A Weekend of Rock Climbing in Revelstoke, Toddlers in Tow

Everybody loves Revelstoke.

Nestled between the Selkirk and Monashee mountains, this railway and forestry town really is gifted with an amazing geography. Glaciers and dramatic snow-capped mountains, the mighty Columbia river as a backbone, lush rain forest with oversized cedar trees and ferns. Everywhere, the influence from the West Coast can be felt; in the culture, the lifestyle, the vibe…as well as the amount of annual precipitation.

Abundant precipitation in the winter (in the form of cold, dry powder snow) is part of what has made Revelstoke, or Revy as the locals refer to it, a skiing Mecca. With its incredible ski resort that boasts the highest lift-accessed vertical in North America and hundreds of acres of pristine and rowdy terrain for cat, heli and backcountry skiing, Revelstoke is up and coming on the global best ski destination scene.

Revelstoke also has an impressive network of high quality single track trails, like hundreds of veins on which fresh-air deprived mountain bikers from all over Western Canada and beyond come to ride, up & down.

However, what Revelstoke is less known for is the diversity and the quality of its rock. About ten different climbing areas are scattered around town, all within 10 to 30-minute drive; trad or sport, from the short single pitch to the 450m multi-pitch bolted routes on the Columbia Buttress, from low grades to 5.13 +, there is no shortage of fun routes to climb.

Both ourselves and our loyal climbing partners and friends Marc and Shenoa had been to Revelstoke for climbing before kids and had all had an amazing time.

The highlight of our previous visit had been climbing at Waterworld, a cliff on the side of aquamarine Lake Revelstoke, a few kilometre north of the dam. After a 2-minute hike, climbers rappel down all the way to a small wooden platform only a foot or so above the water. Although the couple of 3-4 pitches routes at Waterworld are all bolted, they offer a nice alpine-like challenge as once you’ve rappelled into the unknown, you’re committed to at least climb the easiest route up: Gilligan’s Island ( 5.8). On hot summer days, make sure you take a skinny dip from the platform before you start the climb, at least you will feel nice and cool for the first few moves! The photo featured at the top of this post was actually taken 6-7 years ago, during our first visit to Revelstoke.

With great memories from our previous experiences, when the time came to decide on a climbing destination for a long weekend in the spring, we quickly reached a consensus. Over and above the good climbing options, we were all pretty confident that this place would also be very kid friendly with easy and convenient camping options and other fun family activities to keep our busy toddlers entertained.

On the May  long weekend, then, after the usual full day of packing, we set off to enjoy a couple of days of climbing in Revelstoke, kids in tow.

Our family set up camp at the Williamson Lake Campground just a kilometre out-of-town on the Thursday night. We had booked well in advance knowing that this would be a very busy time in Revelstoke and we didn’t regret it as the place was full. Our daughter was ecstatic when she realized that there was a fabulous playground at arm’s reach from  our campsite, which in fact made us feel like we were camping at the playground. Wiliamson Lake was also pretty cool with tons of fish to feed Cheerios to from the dock.

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Eva and Finn “setting up” THEIR playground for the weekend

Although this type of campsite wouldn’t normally be our fav, this time around we were thankful to find hot showers, plenty of other kids for our children to play with AND a washer and dryer that we were stoked to find when the camper’s roof leaked gallons of rain water onto our bed.

Our friends Marc, Shenoa and their little boy, Finn,  only met us the following day and brought along a canopy tent that also proved to be quite useful in the rainy weather.

Shenoa and I had the privilege to tackle the climbing first as the papas took care of the children. Under a beautiful sunny sky we aimed for the Begbie Bluffs and spent our afternoon connecting with the local rock at the Raptor wall. We were glad we hadn’t taken the kids as there was little to no flat and safe space at the bottom of the crags. At Raptor wall we found some nice vertical routes from 5.8 to low 5.11 . We came back to the campground late afternoon to relief the dads and let them enjoy a few hours at Begbie Bluffs. The little ones on their end also had their share of fun while they dipped their naked bums in the lake and made sandcastles.

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Herve on the steep and classic “Flashdance” (5.11a) on Raptor Wall

The following day, after a short stroll  downtown, we stopped for delicious coffee and treats at La Baguette, a local favorite held by a fellow couple of Quebecois. As the name indicates, La Baguette is a fine bakery where you can buy your daily loaf of fresh bread, order a full breakfast or lunch and treat yourself with their in-house baked goods and tasty gelato. This place is tiny and can be very busy so come prepared to wait to be served, but the wait is always worth it.

