Human-powered skiing and “working for your turns” is a superb way to explore the Purcells

BY: Claire Challen PHOTOGRAPHY: Paul Morrison

Alpine Buttercup grew up with t-bars and chairlifts, high-speed and otherwise, to carry her to the top so she could go back down. She’d never known any other way to access the ski trails she so loved – that is, until she grew up and found snow-cats and helicopters to take her to places beyond her wildest imaginings. For years she continued this way, not recognizing the need to change. Exiting the Bell 212 heli that had lifted her to the latest adventure, she was perplexed to see her rotored angel take off and disappear from whence it had come. Breaking the silence only known deep within the mountains, the quickening of Alpine Buttercup’s breath could be heard as she spun around and around, frantically looking for any motorized mechanism to fulfill her desire to ski this remote and pristine terrain. There was no belching diesel, no whining overloaded electric motors, no two-stroke sleds. There was nothing. The silence screamed in her ears as she crumpled to the ground, falling into a blanket of fresh snow that opened its arms and consumed her body within.

Located deep within the Northern Purcell Mountains on the western edge of Glacier National Park, Purcell Mountain Lodge is a smooth 15-minute helicopter flight from the town of Golden, B.C. Breathtaking views of white mountains greet passengers as they fly west from Golden, over Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, trading the noise of town for the stillness of the wilderness. I was heading to the lodge for a four-day ski touring adventure along with my new friends from Whistler, B.C., Derek Foose and Jon Moon.

Set in the gentle alpine terrain of Bald Mountain, Purcell Mountain Lodge welcomes guests to its ski touring heaven with the promise of fresh snow, cozy down comforters and high-class meals. A sauna and showers at the end of the day are luxuries beyond expectation for a location as remote as this, likely spoiling visiting ski tourers, myself included, for anything less. In the 1980s, visionaries Paul Leeson and Russ Younger deduced that skiers, though keen to work for their turns, would ultimately prefer running water and power at the end of the day. A micro-hydroelectric power plant harnesses water from the Spillimacheen River, generating the power that sets Purcell apart from other backcountry touring lodges. An award-winning environmental water treatment system provides the freshest of water with minimal environmental impact.

Early guests of the area, which was initially created with the ski touring traditionalist in mind, spent their evenings in rustic yurt lodgings in a meadow by the Spillimacheen. The lodging location was eventually moved to its present site, straight up Hydro Hill from the power plant. This luxury lodge was built in 1989 with 10 rooms in the main lodge, each aptly named for a mountain flower that blooms for summer guests. I was in the alpine buttercup and Jon and Derek were in the red monkey flower and purple fleabane rooms.

The gentle patter of slippered footsteps down the hall and the promise of a classic breakfast of fruit, homemade granola and eggs benedict pulled me from the warmth of my down comforter, and I headed downstairs to join the others. The night before we had perused the maps with our guide, Darrin De Sosa, who would lead us into the most suitable terrain for the weather. Darrin, a Canadian ski guide and certified adventure travel guide who has been guiding for seven years, plays an integral part in the lodge’s success. He’s not only the guide, but the planner, spokesman, kitchen help, and mechanical serviceman here, doing much to keep the lodge running smoothly. He’s also everyone’s hero when there is a rare glitch in the power system, when Darrin can be seen packing toolkit, headlamp and flask before skiing off into the darkness to reset the system. We were delighted to dine at his gourmet restaurant the evening prior to our departure into the backcountry, savouring scallops, salmon and an array of decadent desserts.

None of us had skied in this particular area of the Purcells, but we weren’t entirely devoid of backcountry experience. Derek Foose is the Whistler Freeride Club founder and head coach, and as a coach for Whistler’s Extremely Canadian steeps clinics has been guiding groups all over the world since 2002. Jon Moon, who credits his backcountry awareness to skiing everyday in the vast terrain at Whistler Blackcomb, has coached with Extremely Canadian for the