BRITISH COLUMBIA — Skiing powder snow can be a transcendent experience, but let’s face it — most powder days include a fair amount of stress.
Every powder morning is, by definition, rushed. You hurry through breakfast, hurry on the drive to the slopes, hurry while parking and hurry — boots slipping on the ice — to catch the first possible chair. No time to call or meet any friends.
If you arrive in time for a few runs in the uncut fluff, then congrats are in order, but chances are the mountain is tracked up well before noon. So stop and consider: How much would you pay, and how far would you travel, to have virgin snow all day long, with no stress and several of your best ski cronies with you?
Scott Munro has a proposition for you. Canadian by birth, the Basalt resident recently partnered with a longtime buddy to buy a snowcat operation amidst southeastern British Columbia’s snowiest mountains.
“I know the value of a powder day,” Munro said. “The thing is, with a powder day here, there’s no traffic, no lines, no stress, and at the end of the day you get to enjoy a beer and an appetizer with your buddies.”
Munro and his partner Paul Osak, of Nelson, B.C., aren’t launching some half-cooked startup. They’ve acquired the world’s original snowcat lodge operation, a 38-year-old business called Selkirk Wilderness Skiing.
At Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, guests drive to an office in sleepy Meadow Creek, about two hours north of Nelson, then board a snowcat for a ride to a remote lodge. From this warm and comfortable base, snowcats take guests through deep woods up onto snowy ridges, where seemingly endless fields of powder await. The final run of each day ends back at the lodge porch.
A PROUD HISTORY
Allan and Brenda Drury founded Selkirk Wilderness Skiing in 1975. They had no template to follow and no special training, but the couple’s contagious enthusiasm for skiing and hospitality attracted loyal guests and employees.
“Allan and Brenda had the ability to pick their people well, and to pick people that liked to stay with each other,” said Kevin Marr, a guide who first came to SWS in 1986.
While teaching skiing in Aspen in the 1960s, Allan Drury saw guests transported on snowcats in the open air. When the Drurys eventually needed their first snowcat, Allan convinced Bombardier to add a 12-person enclosed cabin. Later, he would work with snowcat manufacturers to design better cabins.
Allan Drury died in 2008, and Brenda decided in 2012 to sell the business. That’s when Munro and Osak came along. Recognizing the legacy they’ve acquired, the new owners are watching and learning this season.
Munro likens his role to that of a “non-paying guest,” but he and Osak jump in to help whenever possible — serving prime rib or kale salad at dinner, hauling gear in and out of the cat or helping a guest find a lost ski.
TERRAIN, PEOPLE, CLIMATE
The guest-service ethic has always distinguished Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, according to Marr, but the primary attraction is the terrain — 4,000 vertical feet and 30 square miles, equal to Vail and Whistler/Blackcomb combined — and 50 feet of annual snowfall. With 24 guests at a time, crowds aren’t a concern.
“We are in the zone,” Marr said confidently from the passenger seat of one of the operation’s three snowcats. “The snow between here and Revelstoke doesn’t get better anywhere in the world.”
During my three-day stay, it snowed roughly 18 inches, ensuring face shots on nearly every run. We charged steep glades full of terrain features, and open, alpine bowls with panoramic views.
Most impressive, however, was the warmth of the staff. The authentic Canadian hospitality — delivered with a wicked sense of humor — just flowed from the guides, the cooks, the office, everyone.
Two quick examples:
• I was asked multiple times if I had any food allergies or special requests for the kitchen staff. They were prepared to meet my every food-related need. I didn’t have any, but I loved the freshly prepared smoothies at each breakfast, and every meal was hearty, healthy and delicious.
• After a run, most skiers simply click out of their own skis. At Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, the Carhartt-wearing cat drivers approach guests and click the heel-piece of the guest’s binding to pop the guest out of the skis. The drivers then swiftly rack the skis on the rear of the cat. Even after two days, I still said, “Wow, thanks,” every time.
Of 43 Selkirk Wilderness Skiing reviews on TripAdvisor.com the week after my trip, 42 were “excellent” and 1 was “very good.” The lesser boxes had not been clicked, even once.
Jim Gilchrist, principal at the Aspen Community School, gushed about his recent “family fantasy” vacation with his wife and two boys: “I just think (the staff) get everything right. It’s luxury but it’s never silly or pretentious. It’s like a family — they’ve all been there for like 20 years.”
Back at the lodge, Munro and Osak plan to put their own stamp on Selkirk Wilderness Skiing — some building upgrades and changes to the reservations system are planned — but they’ll absolutely respect the magic they’ve inherited.
As Osak said: “How often in your life do you get the opportunity to buy the original of anything?”