I wrote: "Then, it happened........"

I kicked off some generous sized sloughs and then.......I had some awesome ski-gasms!  What? You think this game is all doom 'n gloom?  My run was exciting and fun and I was tickled.  We nailed it!

Afterwards, we descended down a gully and then Igor led us into some awesome trees and believe you me, British Columbia has lots of 'em.  East Tree Skiing vs. West Tree Skiing?  Get real and go North!  We had an awesome roller coaster ride in the deep snow.  Per my post tour notes: "2000' of trees. Ended trip in style"  At the bottom, we tested for the evil Surface Hoar and found no reactivity. Then we skinned up to a track we set in the first day and then followed that back to the hut.

We had some light conviviality that evening.  These hut trips can be pretty serious, at least from my experiences.  The next day there was a delay in getting out - in order to get the monstrous snowfalls that Interior BC gets, you need to have many stormy days.  On the flight out, I was for the umpteenth time take aback by how rugged and huge the terrain is in that area of the world - very dense dark forests, big vertical reliefs with terrifying slide paths and then there's the glaciation in the alpine.

Yeah, it was a big eye opener of a trip for me.  We did on-sight exploring of never before skied terrain sans that one poke that Selkirk Tangiers did and I learned many things.  One thing I learned was how much I indeed know.........then another thing I learned was how much I don't know and it's a lot.  The cool thing about what I don't know is that it is the cool awesome stuff that I want to learn. The learning never stops.

Mark P. Renson

On Thursday, January 14, 2016 10:03 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

The last day, the snowstorm came in later and lighter than forecasted.  The Selkirks are rugged and generate tough to forecast weather.  I felt the need to assert and take control, so without a word I took the lead out of the hut and then broke trail to a moraine under snowy skies.  The terrain became complex which made things interesting while breaking trail in the deep snow up steeper terrain.  I was having a ball with that.  Yes, I enjoy many of my ski ascents on skins and trying to put in a professional grade skin track heightens the fun.  I got no complaints and nearing treeline, I eyed a tasty gully to my right on a NW aspect.  If you go into the snow enough, you could smell where it drifts in and it just screams "ski me".  Poking into the alpine, winds picked up and visibility worsened.  So, we made the decision to stop and the descent was obvious as I laid down awesome tracks down that tasty gully.  Way down the bottom, I faceplanted due to some flat light at a small ditch which was funny.

Igor and I had discussed a route that I had labelled #1 on my map.  At the start of the trip, we figured that we should check that out ASAP as it appeared that would be a great choice on a low visibility day.  During the week, even on cloudy days, we had good visibility, hence we never got to it.  But today was the day.  Igor was anxious to check this out and we had other options in that area in mind and he broke trail.  At the top of a shallower angled gully, we found the lousitest snow of the week - a bit of windblown for about 100 vertical feet that only offered boot top at best untracked.  After that, we resumed our normal programming of knee to mid-thigh untracked that skied so easily and consistently.

We discovered another ascent line and Igor broke trail on that as we - and especially he - were anxious to see if there was a possible way to circumnavigate the peak above us to the "Back Door" trees the other side of "Troy Pass".  We broke trail in deeep snow through some dense woods and we did not find a safe way to the Back Door woods.  We did find a steep 35-40 degree bowl that led into a gully.  The N aspect was a no go due to windloading and the resultant windslab.  We stood on top of an E-NE aspect and poked around looking for windslab.  We found no slabbiness and the slope looked supportive.  Igor dropped in and laid down some sweet tracks at a deliberate easy on the snowpack pace.  Then it was my turn.  I was a bit hesitant at first and then made nice turns in the deep snow, very aware I was on a 35-40 degree slope - the prime slope angle for avalanches.  I kept it close to the trees, aware of an escape route.

Then, it happened........

Mark P. Renson

On Sunday, January 10, 2016 10:01 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Igor was loving the skiing maybe even more than I was.  He was as enthusiastic about the nice low angle tree runs as he was about a bold steep chute in the alpine.  He was a master about micromanaging terrain and I was getting an education about what I don't know.  I was also pulling it together with my Dynafit Denali skis as I was getting used to them in deep powder and keeping them from seemingly running away from me.

I had a ski dream about Mad River and even earlier in the week I had another ski dream about Killington.

