Ymir, British Columbia — Trip Report

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 24, 2010      


Pronunciation: wî-mur.

Definition:Small town in southwestern British Columbia nestled in the Selkirk mountains known for little more than a hotel of the same name, and being the most timely way to access Nelson, BC by skipping the Kootenay Lake ferry.

Why you should know about it? Even a short trip through Ymir is the definition of the classic ski trip.

Most WildSnow readers don’t need an explanation of what defines a “classic” backcountry skiing trip. And likely, everyone is coming from one of two schools of thoughts. Either the old, crusty, back-in-the-old-days ski bum who thinks every trip he hears about was never as good as it was. Too easy, less snow, etc. Or the more common viewpoint that skiing is about the most fun you can have, any-day-on-skis-is-better-than-a-day-in-the-office type who is already dreaming of their next perfect ski trip regardless of what else I write here.

For the second set of skiers, I present today’s definition of the “classic” ski trip.

The Drive:

Heading up from Whitefish we passed Fernie, and headed west toward Kootenay Pass (or Creston-Salmo Pass according to some locals) into the biggest storm of the year. One meter in 36 hours (it was Canadian snow, so I’ll give you their numbers). Yes, classic ski trips should involve driving through dreamed of locales into the fury of the heavens falling to earth. Check.

The Hotel:

One of the best ski town hotels I've been too.

One of the best ski town hotels I've been too.

Ymir Hotel has the necessary elements, and non of the fluff. No hot tub, no private baths, no elevator, no paved parking.

What it does have is an ancient owner named Hans who will chat your ear off into the wee hours with a nearly incomprehensible accent, while chasing out the drunk local. True story. Hans purchased the hotel because he needed more room for his ever growing art collection. Ymir Hotel’s walls are filled with paintings, drawings, sculptures and art work of all kinds. It’s truly magic, or haunted (and rumored to be a former brothel). And for $39 a room (with bunks), it’s cheap.

The Snow:

Every good ski trip must have snow. And this piece of the Powder triangle has it. Nearby Whitewater ski area averages over 500 inches a year. They are about 40% below average this year. We were still finding “sub par” conditions with over 8 feet on south facing slopes. It was the kind of snowpack only a local could call bad.

Making the most of 1 meter of Canada's best. Photo by Craig Moore at GlacierWorld.com.

Making the most of 1 meter of Canada's best. Photo by Craig Moore at GlacierWorld.com.

Dirt Bagging:

Deep down we all fight that inner conflict between wanting to be a dirt bag and wanting a hot shower. Camping trips, yurt and hut trips, these are all little victories for our inner ski bum. Three or four days without a shower makes us feel like a man, or a really tough chick. Staying in a yurt that looks more like a children’s treehouse, located 15 miles from your car, that’s just the icing on the cake.

Qua Yurt, Ymir, British Columbia

Qua Yurt, Ymir, British Columbia

The Crazy Story:

Deep snow. Sick lines. A long slog in. These are all great stories. But the best backcountry skiing stories are the ones that are hardest to come by. Conditions that are out of the ordinary. Events that could have killed you. A shallow snowpack that means high avy danger. Make that extreme danger. Make that 8 triggered slides in 6 runs. Throw in the fact that EVERY. SINGLE. ASPECT. SLID. In the first 24 hours. Well, except for the 2 temptresses that sat directly over the yurt. Chokingly deep was guaranteed. Perfect pitch, of course. Instant death? Probably, depending on if you hit a tree or just asphyxiate. We avoided taking the story that far, but this was the best avy class I’ve ever been in. And in case you don’t believe it, pictures!

The largest of our triggered slides (all slides propagated remotely from safe locations out of avalanche terrain).

The largest of our triggered slides (all slides propagated remotely from safe locations out of avalanche terrain).

The Bonus:

Stay at a Ymir Yurt that is privately run by Wildhorse Cat Skiing and you get a cat ride in the first 10-12 miles. Go when the snow pack is just slightly more bonded than water on your car windshield and you get a free ski run with the guide (thanks Trevor). And a ride to within 2/3 of a mile from the Yurt. Make for more fun laps and less slogging on the first day.

The Perfect Ski Trip:

So there you have it. If you aren’t currently dreaming of your own perfect ski trip, consider checking out Ymir. Epic snow, great people, rustic hotels and breath taking terrain are waiting for you to go and write your own story.

The perfect run on the perfect trip...if you don't include the extreme avalanche conditions. We prayed for this slope to slide naturally and stop tempting us all trip! Click to enlarge and look for the 2 pockets that slide in the lower left of the picture.

The perfect run on the perfect trip...if you don't include the extreme avalanche conditions. We prayed for this slope to slide naturally and stop tempting us all trip! Click to enlarge and look for the 2 pockets that slide in the lower left of the picture.

