There are no baths or showers at Boulder Hut. Cleanup after a day of strenuous backcountry skiing involves soaping up in a wood-fired sauna, then dumping a bucket of water over your head. To my surprise, a fellow guest – fit, naked and female – offered to do the pouring. I reluctantly acquiesced.
Thereafter, the absence of a proper shower seemed trivial and I decided to forego my complaint to management.
Management at this remote backcountry lodge consists of owners Mark and Sarah Yancey, whose infectious love of Boulder Hut – and the remote lifestyle it entails – is evident from the moment they greet you on the snow-packed helipad.
Over the years, I’ve acquired all the accoutrements for ski-touring – and on occasion I’ve skinned up the Kimberley ski hill – but I had never toured in the backcountry.
So I was curious when a helicopter touched down at the base of the ski hill on a sunny morning in January. A group of people, ski paraphernalia in tow, was preparing to board. I put down my coffee, stepped off the deck and wandered over. I asked the pilot where they were bound.
“Boulder Hut,” he said.
“Where’s that?” I queried.
“Twelve minutes that way,” he said pointing west over Northstar Mountain.
As I ain’t gettin’ no younger, I determined to be on that chopper before the season ended. And so in mid-March I was soaring over our condo, watching my wife Florence waving goodbye from our deck. I hoped it was not a permanent farewell.
Moments later, we were up and over the Black Forest on Kimberley Alpine Resort’s back side.
Then we were into the rugged roadless world of southeastern British Columbia’s Purcell Range. We steered along a ridge of wintry peaks, summited Boulder Pass and descended into a broad forested valley. A tiny dot far below soon resolved into the Boulder Hut.
After a welcoming lunch and safety briefing, we strapped on skins and started our first ascent through the thick forest of old-growth spruce that provides Boulder’s gorgeous backdrop.
The conditions were fabulous. A storm had just blown through. Fresh powder and sunny, bluebird conditions greeted us.
Every winter, the media warns of avalanche danger in the backcountry. At Boulder Hut, safety is paramount. With Mark and alpine guide Brent Peters constantly checking conditions – and leading the way through dicey areas – we felt safe and comfortable. When there was any hint of risk, they dug a snow profile to check for stability and to ensure some rogue slab wouldn’t ruin our day.
Boulder Hut is remote, quaint and rustic – guests share an open sleeping cabin. If you forget earplugs (and sleeping pills), your repose may be ruined; exhausted, snoring skiers make a hell of a racket.
In the evening, guests are responsible for stoking the wood-burning stove. Failure to maintain the fire means a long, cold, shivering night. As the only rookie, I was utterly exhausted at the end of each day and slept like a baby – with an assist from earplugs (and a little blue friend).
Boulder has no laundry facilities. By the fourth night, my ski socks, hanging over the bunk to dry, had taken on a crisp, flavourful bouquet – or so my fellow guests noted (I was obliviously comatose).
Drinking water is drawn directly from a small creek that flows year-round. The same stream supplies power via a small hydroelectric plant.
Boulder’s bathrooms are al fresco – open A-frame jobbies where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the Purcell Mountains whilst engaging in one’s morning constitutional. A sign planted in the snow announces whether the privy is occupied or available.
At Boulder Hut, there’s no cellphone coverage or Internet. And guests are (gasp) expected to help with dishes after dinner.
I’ve been to five-star ski lodges where a cat whisks you to the top of the mountain for each run. At Boulder Hut, every turn is earned. Mark calculated that we climbed 14,000 feet (4,300 metres) during our stay.
Sound like a miserable experience?
I had the time of my life. Mark, Sarah, their kids Grace and Alden, mascot Rosie the Great Pyrenees and my seven fascinating fellow guests made for a fabulous, unique experience.
I’m going back to Boulder this winter – and taking along a few buddies, all rookies.
Now if only I can arrange for a reprise of that fit lady with the water bucket.
Gerry Feehan, QC, lives in Red Deer, Alta.