So, with a storm approaching for Friday and clear skies on this Thursday, we headed for the Alpine and nailed a great 3k foot powder run.  This actually was the only run we had that was not a first descent - Selkirk Tangiers with Igor being the lead guide snitched a ski run roughly along the line we took.  Last run of the day was another beaut as we nailed a moraine with a perfect pitch and no traps with a NW aspect that we had observed during the week.  We avoided a terrain trap gully to the skiers left.  We were not disappointed - same 'ol knee to thigh deep that skied so easily and consistently.

Temps dropped even more after the sunset and the snowpack settled to 158cm.  It was so cold that we did not even bother to step outside to fire up the sauna.  Stories were shared about the colourful locals of Interior BC including some prominent names which including someone they call "Mr Can't Be Killed" due to his bold exploits and amusing antics.  Unfortunately, my beer for the day turned to 50% slush and I had to warm it up.  Of course I drank it.  Like Eric Pehota said in the movie "Steep" - when you're back from a ski expedition, that piss warm beer that you stashed at the trailhead is the best beer imagineable.

Good times, very good times.
Mark P. Renson

On Wednesday, January 6, 2016 9:21 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Next day, we used our 1st day skin track to gain the Alpine above "Endless Trees". We dropped the hazard down to Moderate in the Alpine - no persistent layers, no avalanches or instabilities noted.  We went to Speculator Col and for an isolated gully we saw with a NW aspect.  Good snow was had on a 30-35 degree slope that was probably never skied before and we then ascended a steep narrow well supported gully that the others had descended the prior day.  We tinkered with the upper Endless Trees and then worked on finding another descent line back to the hut.  We saw some possibilities from the Alpine a few days prior and we poked around for that.  We threaded our way through some scree and boulders, getting some gouges on our boards - hey, this is adventure skiing.  Then descended along a moraine and Igor found a nice ramp in the high 20s (degrees steepness).  Then......WOW!  We found a fantastic SW aspect tree filled gully between 30-35 degrees in steepness that blew us way.  Perfect pitch and thigh deep that skied so perfectly! 

I had a beer later on that was roughly 25% slush.  When we worked on our guides meeting, I was seriously considering dropping the hazard down to Low as minor sloughing in the Alpine were the only instabilities we could find.  Hold on, cowboy.  Low is only when you are positive that a big open convex 37 degree slope would never ever rip loose.

Mark P. Renson

On Sunday, December 27, 2015 10:23 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I had researched and marked an area on my map that was the other side of the ridge looming over the hut to the south.  It looked like it would have good lower angle trees on a W aspect.  To access it would mean ascending 1 of 3 unknown cols within a place Larry named "Troy Pass".  Well, visual obs the prior day revealed that one of them was heavily corniced and the other might be too steep. So we went for the option on the East side of the pass.  Igor was worried about being too exposed to a big slope, so we went for a bit of a detour before attaining the top which required a bit of a short 4.13c rock scramble. On the other side, I kicked off some benign 10cm deep soft storm snow slabs before descending into the unknown. We circled around a small lake and found a probably never before skied virgin forest.  We were stunned at our great find!  As usual, we found easy to ski consistent untracked powder that was up to thigh deep.  

On the way out, we discussed many terrain scenarios.  We had to figure out a new skin track and negotiate some steep feature and some gullies.  Back at the top, we dug a pit to test for a sun crust.  As we had in the other pits, we found Fist hardness on top, 4 Finger below that and 1 Finger the rest of the way down - perfect!  At the top, we had to negotiate the steep west col.  We avoided some cornices and found a narrow slot in the fog.  Here, I was getting outclassed by Igor's terrain management.  The slot avoided exposure form cornices and did have some slabbiness on the skiers right that was to be avoided.  I struggled a bit on the descent with some flat light down the 45 degree pitch as I sideslipped in order to stay in control to avoid the slabbiness but got it together as my sloughing created some definition and I was able to make easy hop turns and spooned Igor's. Afterwards, via coming in from the top, we were able to see a hidden line to the skiers left of where we were the prior day and crushed that all the way down to a place I labelled as "Little Headwall" well below the hut.

Back at the hut, Igor and I each had a beer.  We would just have 1 at the end of every ski day (a 12 pack in aggregate - Begbie Brewery).  Like they say nowadays, a real hardcore does not drink 6 packs every night.  This is not some resort town scene.