Later that day, we all packed up to go spend the day at Blanket Creek Provincial Park.

Herve and I then left our precious, who was snoozing in the camper, to the attention of our friends and went for a romantic outing on to the Blanket Arête (2 pitches, 5.10d). The Arête is highly visible from the bridge over Blanket Creek when driving south towards Galena Bay. Although the walk to the start of the climb made it feel like the rock would be mossy and moist, in the end it was a really nice climb, with the bouldery crux being at the start of second pitch.The Blanket Creek Crag also boast some single-pitch routes, mostly in the low 5.10’s. While the provincial park is ideal for families, the crag is unfortunately not.

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My date scoping “Blanket Arête” from the bridge
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A little moss on the first pitch of Blanket Arête
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Marc taking his baby-sitting role very seriously

After this quick outing, we went back to the day use area to relief our friends and put our parents hat back on. We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking to Shannaghan Falls, chasing gofers and playing in the sand by the lagoon with the two tots. Upon Marc and Shenoa’s return from their climb, we had a nice picnic dinner in the park before heading back to our own campground for the night.

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Shannaghan Falls are only 5 minutes walk from the campground on a stroller-friendly trail

 

When we woke up on the Sunday, it was pouring rain. This meant we had some time to explore what Revelstoke has to offer in terms of indoor activities and we were quite pleased with all the options! Of course, we all indulged once again in one of our favorite activity, which is going for coffee and treats. We also checked out some of the towns’ boutique stores, before heading to the aquatic centre for a swim. Revelstoke’s public pool is quite impressive with its 3-storey high water slide, its kiddy pool and deep water solo like climbing wall. Everyone had a good time there and we ended up staying for a few hours! In the end, we didn’t even get a chance to check out the other “indoor” options such as the Railway Museum, the Dam, or the Begbie brewery.

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Our little gourmet is always up to checking out the local dining scene…especially when it comes to sampling “pains au chocolat”
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Our two dwarfs enjoying a hike in the rain (aka so glad we packed warm clothes and rain suits)

On our way back to the campsite that day, we decided to go check out another climbing area, “the Drive-In” which is only a few kilometres from Williamson Lake on the east shore of the lake. This area is nothing major but it was steep and sheltered enough than even after a day-long rain shower, some of the climbs were still dry. We decided to give it a go and were quite pleased with the end-of-day muscle stretching opportunity at this low-key crag.

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Herve and Marc checking out the Drive-In, which boasts a few .10’s, .11’s & .12’s

After one last nice camping dinner all together and a restful night, we all set off the following morning. Our friends hit the road back to Kimberley and we set off West towards our next destination, Squamish, where we were intending to spend the rest of the week.

On our way out-of-town, we stopped to the ultimate kid’s attraction on the Trans-Canada Highway, the Enchanted Forest. For a mere $11 per adults (free for tots) our mini spent a full 2 1/2 hours visiting every single hobbit’s house and shaking hand with every one of the statue animals, elves and other fairy tale creatures.

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The closest thing to heaven for a 2 1/2 year old: the Enchanted Forest at Three Valley Gaps

In spite of the rain, we had a great time climbing and enjoying family time in Revelstoke. If you head there, make sure to purchase the excellent local guidebook “Revelstoke Rocks” from 2010, self published by local route-setter and mountain guide Ruedi Beglinger.

Provincial Parks near Revelstoke, such as Martha Creek and Blanket Creek offer great camping options. There is also numerous forest service roads and backcountry camping options out-of-town.

The town has good boutique shopping, a good Saturday morning Famers Market, as well as plenty of excellent dining options. For quick and easy meal with the fam, check out Nico’s Pizzeria and the Village Idiot, or for a more refined dining experience, Woolsey’s Bistro or the 112 Restaurant and Lounge won’t disappoint.

There is no shortage of good swimming holes on hot summer days as well as plenty of stroller-friendly multi-use trails around town, including the Greenbelt. Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks are also located very close from Revelstoke and boast multiple family friendly hikes and scenic views. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to experience it all this time…

We will back there for climbing and all the other fun stuff, that’s for sure…because for kids and adults alike, AND for non climbers, Revelstoke does rock!

