Bulkley Valley, BC

North of Nowhere: Building the Backcountry of West Central British Columbia

Cameron and Chris Coppock and I were somewhere past a dozen hours into the 15-hour drive from Cameron’s home in Seattle to Smithers, BC. Sheets of rain peeled off the windshield as we gazed at distant clouded peaks. Nearing the small town that serves as the service and tourism hub for west central British Columbia’s Bulkley Valley, Cam and I theorized about the alpine conditions we’d find: some new snow, but not too much—a soft layer of fresh powder atop a firm base—perfect for edging, enough to be fun, not enough to slough us out of anything steep.

“I’ll take ‘Conditions We’re Not Gonna Get’ for $600,” Chris mumbled groggily from beneath a sleeping bag stretched across the back seats.

Yet somehow, less than two days later, we found ourselves wading through boot-top powder in the calm windless blue before dawn. For all our worry that there wouldn’t be any good snow, our base camp perch above the moraine placed us squarely in the middle of the biggest storm cycle of the month. Our quick assessment during a zero-visibility scouting mission showed significant instability in the storm layer and decisively shot down our primary goal: to ski the steep, exposed northwest face of Brian Boru Peak, the tallest peak in the Roche de Boule Mountains. We retreated to camp and, as snow turned to graupel and winds peaked, made plans to ski the northeast glacier the following day—a mellower, less-involved route that would hopefully still result in a few thousand feet of good skiing back to the tent before we had to pack up and retreat below treeline ahead of the next half of the storm…

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