My humbling education continues........
Mark P. Renson

On Wednesday, December 23, 2015 9:54 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

For Monday, we put together a plan to stay around Treeline........then the cloudy skies unexpectdely parted and we got some sunshine, so up into the alpine Igor and I went. Travelling near the snout of a glacier labelled as "Icefield" on the map did not expose us to dangers as there were no overhanging seracs looming above us. Up to 2500 meters we ascended to a col that overlooked what I penciled in on my map as "East Glacier".  Clouds moved in and we eschewed skiing the glacier, doing some probing to measure snow depths, instead.  HS - that's avie dudespeak for Height of Snow - measured up to 300 cm.  Down we went afterwards on a 3000 foot descent to the right of a moraine.  The nice thing about the west facing terrain there is that there are a number of moraines that lead down into a stream bed which goes by the hut, hence in whiteout conditions there are handy handrails.  Once more, snow was outstanding - knee deep consistent user friendly snow.  The few more centimeters put the rain crust down too far to be a factor anymore.

Afterwards, up into a N aspect face in the alpine we went to dig.  Some easy results were found in the upper storm snow but no real slabbiness and only hard, resistant planar in the mid snowpack. No results on a Deep Tap test, either.  The warm November and December per El Nino had made a strong snowpack and the light steady snowfall over the prior few days meant no rapid loading with just some harmless fluff on top sans a few spots in lee areas.  Again, another great descent was had in the knee to lower thigh deep!

That night we had some lively discussion about Reudi, Larry and Ruedi & Larry.  There are some very big personalities in the big mountains of BC/Alberta.  This all kept us entertained as all of us there had been exposed to one of them and many cases both.  We saved discussion about Ken Wylie's book for another night.  If you only knew.........
Mark P. Renson

On Tuesday, December 22, 2015 10:32 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

That night we all chatted and when it came time to announcing our professions, I told everyone that I was a real live "Dilbert", working in IT in Boston.  This was to stick.

The next morning, it was time to go to work.  Out into the dark at 6:30 AM, I went out to record snow and weather obs.  I measured a snowpack of 168cm and Igor and I put together a plan for the snowy day.  We derived a forecast based on my obs and the latest Rogers Pass bulletin and a weather forecast we got for nearby Battle Abbey.  The last 2 would be the last pieces of information that we would get from the outside world as we would not have internet communication.  Based on our info, I generated a hand drawn chart with Likelihood of Avalanches on the Y-Axis based on trigger sensitivity and Avalanche Size on the X-Axis per a CAA standard taught to me a few years ago.  From this, we were able to develop a 5 point hazard rating and forecast.  We gave it Fair stability for BTL, TL and ALP (Below Treeline, Treeline and Alpine) and Considerable-Mod-Considerable for the hazard.  Yes, due to the surface hoar sprouting up a week prior below 1700 meters, the rating was higher below treeline than at treeline.  For a plan, we figured we would lay down a never before laid skin track in the trees next to an avalanche path and up to the lower part of the Alpine zone where we could find good protected skiing on a W-NW aspect in an area I labelled on my map as "Endless Trees".

Hoo boy, it was time consuming breaking trail in the new deep snow and punching through the brush and dense virgin forest via Igors switchbacks.  Winds picked up at 1850 meters and above that, the steep woods levelled to a more sane grade at roughly 6000 meters where we took a break.  Sure enough, the other 4 took good advantage of our trail breaking and caught up with us. After our break, I took control and broke trail.  It was a big thrill setting a track where no skis might very well have never been.  Yeah, uphill skinning can be exciting!  I found a steep rollover that was great for performing stability tests in the lightly falling snow.  I got some soft slabs to release about 10cm down but could not get a rollover to budge.  OK, looking good so far.  We then dug a pit with the Objective of - per my notes in my AIARE Field Book - "What's in the alpine?". We got Moderate yet RP (Resistant Planar) results with Compression Tests and 1 Deep Tap Test (90 down). Looking better!  Nothing jumping out or collapsing.  Up a little higher we went, parting ways with the other 4.  

On our descents, we whooped it up on some short steep 35 degree rollovers with good support and finally lit it up on some 30-40 degree steep trees near our ascent line down to below tree line at the top of a spot I labelled as "Little Headwall". We were crushing it though I was still trying to get a feel for my Dynafit Denalis on their first test in truly deep powder.  Those boards really wanted to take off and they seemed to be getting ahead of me.  Hmmm, I'll need more practice to find ways to tame them I though, which was a good thing. We did find some of the light rain crust at 1500 meters, but this was not an inhibiting factor at all - "not a buzz-killer" per my notes - as we had shin to mid-thigh deep consistent snow all the way on the descent.Below treeline, we dug another pit with the objective of "Hunt for the Dec 2 SH layer".  The good news was that we got hard results on a Compression Result 1 meter down.  The grim news was that twice we got "Cash Register Results" which is formally knows as Sudden Planar which is bad news - the block fired out like a cash register drawer with a clean shear.  Yes, we had to be more conservative below treeline than at treeline.