 

 

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Your Wheel of Canadian Brie, My Family Story

For my first food-related post, the topic that naturally came to mind was to tell how and why my passion for food came to life and grew over the years.

…Don’t run away just yet. I am not going to tell you too much about myself growing up and learning to cook with my mom and that kinda stuff…

I thought instead I would dig a little deeper in my family’s history and tell you all about how it relates to this wheel of Canadian made Brie, this creamy blue or tangy and fresh-tasting goat cheese you love so much and regularly buy at your local grocery store or order in a fancy dish at the restaurant.

Alexis. Perhaps this name sounds familiar. The “Alexis de Portneuf” brand takes up quite some space at many grocery stores across Canada in the fine cheese section, alongside many other brands of Canadian made and imported fine cheeses.

However, way before the cheese brand, there was the character, Alexis Cayer, who has existed…for real. He was my ancestor; my great-great grand-father on my mother’s side.

The story of my family is directly tied to the story of the land. The land surrounding the current location of Quebec City was traditionally occupied by the Huron-Wendat First Nation. Almost 200 years ago, the first settler of European origin to pay interest at the land located 50 km north of the City,  on the plain of the St.Anne river about 75 km upstream from its junction with the St.Lawrence, at the foothills of the Laurentian mountains, was Alexis Cayer. He became one of the founding fathers of Saint-Raymond de Portneuf, a former forestry and agriculture town currently leading major diversification efforts and on its way to become an outdoor recreation mecca. On a mission to log, farm and establish a settlement on the land given by the Crown to brave and hard-working young men, Alexis made Saint-Raymond his home.

Alexis’ legacy was his knowledge and passion for the land and his strong family values, which were passed down to his children and grand-children who became landscapers, builders and farmers, and finally, cheese makers.

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The Cayer Farm and Mill and a healthy cattle of Holsteins

Henri was my grand-father. He was smart and hardworking. However, he didn’t really enjoy vegetable farming and the hard labour in the fields that he had to do as a child to support his parents on their farm. He certainly had a different vision for himself. At 19 years old, he got his first contract as a forestry foreman and he was managing 40 guys. What was the most interesting part to him was to arrange transport of the lumber from far and remote logging sites.

Henri was also a real entrepreneur. A few years later, he took over the distribution of the dairy products from his parents’ farms. He thought the milk and dairy distribution around town offered better opportunities than vegetable farming and weekly market sales. On his parent’s land, he put up little building with large fridges to stock the milk as well as bottling equipment. “La Laiterie Chez Nous” was founded.

The first morning he went on his milk run, he took 18 bottles with him but sadly brought 12 back home at the end of his shift. The following fall, he was selling 300 bottles a day and had extended his milk run significantly. Soon enough, his own cows were not producing enough milk to supply his clients so Henri started acquiring more cattle and expanding the stables. Buying cows, growing the cattle and reselling them was also a lucrative activity for him. In addition, he invested lots of time, research and effort into breeding milk cows. Over the years, Henri was awarded multiple times for the excellence of his cattle-raising.

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La Laiterie Chez Nous in 1954. Some of the delivery was still made with horse-drawn wagon. Cayer Family archives

In 1951, Henri expanded his dairy production even more and started purchasing pasteurization equipment, a bottling plant and a fleet of delivery vehicles to expand the milk distribution route to the neighboring communities and even all the way to the outskirt of Quebec City. His production consisted of bottled milk, cream, butter…and ice cream!

Vintage bottle caps. Source: laiteriesduquebec.com

In 1969, Henri had some more grand ideas and took off for France to explore the opportunity of making fine cheeses right at his Saint-Raymond dairy farm and to learn all about the ancient French tradition in cheesemaking. He knew the milk producers in Quebec had significant surpluses but strangely enough, we were importing tons of fine cheeses from France. From then, Henri was convinced that fine cheesemaking in Quebec had a promising future and he started investing seriously into it.

In Montpellier, Henri met Mr. Roger Capdepon, who soon after immigrated to Canada and started making cheese with grand-pa…Henri was kind and caring and family meant a lot to him. Therefore, Mr. Capdepon soon was considered as a family member. Brie, camembert, blue cheese were produced at the little factory of the rang St.Jacques. Their team also specialized in goat cheese making and soon took over the largest chunk of the provincial market.