Patrick Odenbeck from Mystery Ranch Backpacks showing us the best way to rip pow with a big load.

Patrick Odenbeck from Mystery Ranch Backpacks showing us the best way to rip pow with a big load with his Big Sky pack (3,000 cu. in.) and DPS Wailer Pure Carbon ski. I used my Big Sky as well this trip, it's a perfect size for hut and yurt trips. Photo by Craig Moore at GlacierWorld.com.

The Dirtbag Birthday Cake. I think Jessie was happy to spend her 31st on the perfect ski trip.

The Dirtbag Birthday Cake. I think Jessie was happy to spend her 31st on the perfect ski trip.

(Guest blogger profile: Dave Downing and his wife Jessica live in Whitefish, MT, where he is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab. Dave has been told that there is nothing to see in Montana, so please move along.)


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36 Responses to “Ymir, British Columbia — Trip Report”

  1. Mike March 24th, 2010 8:18 am

    You brought Pabst Blue Ribbon to our fine country !? :devil:

  2. sherryb March 24th, 2010 8:29 am

    I’m armchair backcountry skiing this morning because my own trip today got canceled. Beautiful shots. Looks like there’s a line for everyone!
    Thanks for taking me there! :biggrin:
    That first powder shot in your story doesn’t look steep enough to ski a meter. Must have had good speed into it or reaaaaaallly light snow?!

  3. Evan Stevens March 24th, 2010 8:50 am

    You can now get PBR in some BC liquor stores in Canada.

  4. Lou March 24th, 2010 9:03 am

    Evan, that’s disgusting (grin).

  5. dave downing March 24th, 2010 9:16 am

    @sherryb — nice call on the slope-angle-to-snow-depth ratio. Indeed I had to mach out of the trees to get my 2 best turns of the trip! But don’t be mistaken, those 2 turns were every bit as fun as the picture would lead you to believe 🙂

  6. dave downing March 24th, 2010 9:19 am

    @mike, only a 12 pack of PBR. It was the cheapest birthday cake we could find:)

  7. Jess Downing March 24th, 2010 9:43 am

    well, there should have been 14 PBRs, but two of them exploded in Craig’s backpack on the way in… We did drive by the Columbia Brewery in Creston and paid homage to our other favorite cheap (and Canadian) beer: Kokanee.

  8. Patrick March 24th, 2010 9:43 am

    What Dave didn’t tell you is that he almost took a full speed nose dive two turns later :w00t:

  9. andrew C March 24th, 2010 9:45 am

    Dave. That’s my back yard you were in! Cool! Sounds like you had a great trip and glad to hear you were safe. I’m guessing your visit fell around March 12—our last big dump. The Ymir Hotel may have been even more colourful if you’d hit it a few years back—waaaay more bikers (of the mechanized kind) than art collectors.If you or any of Lou’s readers want up-to-date intel on conditions and routes in the area, (wait for the shameless plug…) check out a hardcopy version of our guide (West Kootenay Touring Guide) at a local retailer, or through the site. As you probably heard, there are excellent touring opportunities around Whitewater, Red Mountain and Kootenay Pass. I hope you had a chance to visit Nelson too. I hear it’s a lot like Whitefish actually. Yes, we can get PBR in some of our local stores, albeit at a less attractive price point than in the US.

  10. Lou March 24th, 2010 9:46 am

    All, remember to use our photo enlarger when available, you’ll know when you mouse over a photo and see that you can click it. Works good in Internet Exploder and Firefox on my PC, curious if anyone has any problems with other browser/OS setups?

  11. Dave downing March 24th, 2010 9:47 am

    “almost” and “did” are 2 completely different things Patrick:) like when you “almost” had turns that good, and I “did” 🙂 he he.

  12. dave downing March 24th, 2010 10:10 am

    Andrew, I may have to try and meet up with you at Kootenay Pass next winter…there were some really sweet looking lines up there. I’ll bring you a case of PBR for cheap too 🙂

    We made it to Nelson for about an hour, but it was at night. Will definitely try and get back there in the daylight hours some day soon.

  13. RobinB March 24th, 2010 10:16 am

    The photos work in Opera 9.64/WinXP – which is an improvement, they didn’t used to… 😀

  14. andrew C March 24th, 2010 11:02 am

    Dave…please do! You can reach me through my site (miraculously linked to my name, which appears above my post here) . Enjoy your spring.

  15. KDog March 24th, 2010 11:33 am


    Not sure how to react to this post since I live in Ymir. At first it’s “Oh Sh*t” we’ve been discovered! But I have this feeling eventually in every little ski town we’ve lived in over the years. I know that change is inevitable, just like the number of cars parked at Kootenay Pass has gone from two to forty+ in five years.

    I also realize that the internet drives a lot of this discovery and I often use it myself to “explore” new areas quickly and easily from my chair. I am a master at using the local MLS (real estate sites) to check property prices and suspect that I’m just one of many doing that.