Pits and breaking trail took up huge amounts of time and we had to head up to the hut, breaking more trail which along with the others could be used throughout the week.  We did have to stop to figure out where to approach the hut in the dense virgin woods.  My new DeLorme Inreach Explorer came in handy as it directed us rapidly to the hut.  Yeah, I had my map and compass, but given the complex unknown terrain, we put technology to good use.  Oh, and I have used map and compass in the past, most dramatically in leading across the Lyell Icefields in a whiteout postholing in 45cm new in early July and I have been confident in navigation ever since.

That night, we derived another homegrown avalanche bulletin which really was no change from the AM, but with higher confidence due to our fact gathering/obs.

Over dinner, the other 4 told us how they whooped it up in the avalanche path where we descended and they just had to give it a name - "Dilbert's Drop".  Yup, the first named run there was named after me.  Lane blurted out "that's the most respect you'll get from us all week" and we all laughed.

Note that at Icefall Lodge, numerous runs are named based on individuals without naming their true names.  For example, in honor of the client from Boston who was on the first expedition there prior to the lodge being built, a ski run high at the head of the Rostrum Glacier was named "Mad River" as this client is a Mad River Glen skier.

Mark P. Renson

On Monday, December 21, 2015 10:20 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Larry arrived at 6:59:59:007 - these ACMG guides are never late - and we were on our way over Rogers Pass to Revvie (that's dudespeak for Revelstoke) to meet up with Igor at Timmy's (that's Tim Hortons which is every bit as lousy and inexplicably popular as Dunkin Donuts is in New England) while Larry headed to a staging site.  Igor and I broke out our notes and maps put our heads together regarding terrain and snowpack.  Like me, his classification is Apprentice Ski Guide and unlike me, he has experience as a guide for the Selkirk Tangiers Heliski operation.  His experience would come in handy as Selkirk Tangiers was able to do a single ski run at Snowfall Lodge last season on a sunny day and Igor was able to use that opportunity to snap some pics of the terrain from a helicopter which came in handy for this trip.

Off in the chopper we went, joining a group of 4 that would be with us for the week.  In that group was Nick, who makes films for Sweetgrass Productions as well as 2 other gents (Matt and Steve) who do some work for the ski media and then there was Lane, a young local along for the ride. Apparently, they were to do some photography and assorted media stuff for the opening of Snowfall Lodge though I never saw them working on this.  Matt had done an article for Powder Mag last March about Ruedi which I liked and mentioned that......Matt said I was the first one that he knew of that liked it as he received much criticism over the article.

Well, we unpacked, and I made a near futile attempt to get water in the small stream buried under 165cm of snow to which I got half a pail with some sticks and sand in it.  Others found a better spot. Before sunset, I got in a complex burial scenario which went very well.  I was lauded for this as well as being very prepared for the trip in many ways.

But, the education was to come......
Mark P. Renson

On Sunday, December 20, 2015 10:08 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Prior to the prior night's guides meeting, I jotted down many notes about what I knew and what my concerns were.  We had laid out maps and put together plans.  One human factor that I was concerned with was whether or not we would pressure ourselves to lay down new fun routes without considering consequences.  But new owner Larry Dolecki reminded me that we were also to find safe routes as well as fun routes.

We were to head to Snowfall Lodge. Don't even bother looking it up on the internet - it was built by Larry (owns Icefall Lodge, as well) over a week during the summer and Larry is not one for internet fluff.  There are 2 references to it on the Facebook Icefall Lodge page and that's it.  Here it is 50 58’ 28.3” N 117 33’ 14.2” W  So, don't whine about me not telling you where the backcountry goods are.  Duh, I just showed you.

On Saturday morning, Larry picked me up in Lake Louise to go to Revelstoke.  Larry and I were to collect V-Cards from numerous slopes and document - as he told me, it was to be a "project".  One problem - Larry hurt his knee a few weeks prior.  So, at the last minute, he hooked me up with Igor Bernas, one of his guides that works for him at Icefall and a graduate of:  Icefall Lodge - advanced ski mountaineering course
Larry has actually recruited a number of his guides from this course.  