In 1976, the dairy production counted 70 employees. Denis, my uncle was the general manager, René, my uncle and godfather, the accountant and my great-aunt Eva was the head of the research lab. Research partnerships were also established with Université Laval. Together, they all worked hard to create new products and promote fine cheeses to an ever-growing market throughout the entire province of Quebec. When he took over the business in the late 70’s upon Henri’s retirement, my uncle Denis and his team expanded the distribution of more products to further away markets, with more investments in marketing and better production efficiencies.

Almost every member of our family has been involved with the Fromagerie at a certain point in time.  I myself have manned exhibit booths as a teenager at some fairs, shows, festivals and farmers markets and I remember it being a lot of fun to promote and sell the products I knew so well, to learn more about the making processes and spend time with my elderly cousins.

Partners and employees were also considered family by my grand-father and, growing up, I remember my grand-parents hosting huge reunions and gatherings. There were always people randomly dropping by at their house, who would be greeted with good home cooking, fine cheeses and wine. My grand-father also use to like his gin…

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Employees and family members all mingled at social gatherings hosted by my grand-parents in 1958 .Cayer Family archives

 

In the early 2000’s, the Fromagerie was sold to Saputo. Although Saputo is a big corporation, they have always honoured the family tradition and artisanal character of the cheeses, which are still produced in Saint-Raymond in the same factory. My aunt Reine stayed on for a few years in her role of Director of Operations to ensure a smooth transition. If you happen to be passing by, there still is a cute little cheese store in my grand-parents’ house, with lots of family photos on the walls and many family artifacts displayed.

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Pasteurization equipment displayed at a local exhibition in the 1950’s

 

Back in the days, it was pretty unusual to have brie, goat and blue cheese on the table anywhere in Quebec, and even more so in Western Canada…Back then it was mostly the reign of good old cheddar. My grand-father certainly has transmitted us the taste for good quality food, his love for the land and nature and his family values. He also contributed in building our most recent Canadian pride for artisanal food and local savoir-faire and contributed to a certain extent to the refinement of the Canadians’ taste for fine foods.

I can’t quite say that I am related to a wheel of Brie…nor that cheese runs through my veins…well, not quite…but almost!

 

Rock Climbing in Sardinia, baby-friendly

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Mountains are great but the sea is pretty sweet too. Here is a view from Cala Fulli
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our daily fix of Mediterranean

Pecorino, Cannonau & Calcare Part 1: A long journey to Cala Gonone

At the exact same date 3-years ago we were embarking on a memorable trip to Sardinia.

Even with a 7-month baby in tow, we were convinced this trip would be a relaxing getaway made of chillin’ on the beach, reconnecting with climbing on perfect seaside limestone cliffs and drinking wine with a bunch of friends. After the fact, I can say that we certainly had underestimated what traveling with a young baby would entice…and overestimated the amount of climbing we would do. But other than that, our trip to Sardinia was absolutely amazing and we recommend the destination to any climber novice to expert, bachelor to a family of 8 and everything in between. Here’s our story.

My in-laws have generously lent us their car for our trip. We’re all packed and ready to go. I thank the Lord for only having one kid. There’s so much stuff in that car that my daughter seems to be buried in her car seat. I hope she’s still able to breathe. As realistic parents of an infant, we’ve decided to do the drive over 3 days between Saint-Etienne, France and Livorno, Italy. Our ferry ride is booked for 2 days later. Our goal is to drive to Serre-Chevalier to spend the first night at our friends who are coming with us on the trip and then together make our way to Livorno, spend the night near the Port and then embark on the ferry. Fortunately, our 7-month old is a well-traveled baby who travels well. Yeah, this can sounds odd, but at 7 months she’s already spent 1/7 of her life on the road, has flown 9 airplanes and traveled across 3 countries on 2 different continents…She’s a trooper. The only minor thing is that she breastfeeds a lot…and often! So, well, we take our time and make a lot of stops.

