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