Evan Stevens and Jasmin Caton found the elk the next morning on the snow cat access road. Or at least what was left of it. The wolves had done a thorough job. But you have to expect that this far into the wilds of interior British Columbia.
The wolves were part of a growing local pack in the area, and the lonely road is the only access into Valhalla Mountain Touring, a backcountry lodge outside the tiny village of Hills, BC.
“Last year I saw wolf tracks near the lodge for the first time,” Jasmin says. “Then this year, in December, Evan was driving a snowmobile up late one night and came across an elk running on the road. It seemed freaked out, and the next morning when he came back down he saw the elk, slaughtered and surrounded by wolf tracks. It was brutal, but it’s their turf too.”
Hills, at the bottom of that road, is remote itself, not much more than a few houses. The sign pointing off Highway 6 is license-plate sized, and it usually takes guests one or two drive-bys to find it. But when they do, the snow-cat ride from VMT’s staging area (a gravel pull off a few hundred yards off the highway), will lead them to one of the most impressive and quietly renowned lodges in the BC. And as for the terrain? Well, it’s almost as wild as the wolf howls that often pierce the quiet, moonlit nights.
Valhalla was started in 1978 by Craig Petit, a local guide based out of the nearby town of New Denver. Originally a mining claim, Petit tore down the few abandoned shacks on the vast property and built a small lodge, from which he began operating a humble guiding operation. Despite its modest size, it was an impressive effort considering that buying butter or eggs required a 30-minute snowmobile ride and 10-mile drive to New Denver (population 750).
But Petit was determined, and the skier/conservationist ran VMT for 15 years before his environmental focus pulled him away from the operation. Jasmin’s parents—Hills residents and avid backcountry skiers—bought the lodge in 1993, and began building on Craig’s initial dream. They brought in a new snow cat and eventually built a larger, more modern lodge. And they continued to grow the business, earning a stellar reputation in an area filled with world-class backcountry operations.
Jasmin grew up around the lodge and was involved in her parent’s outdoor activities from a young age, riding in a backpack until she was old enough to ski and hike herself. It instilled a passion for rock climbing and skiing which would take her on a circuitous path from Vancouver for college, Utah for a graduate degree in hydrogeology, and eventually as a rock climbing guide all over the world.
In the mid-2000s, Jasmin began working on her certification as a ski guide, and she and Evan officially took over the lodge from her parents in 2009 (her parents are still involved, Dale as “part-time custodian,” and Lynda “lodge chef and resident baker”). Now Jasmin and Evan live in Squamish during the summer, but as soon as the snow begins to fall, they’re back at VMT—the perfect mix of civilization and solitude, in their opinion.
VMT’s reputation has only continued to grow under their supervision. Guests are made up of nearly 90-percent returning customers, and VMT is often almost fully booked before the season even begins. They’ve added some modern luxuries: The lodge has electricity thanks to a small hydro-power plant, limited Wi-Fi, and indoor plumbing thanks to a septic system—which has its own difficulties, like when it broke in 2010 and required a sewage-covered home repair job. But despite the amenities, it’s still a rustic experience. Getting basic supplies or picking up a package still requires going to New Denver (FedEx isn’t really an option in Hills), and anything beyond groceries means another hour to Nelson. It’s exactly what VMT wants.
“I think being off the beaten path is worth it,” Jasmin says. “It’s what makes these mountains special. Even in Revelstoke or Rogers Pass you’re on the Trans-Canada Highway. There are sledders everywhere, and tons of overlapping operations. Here, you stand on the ridgelines and there are signs of civilization anywhere around. We have grizzlies and now wolves. It’s pretty wonderful to feel like you’re surrounded by wilderness, and all the wild things that come with it.”