March 02, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - The good hurt 

Earning your turns and other rewards of the backcountry

By G.D. Maxwell

If Thoreau could find philosophical inspiration in the forests and marshy wetlands of Massachusetts, imagine what transcendental musings he might have conjured up if he’d spent much time in the wild places of British Columbia? The forest and ponds of Walden, though stunning in a quaint, New Englandy kind of way, shrink in grandeur against the scope and fury of B.C. wilderness. With forests so dense they’re virtually marked on maps "Travelers be lost here" and mountains that define the landscape, stretching off in all directions at once, so crowded and numerous it’s generally not possible to discern something as organized as a ridgeline, B.C. can easily overload the circuits of even the most reflective philosophers.

It’s easy to overlook the wildness of B.C. when you’re into yo-yoing the runs at Whistler. I know that sounds terribly ironic, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten so caught up in the here and now of skiing, the turns and moguls and jumps – not to mention focusing on the open spaces instead of the trees – that I’ve lost contact with the larger picture of my physical surroundings. It isn’t until I stop and sit down that my gaze rises above the track in front of me and... well, I find myself breathless and philosophical about where I am. Whether it’s looking up the valley towards Pemberton and out across the Icecap, or letting my gaze follow the traverse of Overlord Glacier, or focusing on towering Black Tusk or the craggy Tantalus peaks, I am, in those moments, struck speechless by the power of this landscape.

In no small measure, that sense of awe is the lure of the backcountry. It’s what draws people to wilderness in spite of the privations and dangers inherent in travelling uncontrolled terrain in the dead of winter. Short daylight, unpredictable storm cycles, cold that defies all technological advances and still finds ways to numb toes, fingers and noses, and, of course, the ever-present danger that lies underfoot when people travel across snow lying on mountain slopes steeper than the angle of repose.

The backcountry is where the deer and the avalanche play and no matter what your skill level, no matter what precautions you take, sometimes it just lets go. Training, equipment and judgment are all tools that help mitigate against disaster. So does travelling with people who know what the hell they’re doing.

Enter the Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau.

If you’re tired of the crowded slopes, the tracked-out snow, the TSE-like up and down of riding the lifts all day and you’re ready to try something less manicured, the Guides Bureau can set you up with everything you need to follow the path less travelled. Even if you’re relatively comfortable in the backcountry, you can cut through a lot of the hassle of planning a trip into unfamiliar territory by hiring a local guide to take you on a day trip, an overnighter or even something more exotic involving, say, ice screws and vertical ascents up frozen water.

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