(Note: This is from earlier in the year and I was going to submit it to some magazines. To be honest, I don’t have the time or energy, and I think I would rather share it with you all for free than make it so you would have to pay to read it. Enjoy!)
Craig, Jerrett, Wanda and Pete at the Col above the West and North Bowls – December 27th.
Day 1 – 25 December 2011
I arrived later than I had planned. It was just dark but it was snowing! My Christmas “duties” had been discharged
through my hands free phone device on the drive up, and it was time to
ski. I convinced my buddy Jerrett to
skin up that night. Of course, 50 steps
up the hill my head lamp failed…and then one of my heel lifts snapped off my
binding…but it was still fun. Some quick
battery swapping and we made our way down enjoying the “dust on crust”.
The 2012 ski season wasn’t starting with a bang. This time last year there was twice as much
snow. In fact, I don’t recall seeing the
lower runs as “bushy” as they were ever.
At least it was snowing…
Day 2 – 26 December 2011
It was storming again.
This is good as it rained to the summit on Christmas eve. It was also windy. Any slight convex roll was fracturing. A good thing to see when you are somewhere
safe, but not very encouraging when you want to head into the
back-country. Let’s face it, that’s why
most people come to Mt. Cain. Two bowls
right at each boundary with ridge lines leading to four more within an hour’s
I stayed in bounds and even dug a pit. As I expected there was a foot of wind
affected fresh, the Christmas Eve rain crust, another foot of powdery stuff and
then the December 10th rain crust.
It was all a little touchy. I did
see some tracks going in to West Bowl, but as I haven’t skied here that long, I
decided to play it safe.
That night I checked out the local party spot – “The Robin’s
Nest”. Went for a sauna and some smoke in
this not so legal haunt just outside the official ski area boundary. I got out of there before the big party crowd
Day 3 – 27 December 2011
Visibility is good!
It was actually possible to see some of the lines…so we headed out. I hooked up with my long time (well, three
years) Cain ski partner Pete and we dropped the West Bowl, the North Bowl and
then the West Bowl again and a final two runs in “3 o’clock” trees. Conditions were still variable in the open
terrain, with the North Bowl’s snow being “chalky”. The trees! Oh those trees! Steep, stable, deep. Some of the best snow I have skied in my
life! On my second run I had a classic
ski mountaineering moment. I dropped a
steep chute between some cliffs and everything sluffed down to the rain
crust. I felt like a ski movie star as I
picked my way down 50 feet of 50 degree snow with my sluff going all around
I tried to be smart and have dinner at Pete’s and go to bed
early…still didn’t get my head down until after midnight…
You can just make out Pete under the rocks on the left. Spooky thing is that a couple of weeks later Pete triggered a size 2 avalanche on this exact same line…
Day 4 – 28 December 2011
Some lodge mates offered dish washing for breakfast, and
there was no way I was going to let them down…
No vis – lots of snow – and temps shot up over night. Just
another day of skiing on the West Coast of BC.
I hooked up with the local “extreme skiers”, Todd and Neal and banged
out quick runs in the East Bowl and “just out”.
Hugging the eastern boundary of the ski hill like grade five students
slow dancing, lines snake down the ridge and off the bowl around small cliffs
and weather beaten groves of yellow cedar and hemlock. Flat light and blowing snow called for skiing
“loose” to flow over and absorb half seen rolls and drifts. It was both hard and easy to find fresh snow
as skiing in someone’s tracks added definition, and no one could see the fresh
patches. I managed to auger in pretty
hard and it looked like I had busted a ski brake…more binding troubles. I needed a two and a half hour lunch break. I finally headed back up, sort of with Jerrett
and Jessica. No friends on a powder day prevailed and I proceeded to hit run
after run of light and fluffy changing to slightly wet and grippy by the bottom
of the upper tee bar.
Yes, I just said “tee-bar”.
That’s all you’ll find at Mt. Cain.
One tee bar on the lower half of the mountain and a second on the upper
half. Sitting almost in the middle of
Northern Vancouver Island, Mt. Cain is a throwback to skiing’s beginnings. Two tee bars, beds for 50 on the mountain in
four buildings of variable age with variable levels of décor and washrooms…or
no washrooms.. 52 private cabins for the
locals and an old school bus that will pick you up from the bottom in time to
get your lift ticket and ride the first tee, and take you home at 4 pm.
Relaxing in the lodge after another hard day…
Day 5 – 29 December 2011
The temperature has dropped.
Its minus 1 at the lodge. There’s
a line-up and some arguing for first tee…on the eastern horizon the next storm
is rolling in. My legs feel like they
will explode at any moment, but I line up anyways. Up to the top and there is visibility; the
storm hasn’t hit yet. I see all of my
usual ski partners in the line up and ignore them as they ignore me. No friends
on a powder day.
I scream down just off the upper tee line for my first
run. It’s about 10 am and I only cross
two tracks all the way down on a line that is easily visible from the tee
bar. Next run, out into the east bowl
for a quick rope ducker and then another.
I run into my main touring buddies and we make plans. I take a break and wait for them half way
down and watch the storm roll in making the mountains disappear on the horizon. If we want to hit some back country lines we
had better go soon or we won’t be able to see anything.
I hook up with Pete, Song and Lisa. We head out to the easily accessible West
Bowl and hit the main gully. Some wind
impacted snow but pretty damn nice. Run
two in the West bowl is door #3. It’s
untouched and everyone get’s face shots.
The storm is getting closer so we rush for one more. We had planned to hit door #4, but its
tracked. There is still room in #3 so we
drop again. One at a time to be
I can barely stand and almost every muscle in my body
hurts. Back to the lodge and coming off
of the west part of the hill I see that the storm is now here in full
force. Wind howling and snow flying. I’m not sure I will be able to do this again
Song drops one of the doors in the West Bowl.
Day 6 – December 30th, 2011
It snowed all night…again.
I was up extra early to take on one of the volunteer duties – shovel
crew. With tee bars, while you don’t
have to worry about people getting stuck way up in the air, you do have to
groom the tee line. The thing is, on the
upper tee at Mt. Cain there is a section that the groomer can’t get to. It is also on a side slope. And wind affected. Therefore, it gets done by hand. While this is a lot of work, you do get to the privilege of skiing one run (and only one) before the public starts loading, and if you’re quick you can get
in another two after the hill opens before anyone makes it up to the upper tee
bar. On a powder day, it’s all win.
Today was a powder day.
You actually get two half runs in on the lower part of the upper tee
where the groomer has already done the work.
I had first tracks all over the place and banged out seven laps before
my lack of a real breakfast combined with getting up before 7 am caught up to
me. I have to go home now, but I am so
content it doesn’t matter.
I’ll be back…
Author’s Note: The Mt. Cain Backcountry is not patrolled and not controlled in any way. Just because it is right next to the ski hill and appears to get a lot of traffic, it is very dangerous to assume it is safe. Read the following blog posts to see the sort of things that can happen to even the more experienced locals:
The Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin regularly updates the avalanche risk for Vancouver Island and has some pretty good trip planning information.