    A couple of quick things. If you come to Ymir to stay, please check out the Palace Inn hostel on the hill behind the Hotel. The owners Ross and Belinda are long time locals in good standing with community and are great folks. Hans has chased most of the locals out of his bar, fired long time (before him) employees and generally has clashed with the community. Most of the neighbors no longer frequent his establishment. Also, please stop in at The Goods, Ymir’s store for local roast coffee, fresh baked goods and deli.

    I have no business connection with either place, but support them with my own dollars.

  16. Lou March 24th, 2010 11:59 am

    Yes, and now watch as thousands of WildSnow readers show up! You have been warned.

  17. KDog March 24th, 2010 12:22 pm


    I read an article in Off Piste about Ymir a while back. It didn’t mention the town by name, but Hans and the Hotel were in the story. Ymir hasn’t seen an onslaught of skiers from that, but I suspect Wildsnow has a much larger audience!

    We’re putting the house on the market today. :getlost:

  18. Chuck L March 24th, 2010 12:45 pm

    A friend and I went up there 3 years ago- stayed with Ross(do it- they are great and local-and hes got stories of epic ski days as a kid in the area) in the ex brothel turned guest house-for a day of cat skiing.
    We arrived only to have bad news given…none of the other registered cat guests showed, it had been snowing for a week(over a foot a day), and since we were the only two- we’d have to use snowmobiles(faster).
    Uhhhh… OK!
    Over 8 ft of fresh (they hadnt been back there the whole time cuz of the holidays) – well, something like 30 runs later in the basin and ridges. Suffice it to say it ruined the rest of our trip at Red Mt and Whitewater- could hardly walk- but couldn’t get those stupid ear to ear grins off of our faces.
    Nearly suffocated in the stuff, and the picture of Ross as a youngster with a snorkel(yes he used a real snorkel so he could breath) is the real Mccoy.
    Ymir is the place- and Trevor is great!

  19. Matt March 24th, 2010 12:59 pm

    Awesome photos & always great to hear about the quieter destinations. Can’t wait until I live in a locale where avy courses are offered..

    fyi the pictures work in Chrome as well…

  20. sherryb March 24th, 2010 2:16 pm

    Lou, I am enlarging the photos using Safari on my Mac, no problem. Nice feature. 🙂

  21. dave downing March 24th, 2010 3:32 pm

    @ KDog, i’ll have to check out the Palace Inn next time. As for Ymir being discovered. It seems that given it’s proximity to Nelson, everyone already knows there is sick snow and terrain there, that’s nothing new. This trip was originally headed to the general area near nelson, just happened to end up in Ymir. I’ve been aiming for BC for years and years, so here’s to hoping your location will still have plenty of powder for years to come…

    On the other hand, how much for your place :biggrin:

  22. Patrick March 24th, 2010 4:44 pm


    Hmmm I seam to remember you doing an endo once and a almost face plant the day before! :w00t:

  23. KDog March 24th, 2010 5:40 pm


    Yeah, Nelson was/has been discovered a long time ago, which was why we ended up in Ymir (Nelson prices thru the roof). No snow secrets in Selkirks/Koots where there are more Heli/Cat/Hut operations than anywhere else on earth.

    It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out up here with the weak US dollar and drop in tourisim, not all of these operations can survive. The oil rich Albertan’s are buying up all the real estate, including tiny local Whitewater ski hill, and have plans for a big expansion with condos and homes.

    There are still places to hide with great snow. :ninja:

  24. Peter March 24th, 2010 9:37 pm

    No more secrets! Good to see Ymir in a different light. It was always great skiing but the clientele at the hotel (pre Hans) used to be pretty rough. Best put the blue ribbon away and try a Nelson Brewery Face Plant.

    Happy tracks

  25. Madisonian March 24th, 2010 9:56 pm

    Well, glad things worked out for you with Trevor. We cat skied with him for a day in the most beat-up Bombardier ever, and had a great time. But…his record as a reliable yurt operator is pretty sketchy. Friends from Seattle have been left at a yurt in -20 and dealt with empty propane tanks, a razor-sharp metal edge on a new door handle, a missed pick-up time, etc. YMMV.

  26. slave.to.turns March 25th, 2010 9:19 am

    Typical American move, bringing PBR to Canada. The Gods were angered and caused the slides, don’t even deny this. You were in the house of Kokanee, remember that.

    Next time, I think you know what is appropriate and what is not in our lands. Glad you had fun.

  27. cam March 25th, 2010 9:38 am

    Nice article of a local backcountry area but please…..Whitewater averages 500+ inches a year. What inaccurate crap.

  28. Lou March 25th, 2010 9:46 am

    Um, so what does it average?

