Even if the Columbia Mountains surrounding Revelstoke, British Columbia, in Western Canada didn’t get dumped on to the tune of around 20 metres of snow each winter, the terrain alone would make it a world class ski destination.
The best I can explain the Columbia Mountains is that they are like two mountain ranges - a high alpine range and a steep forested range - sitting on top of each other.
Quite frequently a storm rolls in and obscures the high peaks for days on end. In these conditions, heliskiing would be impossible in mountain ranges without trees. The trees give the helicopter pilots enough visual contrast to allow them to fly in all but the heaviest snow, lowest visibility, and strongest winds. It is during these storms that heli-skiing near Revelstoke really comes into its own. The deepest powder clings to the steepest faces, and the same trees that give the helicopter pilots enough visibility to fly, also give the skiers and snowboarders enough visibility to shred.
Some of the forests have been logged, and the regrowth is often thick and difficult to ski through, but many ski runs pass though old growth forests with ancient cedar trees the diameter of an automobile. While the alpine terrain is what drew heliskiers to the Columbias in the first place, it is the tree skiing that made the Revelstoke area a heavyweight contender for the world’s greatest skiing.
Then, when the storm clears above the forests, the sublime alpine peaks of the Columbias reveal themselves. A few lucky skiers have learned to ski here from day one, learning to turn on low-angled glaciers where there is nothing to hit for a kilometre in every direction. Many lucky skiers and snowboarders have ripped steep lines off the pointy summits and through the varied forests of the Cariboos, Selkirks, Monashees, and the Purcells - the subranges of the Columbias.
Ski film makers have been shooting the more popular areas in the Columbia Mountains for years now but, in my opinion, the most spectacular ski lines in the Columbia Mountains have yet to be shown on the big screen. There are thin couloirs dropping into glades filled with over-the-head powder, steep faces that rival the wildest Alaskan terrain, mellow meadows where even beginners feel comfortable, and everything in between.
There are some places where the hype is greater than the real thing. In this case, no amount of hype could really do justice to the skiing in the Columbia Mountains of Interior British Columbia. If you’re a skier or snowboarder, and you haven’t yet visited Revelstoke or the Columbia Mountains, do it. Soon. Heli-ski. Tour. Fusion. Ride lifts. The method doesn’t matter. Just make it happen.
Columbia Mountains ski terrain photos by Topher Donahue.