Who said that distances in Europe are short? Certainly not the parent of an infant. Driving 600km takes us 2 full days. However, the drive is uneventful and quite pleasant even, especially on the second day when we rally with our friends, Antho, Tif, their daughter Kenza and the dog Naumai. We took walkie-talkies along and we’re able to communicate and coordinate our stops as we drive at what seems like crazy fast speed on Italian freeways, which are all stupidly narrow and all underground and where fancy Alpha Romeos pass you nonchalantly at 160k/h. Other than being quite stressed and worried that my in-laws’ car mirrors get ripped off at every turn, we’re all excited about the trip and finding some nice Mediterranean weather. We spend the second night near Livorno in a cute little inn where the staff is absolutely charming and we get to enjoy our first wood oven thin crust pizza and a cold beer in the lounge while our little angles are snoozing in our nearby guest rooms.

The next morning, we casually make our way towards the port but quickly realize that Livorno port is huge and we have one idea where our dock is. After driving in circles for a while following Antho who seems to know where’s going (not!) we finally board the ferry just before the door closes. Booo for the Frenchies, you almost earned us a two-week vacation in Livourno. The day-time ride from Livorno to Olbia on Mobylines is about 8-hours. Mobyline ferries are very well set-up for families with children, with Disney-themed play areas, well-adapted washrooms, plenty of space to move around, several cafes and food outlet all serving delicious espresso for less than a dollar, uh, well, euro. Okay, a dollar fifty. From the deck, we sail along the rugged coast of Corsica on a calm see in a gray and relatively cool weather.

After reaching Olbia, there’s only 2-hour drive to reach our destination of Cala Gonone, a small fishing village on the east coast of the island, turned into a prime tourism destination which the German visitor market particularly affectionate. It seems like early May is still considered off season there so we’re hoping to find some peace and quiet and are ready to handle cooler temperatures.

We are meeting 3 other friends who took a different ferry from Genoa: Sophie, Raph and our 75-year old badass climbing legend friend from Marseille, Elie. The villa is right at the heart of the village just half a kilometer from the beach and has a gated garden and 2 patios with atrial view on the sea. It has a large dining room with a massive table, four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The kitchen is incredibly tiny and very poorly appointed which seems the weirdest thing in a villa that size in a country that claims to be the most food-loving in the world. It will prove challenging some nights when there are 4 of us in there; the two moms trying to mush of some veggie to feed the babies and the 2 others on dinner duties. With limited kitchenware, our cooking ability is somewhat limited, but fortunately, we live off divine charcuterie (salami and prosciutto), pecorino and other fabulous cheeses, olives, and wine.

Reuniting with our long-time friends in this very special place on that first night feels wonderful and it sets the tone for a great time. After too many glasses of wine for my husband my family and I settle in our little bedroom for a very poor night for all of us. Actually, for all sorts of different reason, every of the nights for our entire stay will be poor, more specifically because baby girl has started waking up every 2 hours. One other reason is that Kenza, Tif and Antho’s 18-month old daughter is an early riser. One other reason is that Italian people never sleep and like to go about their duties at night, such as signing, picking up the garbage, using power tools, arguing, etc. All the sudden, being in the place at the heart of the village doesn’t sound like a good idea anymore.

In my next post, I will talk about the serious business..rock climbing in Sardinia. Stay tuned!

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Papa showing her baby girl the monster wild pigs eating our picnic in Cala Luna
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Solid limestone, deep-blue sea and sunshine…heaven
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Sleep deprived but so happy!
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Road trip baby…in papy’s car on top of that
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La grotta, accessed by a scenic trail along the shore

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My Awesome Cat-Skiing Weekend

It’s 4 am and I am wide awake. I am so excited and anxious I have barely closed my eyes all night. The eight-hour road trip from Kimberley to Monashee Powder, near Cherryville, should have exhausted me (in fact it has!) but the anticipation is just too high. The temperature, which was very high yesterday, has dropped a lot and the rain turned into snow early last night. I look out the window. The sky is clear and I can see some stars. The snow has stopped falling.

Warm and cozy between the soft flannel sheets, I can hear my sister’s regular breathing. I smile. I am here with her for 3 full days to experience cat skiing for the first time and to see with my own eyes what her job is all about. It’s her second season as a Tail Guide here. Her alarm should ring soon; the days start pretty early for MPS’ staff. I smile some more and think about the day ahead. It’s the first time that I will be away from my family for so long. 5 long days of “me time”, which is so precious when you’re a young mom. I feel so grateful to have a wonderful husband who also understands the value of it and also welcomes some alone quality time with our daughter. 

