how to not finish your life like a bc muffin
Text and photos by Rémi Petit
It’s 5:32 pm. The sun set three minutes ago. I can no longer feel my fingers or the tip of my nose. A freezing night is settling into the heart of a silent evening. We didn’t want to bother her, so we head back down to the parking lot. But, it’s fine – the temperature is -30°C outside and we haven’t seen the sun the whole day.
I mention a parking lot, but actually there are two parking lots in Whitewater, British Columbia. The first is where we arrive each morning before hitting the mountain, where a keen attendant shows us where and how to park. Next to the cars there’s also a restaurant that serves the most massive, moist, lip-smacking Muffins – which would have been delicious at 5:32 pm that day. But the second parking lot – where we’re headed on our descent down – is two kilometers away from the first (where we’re parked). As we take the long walk down from the summit, via riding through the middle of white pillows of dry, light snow, it felt great. But, by the end of our trek not only are our legs exhausted, we’re also famished ! So, when two locals offer us a lift on the back of their pick-up to the first parking lot, funnily enough we didn’t refuse.
The first people we encounter on our arrival in Canada aren’t exactly the definition of welcoming. But thankfully, the people we meet after passport control are far less formal – and a pretty varied group. From the Irish hobo already wasted on beer at 8 am, to the cheerful person who rents us a snowmobile, the young waitress running to work with a risky coffee in hand, or the grandpa doing his weekly food shop. That list doesn’t even include the hitchhikers and local heroes of Whitewater. Although, no one actually lives in this tiny resort deep in the heart of BC’s Kootenay region – except for a few brave souls sleeping in camping vans in parking lot number two. The ‘locals’ live in Nelson. And all these colorful smiling people have one thing in common: when you utter the word ‘snowboard’ their eyes sparkle like snowflakes.
Our first stop is Rossland, a small town out in the sticks and not far from the US border. Although in British Colombia, one can typically find themselves ‘out in the sticks’ pretty damn quickly. On average there are just 456 persons per square kilometer, between the immense forests and peaks. A cement-loving real-estate agent would go crazy if he saw Whitewater. One restaurant, two car parks and three ski-lifts is all that makes up this ‘resort’ – famed for deep, light and dry powder and sat in mile upon mile of untouched natural terrain.
For an entire day we walked along a curve, then one brief straight. Ok, I’m exaggerating : we didn’t walk the whole day. But for most of a morning we tried to access this ridge that teased us from the car. Victor de la Rue was fantasizing the entire way up about this corridor that he gazed at every five minutes through his binoculars. As it gets closer, it makes us drool. We are also salivating because of the edible supplies in our backpacks. But, we made one mega mistake : we forgot the Muffins !
We aren’t alone on the ridge – the people who come to Whitewater like walking before they snowboard. But no one seems to feel the pressure of making first tracks. Instead, everybody is stoked, happy to be there and ready to enjoy this ‘bluebird’ day step-by-step.
Urska Pribosic, Nils Arvidsson and Victor have to skirt the small summit to access the coveted snow-soaked area behind. Urska tracks the large field of powder under the ridge by herself and the three persevere to find a path leading to Victor’s corridor. But there is nothing. The ridge is in fact ice – the corridor inaccessible. So Victor makes do with another section lower down. He takes some time to check out what he’s about to do, but things go askew. After waiting for two hours to have clear skies and the green light to go, Victor is off – but straight lining on ice ! Nils, by Victor’s side for the whole day so far, decides to break away and walk for his entire day, heading back down the mountain by foot.
Sunset and it’s back to the car. Fancy a muffin, Nils ?
Nelson is made up of buildings created in odd shapes, all unique and covered in colour, where people say hello with a smile just because you walked past them. But, every winter the region is blanketed under heavy snowfall – so it’s not always nice weather in British Colombia. We’d met some guys in Whitewater who told us to check out one of their spots in Nelson, a half hour drive away. The weather was bad out, so we accepted the invitation.
The spot they recommended was the wall of a college. As Nils and Victor were trying to land some tricks, the dean of the college came out to check what was happening. Prepared for the worst, we greeted her with our best smiles, knowing that we were about to be thrown out. But, we were wrong ! Instead she gave us the number of the local Ambulance service, just in case of an emergency, and wished us well – and all with a smile !
The digits were almost used, as one of the local guys who’d shown us the spot flattened himself like a pancake into the wall – the risk of trying to land a front gap to wallride. Other locals came out to help us stretch our bungee cord on impulse too, while passing pedestrians stopped to applaud. Two professors also watched us with an admiring wink too.
Between the pancakes with maple syrup, and the other components of the North American diet, we never lacked the energy to walk every day, even in -30°C weather (yes, it gets that cold sometimes). After his icy ridge experience, Nils threw some bangers to pull ahead. We also escaped our daily walking routine when friends at Rip Curl blagged us some free snowplow sessions at Big Red Cats, near Rossland. There an Aussie entrepreneur had bought thousands of acres of forested hills to create his own Snowcat operation among BC’s forested hills. Inside we didn’t see many people (but at 350 Canadian dollars for a daily pass, it’s no surprise) and so could overdose on powder snow in the middle of pine trees and nowhere. It was just amazing to snowboard fresh powder, all the way up to the top of the trees (Oh yes we did !).
Sydney snowboarder Nate Johnstone, also joined us hiking in the pow, as step-by-step the ridge got closer. But our muffins never made it : one poked his head out of the bag, the ridge stops getting closer and they’re eaten (that’s life). After fuelling up, we mentally nourish ourselves with incredibly light powder at every turn. A cheeky spray for Nate, then we re-join the ridge to see where our next run will take place, and on what. It felt so refreshing to not just climb, and finally be able ride – basically not be a Muffin.
All too soon the fresh air has become icy, the sky dark. Even in Canada, the sun sets only once a day. It’s already 5 :32 pm. It disappeared three minutes ago.