BOULDER HUT by Gerry Feehan
I asked the pilot where we were bound.
“Boulder Hut” he said. “Where’s that?” I queried. “Twelve minutes that way,” he said pointing west over Northstar Mountain.
There are no baths or showers at Boulder Hut. Clean-up after a day of strenuous backcountry skiing involves soaping up in a wood-fired sauna, then dumping a bucket of water over one’s 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 heli-pad.
Over the years I’ve acquired all the accoutrements for ski-touring – and on occasion I’ve skinned up from our condo on the Kimberley, BC ski hill – but I had never before 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 place, 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 the ski hill’s back side.
Then we were into the rugged roadless world of the Purcell Range. We hugged a ridge of wintry peaks, summited Boulder Pass and descended into a broad forested valley. A tiny dot far below soon resolved into 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 back-drop. The conditions were fabulous; a storm had just blown through. Fresh powder and sunny, bluebird conditions greeted us.
Drinking water is drawn directly from a small creek that flows year-round.
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 for 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).
Drinking water is drawn directly from a small creek that flows year-round. The same stream supplies power via a small hydroelectric plant.
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).
Boulder’s bathrooms are located 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 is no cellphone coverage or internet. And guests are (gasp) expected to help with the 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 (4300 meters) 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 practised law in Red Deer for 27 years before starting his second life as a freelance travel writer and photographer. He says that, while being a lawyer is more remunerative than travel writing, it isn’t nearly as much fun. When not on the road, Gerry and his wife Florence live in Red Deer and Kimberley, BC. Todayville is proud to work with Gerry to re-publish some of his most compelling stories from his vast catalogue developed over more than a decade of travel.
Click to read an excellent story about the Turks and Caicos.
WestJet announces new flights to Tokyo, Barcelona, and Edinburgh
Calgary – WestJet plans to offer flights to Japan starting this spring, marking the airline’s first non-stop flights to Asia from Calgary.
The Calgary-based airline said Monday that it will fly to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport from Calgary this spring.
The non-stop flights will operate three times weekly beginning April 30.
The airline also announced new routes from Calgary to Barcelona and Edinburgh and increased frequency to Dublin, London, Paris and Rome, also starting in the spring.
WestJet chief executive Alexis von Hoensbroech says the new flights are part of the airline’s plan to expand capacity from Calgary by more than 25 per cent by next year, beginning with intercontinental routes.
WestJet also says it is preparing for broader expansion within Canada and North America over the coming months.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.
Ottawa, air sector discuss industry concerns ahead of winter travel season
By Caitlin Yardley in Montreal
Delays at security check-in and other problems at Canada’s airports were among the concerns raised Thursday as the air travel industry came together ahead of the busy winter travel season, but the sector warns more remains to be done.
Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra convened the summit for the industry to discuss such issues as transparency, accountability and passenger rights.
“The air industry was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alghabra in a press release “Last summer, the industry faced a new crisis of congestion and delays.”
Alghabra noted that passenger volumes rose 280 per cent between February and June. The high passenger volumes and inadequate staffing levels contributed to a summer of lost baggage and flight disruptions, during which Toronto’s Pearson International Airport had the world’s worst record on delayed flights.
With the peak winter travel season around the corner, passengers and industry alike are concerned that similar problems may emerge.
Key issues discussed at the summit include the persistent labour shortage, inflation and loss of revenue, Alghabra said in a phone interview.
He said despite the remaining pilot shortage, air sector staffing is mostly back to 2019 levels, but problems around training delays such as security screeners remain.
“It takes some time to train an employee in the sector,” said Alghabra.
The head of the Canadian Airport Council says that capital expenses are a concern, as Canadian airports took on $3.2 billion in debt to continue operations during the pandemic.
“Servicing this debt and paying deferred rent to the federal government will make it difficult to finance the infrastructure projects that are vital to airport operations,” Monette Pasher said.
She said there is a need to adopt digital solutions that will streamline border crossing and security processes and for more data transparency.
Alghabra says the federal government has increased collaboration with the airlines and airports to ensure that the required operational procedures and resources are in place for the holiday season.
A spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Tori Gass, says it has worked closely with airlines and government and that the airport has seen significant improvements since the summer.
Even so, the transport minister warned that some measures discussed at the summit will not be in effect in time for the winter travel surge.
While Canada’s air sector has come a long way from the worst days of the pandemic, Pasher said the industry still has a long way to go.
“We want Canadians to be able to travel to their destination, either celebrate the holidays with their family or go on a vacation. We want to make sure that the system is prepared and ready for this,” said Alghabra.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.
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