Terrain, terrain, terrain. Any backcountry skier worth his/her salt will know that choices of terrain will solve almost all ills. This is even more true when you fly in to a backcountry lodge in the Selkirk mountains of British Columbia, Canada with your only task to ski for seven days. At an elevation of 2050 meters, Sorcerer Lodge is located in the Northern Selkirks just north of Glacier National Park (home of the touring mecca of Rogers Pass). One can book Sorcerer Lodge for seven day stretches and fly in via helicopter from the Trans – Canada highway (touring in would expose you to multiple slidepaths and to uncovered creek crossings).
This ridiculous concentration of prominent, precipitous peaks, ridiculously fat light snow and relative accessibility (either by heli, sled or by road – B.C. has lots of resource activity) is why ski tourists are drawn to the Selkirks like flies to honey.
I’ve toured in many places in the Selkirks and been to quite a few lodges. Snow is almost always guaranteed when you visit a region where 3 meter snowpacks at 2000 meters (and double that in the alpine) are commonplace. However, it’s trite that flying anywhere to ski is a game of chance. Extensive terrain choice gives you more opportunity to win that game of chance. It is my opinion that Sorcerer Lodge is one of the go-to lodges in the Selkirks for a variety of reasons:
1. Alpine terrain and ease of access is unmatched. There are kilometers and kilometers of north facing glaciated alpine terrain close to the lodge. You simply ski down a short shot off a moraine and down to a snow-covered lake bed and you’re on the glacier approach
2. Tree skiing potential. Just north of the lodge (also north facing) there is steep tree skiing with choices of pillow lines, wide glades and steep open sparsely treed shots. You literally ski downhill from Sorcerer to get to these trees.
3. Ease of getting there. The heli flight to get in there is via a 7 minute shot from the Trans-Canada highway. You don’t have to wait for other lodges to fly. Your flight in is the priority and it’s also relatively short so the chances of getting in on schedule are high.
Sorcerer 2012 – a look at some of the areas north of Sorcerer Lodge; Lee’s Trees – Swiss Col – Cheap Scotch Bowls – Iconoclast – Talisker
Our luck could not have been better. During the past week it had snowed heavily thus keeping the previous group from venturing too far into the alpine. The weather broke for them mid-week and windless high-pressure was forecast for our week (the second week of February) so we were expecting to have fairly epic traveling conditions. Coupled with this stroke of weather luck the snowpack was deep in the Selkirks with well over 3 meters of snow reported at lodge elevation of 2050 meters. Glacier coverage was accordingly terrific.
For those who don’t know Western North America weather patterns, storms come in from the west. Sometimes they come in from the Gulf of Alaska, sometimes from lower latitudes as warmer storm fronts (the infamous pineapples). When the oncoming storms hit the continent they first hit the mountain ranges of B.C.’s Coast Mountains causing powderhounds in the Whistler – Duffey area to shriek with joy. By no means do they lose strength though as the storms rampage across the flat blandness of the Okanagan before cooling down as they proceed further into the interior before colliding with the Columbia Mountains. Sorcerer is located slap-bang in the middle of the confluence of storm systems: where storms go to party.
Sorcerer Lodge itself is a basic no-fuss three story wood-frame building. Sixteen people are comfortable in the lodge, eighteen if they’re close friends. Couples can have their own bedrooms. The layout itself is similar to many other lodges. There is a common area with lots of seating and storage for food in the main area. There’s also a foyer where you can store packs, dry out gear and deal with boots and sleeping quarters above. A wood-fired sauna is in a separate nearby building. Bathrooms are also outside in separate outhouse buildings.
The kitchen is very cozy which in large part is why we elected to go with a cook. There isn’t that much room for many people to move around in there.
The lodge has power via a generator that’s fired up in the evenings so you can charge radios or music players etc. There is no internet connection but there is VHF radio communications via a repeater so avalanche, weather and other miscellaneous information can be readily exchanged.
Simply put the terrain in Sorcerer Lodge’s tenure has outstanding variety. There was more than enough beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert terrain for everyone. For those who are curious take a look at these maps (older map from the lodge and 1:20,000 TRIM data Govt of BC map).
Sorcerer’s tenure is shared with Great Canadian Heli. There was one day where we were overflown and another day where we could hear the birds. Personally it didn’t bother me. After all they let us park cars and stage out of their lodge. They are good neighbours and it’s nice to know that if something goes wrong, help is close. Radio communication set up the day you are touring ensures that the heliskiers and the tourers rarely see each other.