  29. Dave Downing March 25th, 2010 9:51 am

    Sorry Cam, their website says “Average Snowfall 1200 cm/40 feet!” and I roughly rounded 40 feet a tad high in inches. 480 would be the correct amount. Given the fact that 2 feet could fall over night (we saw 36″ in 36 hours), I’d say “inaccurant crap” is a bit harsh…more like “slightly inaccurate.” I appologize if I’ve misled anyone wishing for more snow than 480:)

  30. andrew C March 25th, 2010 10:37 am

    I’d say 500″ might be a bit of an exaggeration–but not by much. I’ve seen way more inflated numbers at different hills over the years. This year is also a low snow year (so far!) we are only at 723cms. But Whitewater is a horrible mountain and the hippies are mean so don’t come.

  31. dave downing March 25th, 2010 10:57 am

    thanks for the warning andrew. seems all the mountains i want to visit are swarming with mean hippies, bad snow and weak terrain. I guess i’ll just keep NOT checking them out 😉

  32. Craig March 25th, 2010 11:43 am

    Great trip! Just for the record I packed in gear, 17 PBR cans, 1 liter of rye, Canon Mark IIn, 50D, 16-35, 24-105 & 70-200. Two PBR cans broke in my pack and my Carhartts soaked it up – leaving me with 15. Jess got one as birthday cake and my wife got a few because she asked nicely. My pack and pants smelled “great” during that trip. But nothing comes close to my boot liner funk. During the packing phase others asked me why bring beer. After skiing the second day and soaking up some rays at the yurt Patrick said he was a little jealous of my ice cold beer. Cheers

  33. Trevor Holsworth March 25th, 2010 10:04 pm

    Great photos. I used to spend a lot of days out at the yurts guiding but don’t get much chance these days. I was a little worried about sending you guys in but after touring up with you and seeing a few things on the way in everyone seemed to be on the same avalanche awareness page. I like to see the photos and knowing everyone had a great time – thanks for sharing.

    Interesting to see the positive and negative comments. We work with everyone we can in Ymir – the Ymir Store, The Ymir Hotel and the Ymir Palace. We use the Ymir Palace for accommodation for catskiers at Wildhorse Catskiing because they have the hot tub and prepare home cooked meals in a great casual ski-lodge style environment. We go down and have a beer at the Ymir Hotel in the evening and check out the artwork because you cannot imagine it unless you have seen it.

    We generally recommend the guys and gals heading into the Yurt stay at the Hotel because it is perfect – the price is right, beers and bar food for the night prior to departure and the Ymir Palace is full with catskiers. The terrain around the yurts is some of the best ski touring anywhere. Some of my best ski touring days ever have been up there. I don’t get a chance to get up there much anymore so it’s great seeing the pictures and remembering good times.

    I started the yurts ten years ago ski touring people in from Whitewater. Every trip was a guided and fully catered adventure. It was amazing – a five hour ski tour to get in with a day pack. When you got there appetizers, soup and dinner would be on the table. Over the years we expanded the catskiing terrain to allow easier access to the yurts and enabled them to be self-guided and self-catered or guided and catered.

    I used to have Kootenay Experience backcountry retail store as well but lots of things became impossible to operate during a divorce a couple of years ago. I am rebuilding from the *#?$#&##! that only lawyers can create. You don’t want to know. I am currently looking to build a new structure at Qua – interested in investing in a backcountry ski lodge at Qua? Call.

  34. Gideon March 28th, 2010 11:51 am

    Hi, This is interesting for me to read as my father built a house outside of Ymir in 1973. I was raised in Ymir grew up skiing at Salmo and Whiteater but have only been back for visits over the last ten years. I is truly some of the best snow around as the temperatures usually flirt with the freezing levels and the moisture usually streams in off the pacific. The town is no way near as classic as it used to be. These days it’s full of people with lots of local attitude who are actuality from other parts of the world! I think it’s great to share. I mean you are sharing it with others who love this sport too, why do so many people get all aggressive about this? I mean how many hardcore back-county skiers are actually going to descend on Ymir because of this short article? And the ones that do are most likely not so different than the group of people who have made Ymir home over the last fifteen years.

  35. Trevor Holsworth October 6th, 2010 11:28 pm

    Thanks to those that called and emailed me at Ymir Yurts and Wildhorse Catskiing. We offer a $10,000 loan with interest paid annually by a 3 day catskiing package. Thanks to those that participated in the loan and are enjoying the best reward – skiing powder! We got enough money to put together a larger building. Yahoo!

  36. J Gardner January 23rd, 2011 11:18 am

    Come and ski, snowboard, or snowmobile on the weekends, leave your RV/trailer with us during weekdays. Majestic panoramic mountain views at all sites. Weekdays are only $5 + HST per day (unoccupied/hookup), Weekends 29.50 (long term commitments receive 25% off). Check us out at: http://www.whistlerrvpark.com and be sure to reference our Weekend Warrior Program when booking!

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