Right before I was picked up at the Lake Louise Hostel ($64CDN for 2 nights with a free shuttle to the local ski hill and they serve beer there - who could ask for anything more?) at 7AM as I nervously waited, I actually engaged in some raucous internet communication out of the blue with Mia from Colorado of The A-Team, presumably while she was eating a bowl of nails for breakfast prepping for some M8-WI7 VI climb.  Whaddya' know, after that, I was READY, ready for the chopper ride in to a 170cm snowpack at 1575 meters at a brand new hut and to explore!  Details for the lodge are as follows:

Snowfall Lodge
Welcome to Snowfall Lodge for the first season of exploring. I will give you some basic
info to start planning your trip, more will follow.
I want to emphasize that this will be basic accommodation and not as comfortable as
Icefall Lodge. It will be a small group; usually 7 plus guide and maybe a practicum. The
guide will do the cooking and people will be expected to help with chores. I view this
year as exploration and there will be a lot of details that need to be sorted out.
The Lodge:
Well it isn’t actually a lodge yet. I have built what will become the sauna. It is a basic
one room building (16’x 16’). The kitchen, dining, living area, wood stove and drying will
all be downstairs.
There is a ladder to the loft upstairs where it is dorm sleeping. Mattresses and bedding
are provided so no need to bring a sleeping bag. There is a solar panel and 2 electric
lights downstairs. There are also 2 propane lights downstairs but no lights upstairs so a
headlamp is useful. There is no electricity so don’t bring things that need to be charged.
There is no running water but there is a creek very close by. There is also no indoor
toilet just an outhouse.
There is a very small sauna so you can bring a towel. It is a separate small building.
We should have a radio repeater by the time the season starts. ; 162.885 Rx, 167.895 Tx,
narrow band, Tx tone 100.00. Your guide will also have a Spot. There is no internet and it
would be fairly difficult but not impossible to get a message in. This would probably
involve emailing somebody who has radio communication with us. More details to
We will stage 6km up the Fish River Rd from Beaton. This is the end of where the road
will be plowed to. Beaton is 5 km off highway 31 which runs between the Galena Bay
Ferry and Trout Lake. This is south of Revelstoke and north of Nakusp. It shows up on
Google Maps and I will send more details later.
With a couple of exceptions the exchange will be on Saturday. You will meet at staging
at 8:30 am. There is a small cabin there where Pierre and his wife Natelle live. There is
also a sea canister there. You will sign waivers, organize loads and fly in from there.
To fly in we will be primarily using a jet ranger which can take about 700 pounds, so
pack light. This will usually be about 3 people. With food and gear we are probably
looking at 4 flights to get in. It is about 15- 20 minute turn around time to the lodge.
It is recommended that you stay somewhere nearby the night before. Halcyon Hot
springs has accommodation and is about 40 minutes away. There are also a couple of
places in Trout Lake (more details to come). Pierre may let you stay at his place; more
details to come.
The Terrain:
It looks awesome but I haven’t done much skiing there. This year will be about
exploring. The lodge sits at 1575 m, the peaks are at 2800m. If you want to look on
Google Earth, the coordinates are: Lodge site 50 58’ 28.3” N 117 33’ 14.2” W Staging 50
46’ 22.6” N 117 40’ 36.0 W
The Snow:
It is white; more details to come!
Gear List:
Personal Gear
All personal gear must weigh less than 35 pounds. This includes clothing, and drinks. This gear
must fit into 2 small packs (40 liters or less). This weight does not include skis and you can wear
your ski boots in the helicopter. Avoid bulky items (don’t bring a sleeping bag, duvets are
provided). Please no large duffle bags, coolers or hard suitcases.

Mark P. Renson

On Friday, December 11, 2015 2:43 PM, Mark P. Renson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Checking in from Lake Louise - a "local ski hill" -where there is an astounding amount of snow when you account for the fact that this place usually gets astoundingly little snow. Yes, it is in a rain shadow due to monstrous peaks to the west. Some untracked is to be had and I am keeping it conservative due to being solo.....though I have put my hand in the cookie jar for some high fiber treats. Skier packed is skiing the best especially with my Dynafit Denali boards. Yes I am carrying avie gear because Sarah Carpenter and Herr Ruedi say you should at local ski hills when the avie danger is elevated.

Last night's guides meeting went well and we chopper in tomorrow to be away from the internet and electricity for a week.

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