6:30 am. I am granted access to the guides’ morning meeting. I hear them talking temperature, wind, new snowfall, avalanche rating, weather forecast, what runs are “safe” to ski and which ones are to be avoided. Truly fascinating. The guiding team is very knowledgeable and professional and listening to them makes me feel like I am in good hands.

After assisting my sister with some preparation tasks such as checking avalanche beacons, filling up the water bottles for the guests, etc. we fill up on a hearty and delicious breakfast buffet. Not far from there in the dining room, another buffet is set up for the guests to prepare their lunches. Salads of all sorts, meats & cheeses, baked goods, fruit, vegetable sticks, dips and different types of bread make up a very inviting selection. It seems like no one will go hungry today, unless one forgets to take his own lunch bag to the cat!

By 8:30 am sharp, the beacon search training begins, following up to an informative avalanche safety and research technique refresh provided the night before by the Lead Guide. In my group, everyone seems fairly savvy on how avalanche beacons work, yet everyone listens carefully to the instructions and welcomes the refresh.

Then we all load the cat after a few more safety instructions. Once again, guests on my group all listen carefully to the Tail Guide’s speech. As she says, the snowcats are big hard machines with lots of blind spots and we humans are small and soft in comparison…no one wants to be crushed under their oversized tracks.

A 15-minute ride up a steep road takes us to our first run. The other 13 guests in our group are not on their first experience at Monashee or at cat-skiing in general. A few of them even mention they are celebrating their 15th anniversary visiting MPS this year. Now that’s loyalty!

Unloading the skis and poles happens very quickly and within minutes of reaching the “drop off”, we’re all clicked into our bindings and ready to go, smiling with excitement. Our guide assesses the slope and drops in. The fresh powder, nearly 15 cm, flies light and fluffy behind him. This sets the tone to our day.

After one, two, three runs of effortless turns in pure “blower”, we all realize our group is made up of solid and experienced skiers so we are able to step it up a notch. Everyone is paying attention to the Guide’s instructions, staying close by and making the transitions very fast and smooth, which will allow us to link

the runs faster, ski more vertical and more challenging terrain. The visibility being fairly low at this point means steep tree lines will be on the program for the rest of the day.

Monashee Powder’s tenure is huge, 17,000 acres total, and the terrain extremely varied, although the visibility doesn’t allow me to gauge the extent of it on that very first day. The Lodge itself being located at 1600m of elevation, the rain and warm temperatures has only had a moderate effect on the snowpack above it so the skiing is absolutely fabulous. At the end of the day, I am in awe and so stoked about what I just got to experience. I am even happier thinking that I have two more days of this ahead of me. As the forecast predicted, it’s snowing hard again!

Back to the Lodge, guests disperse to soak in the hot tubs, take advantage of the Registered Massage Therapist and Acupuncturist on duty or enjoy some Après in the bar where some tasty appies and cold beverages are served.

A little later, a gourmet 4-course dinner is casually served in the dining room by the Lodge’s friendly staff. Helping bringing the plates really works up my appetite. To the sound of chatter, laughter and tales of the extraordinary day, guests and staff all replenish their energy with a fine albacore tuna tartare, split pea and roasted garlic soup, bison tenderloin cooked to perfection and sweet delicacies crafted by the on-staff pastry chef, all paired with a selection of fine BC wines.

Jokes and stories are flying around and I can tell that a long-lasting friendship links Carolyn and Tom Morgan, the owners of Monashee Powder, to their guests and staff. This extraordinary couple, originally from the oil & gas industry in Calgary, literally got addicted to cat skiing and to this little corner of the Monashee mountains back in the 90’s. Back then, guests were hosted in prospector-type tents (Tom would tell you the exact make and model of those tents!) heated by wood stoves…and skiing long straight skis. The Morgan’s have invested all their heart in this unconventional business, making this place unpretentious, warm, authentic, and extremely welcoming, where people gather around a true passion for skiing. This is certainly the reason why their guests return over and over and the Lodge almost sells out a year in advance.

While guests and staff make their way to the bar for some after-dinner drinks and live music, I head right for my cozy little bed. One thing is certain, tonight my eyes won’t stay open and my dreams will certainly involve some white, fluffy snow and steep untracked lines…