KERRIGAN and RYAN STUARTBC, Big White, British Columbia, Revelstoke, road trip, SilverStar, Whitewater