The lodge itself is on a knob that’s well-protected from the elements. However you will almost always have to skin back up to it after your day’s activities. Your touring group will have to keep that in mind and save a handful of trail mix for the last push back to the lodge at end of the day. Don’t forget your skins when you leave to start the day!
A bit more on the trees. Just north of the lodge there is a network of treed runs running for about 1.5 kilometers with north to northeast aspects. Furthest west are sparse treed runs where you can do speed laps down the Wizard Gullies. Working your way to skier’s right you can then hit the glades and pillows of Lee’s Trees. Both these networks spit you about 350 to 500 m downhill depending on how far you want to ski down Ventego Creek. Further right you can then ski Boulder Boogie which unsurprisingly is a snow-covered moraine field with alternating more gentle slopes and optional pillows. This is a great playground for beginners and intermediates as you can do short or long laps. Indeed Boulder Boogie is where returning tour groups who drop into Ventego Creek often set skin tracks back up to the lodge.
There are steeper tree shots off the Eat Your Wheaties Ridge but they are a bit more of an objective. The Shreddies northwest facing shots off the top of the ridge are a stiff skin from the lodge. The obvious looking Shreddies slidepaths are extraordinarily committing treed runs (see these videos here and here) best attempted only when one is confident in stability. Easier objectives are the Heppalumps and Woozels (loosely named after Winnie the Pooh characters) treed shots that run northwest off the Wheaties ridgeline feature.
There are also various other treed shots with various aspects including the shaded southeast Talisker and Oban shots and the east facing Scotch and Cheap Scotch Bowls.
Speed lap on the Wizard Gully. 45 minutes up, 1 minute down; but what a minute!
It’s a bit of a ridiculous exercise to describe alpine potential as Sorcerer is surrounded by alpine terrain of all manner and aspects so all one can do is just summarize general areas. The access to a large glacier with north facing aspects in particular is mind-blowingly simple. Ski out the door of the lodge, down 100 meters of moraine and you’re at an alpine lake (Nordic Lake). You’re now at 1900 meters and pick between two cols and a behemoth of a glacier (the Nordic Glacier) divided by three ridges; all with skiable lines off the ridges! Beginner glacier skiing terrain can be also accessed by skinning up the gentle Escargot Glacier which is also accessed by starting from Nordic Lake.
From Nordic Lake you can ski down the moraine a bit further and then proceed up the valley to the Perfect Glacier which is paralleled by Eat Your Wheaties Ridges. “Wheaties” and the boundary ridge of the Perfect Glacier shield this valley from wind and it seems to hold fantastic snow. The cols and many of the ridgelines go to between 2600 – 2800 meters so if you want to “settle” with skiing north facing slopes you have long, long runs. You can choose to drop in on the other side and ski souith facing slopes which more then doubles the amount of skiable terrain off the north facing Nordic glacier side. After you pick your jaw up gaping at the views (the cols look souith into Glacier National Park so you can see the peaks of Rogers Pass from a fresh perspective) you have stunning runs that are a bit more gentle than the Nordic side.
All of this describes terrain south of Sorcerer Lodge. Terrain north of the lodge is also vast but perhaps not quite as easy to approach (what really could be easier to get to than the Nordics?). The Scotch Bowls, the Iconoclast Glacier, terrain around Swiss Col is also fun skiing but have aspects that are more exposed to solar effect.
Last but not least, the Shreddies Bowl area is off the top of Wheaties Ridge. It’s a seemingly small northwest facing bowl with short (250 meters) lines that turns out to contain a surprisingly large amount of terrain. Our group of sixteen carpet-bombed it over the course of two days and even after we were done it still held fresh tracks potential.
To summarize, we had unusually good stability (it was rated LOW/LOW/LOW in neighbouring Glacier National Park), clear skies, cold temperatures (minus 10 or so) and little wind. Our traveling conditions were easy with knee-deep powder at start of the week settling to shin deep towards the end of the week. We could (and did) put in embarrassingly aggressive skin-tracks and ski lines only limited to imagination and time. Our luck was stunningly good.
Dates and pricing availability for Sorcerer are here. Based on a sixteen person group (no guide, cook) we paid approximately $ 1200 per person. Adding a cook added about $ 250 per person. For me it’s an easy decision to add a cook since I eat at least $ 150 a week in food if I’m touring. Hope this article gives you ideas about what to expect if you go on a ski touring vacation to a Canadian ski touring hut.
For information about more huts check out the Backcountry Lodges of BC Association. For information about ski-touring in the Selkirks or the Columbia Mountains generally check out Chic Scott’s seminal guide “Summits and Icefields: Ski Touring in the Columbia Mountains”
Check out Lee’s G3 Zenoxide’s at Backcountry.com