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Alex Wigley: Coastal Chronicles Trip Report

The following is a trip report from DPS friend and stellar mountaineer Alex Wigley, from BC. You can visit his blog, SkiTheory to learn more about Alex and his latest...

In Whistler BC, we've been in a big storm for nearly the whole month, with a few days of poor light in between.  Skiing powder has been great, but shooting video and photos, has been a losing battle.  So when first light comes in the month, what do we want to do?  Go ski mountaineering, but wait, the mountains are avalanching big time, the snowpack has been twitchy, and now that idea is out the window.  So we head out in search of perfect powder lines.  Great lines; long, fall line, perfectly spaced trees, pillows, and steep.  A hard job to seek out, especially when stable snow is hidden away, but we've been up to the task.

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Sun and deep powder. Alex Wigley, The Apostles. Photo: Zach Wasson

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We're sitting in the gondola, Dave Booth, Zack Wasson, Tom Rourke, and myself discussing skiing Mt Fissile's NW Face and whether or not it will be stable or not.  Coming over the ridge, the wind hammers the gondola, and we can see huge plumes of snow coming off the high Spearhead Peaks.  Fissile is not a go, but steeper trees, hidden away from the wind are exactly what will be good.  And what better chance to perfect our route of exquisite powder runs, than in our own backyard.

We move out to Flute, the first ascent of the day, moving quickly through the 90km/h winds blasting snow and small rocks in our face.  Nearly getting blown over while skinning out to the backcountry, we pass a few groups who had started before us, and get out of bounds as quickly as possible.  Over to Oboe, skinning in our down jackets, the wind robs us of warmth.  But it dies down and disappears when we get to the trees.  The cold weather and sheltered aspects of the Apostles off Oboe are full of light, cold snow.  The first of the true classic runs we have on the books today.

Dropping in, the top is springy hero snow, but rolling over into the guts of the first avalanche chute is way deeper.  My first turn provides over the shoulders snow, like trampolining with a smoke machine blowing in your face with the fan turned on full, over and over dropping us to the valley floor.  Stoked with the quality, both of the run and snow, another run is definitely in order.  I jump out front breaking trail, sometimes past my knees, setting a skin track meandering through the tall snow covered trees to the top the boys following. 

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Skier: Paul Cordy. Rock And Roll, Marriot Basin, Duffey Lake Pass, BC Photo: Alex Wigley

After another fantastic run of Super G turns through perfectly spaced trees, opening to opening, we hit the drainage.  Covered in snow, everyone looks like yetis with the amount of snow on their jackets, we put our skins on to catch another group nearing the top of Cowboy Ridge already.  Ipod cranked up with Metal that can never be hard enough, the pace goes up, and we pass the group we had seen from the bottom for an ultra long open run off Cowboy Ridge Main. 

After 5 laps of powder heaven, about 2300m of elevation gain and loss for the day, we ski out one last run down a pillowed tree run.  The exit is simple, drop down Singing Pass, to Whistler Village.  Stoked but tired, I head home to plan the next day, needing even longer runs.

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Paul Cordy: Rock And Roll, Marriot Basin, Duffey Lake Pass, BC. Photo: Alex Wigley

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7:30 am: a fellow DPS Skis loyalist Paul Cordy is at my house for a mellow start to the day.  After loading up the vegetable oil powered van, for a 100 percent carbon neutral day of skiing, we're on our way up the Duffey Lake Pass to do a Circum-Navigation of the Marriott Basin to Cayoosh with some seriously great skiing on the way.  Getting up the long winding access to the Marriott Basin, stopping to chat and do some slight boot mods along the way, we pull into the Wendy Thomson Hut around 11:00am.  Lunch in the mountains is great, but sitting on an easy chair in the mountains, while eating lunch is even better! 

Without getting too comfortable with the confines of the hut, we continued our tour up to a large corniced ridge, off a grouping of sub-peaks in the area to gain access to our main runs.  12:30pm, topping out on the 700m Rock and Roll avalanche chutes, we were pumped to finally get some skiing in. 

Paul and I have always been searching for consistently steep, long, and great lines in the Coast.  Skiing in Rogers Pass, Kootenay Pass, and all over Canada, we've found great tree skiing or considerable hazard lines that dreams are made of.  Finding them in the Coast, has been a bit trickier, as Coastal terrain is slightly more rolling and less direct fall line from peak to valley.  But not today. 

Assessing the snow and wind effect we pick our line, and drop in to hero snow.  Skiing down the top of the gulley first, then over onto the rolling spine, you could see the valley floor in front of you but the run dipped away steeper and steeper.  Hammering big turns down, legs on fire, snow getting deeper and lighter the farther we got down we finally reach the bottom.  "Hey Alex, there's a skin track over there, another run?"  Paul says nodding his head in the direct of a skiing track that would take us up for another lap.

With little time we had, putting the gears on and getting up before we lost our afternoon light, we popped up top for another lap.  With the sun lowering in the sky, and shading the slope a bit, we moved over to the next chute.  Skiing in the backcountry, after walking so long, we couldn't risk crossing one of our old tracks in the previous gulley, and risk making something perfect a bit less so.  So with a fresh canvas in front, the speedy descent began, weaving in and out of trees on the spine to the valley floor. 

Skiing out, through alder and long flat logging roads, we finally made it to the highway.  Stoked we had ticked those big avalanche chutes off our list, and making sure to mark the map with the highest quality chutes, we slugged back down the highway in our ski boots to the car parked down the road.  Tired, and still with good weather, it's time for a day off from so much skiing.


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Dave Booth goes through the trees, The Apostles. Photo: Alex Wigley

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Skier: Dave Booth, Place: The Apostle's Whistler Backcountry. Photo: Alex Wigley


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Zack Wasson in The Apostle's Whistler Backcountry, Photo: Alex Wigley