Northern British Columbia – Burnie Glacier by Pictures
by Lee Lau – See the original on Lee Lau’s website here
Revelstoke, Whistler, Rogers Pass, the Selkirks, the Rockies. Mention Canadian ski destinations and the eyes of powder hounds glaze over and their minds travel to these hallowed lands; these meccas. And well-deserved is the crown these meccas wear – for their bounty of views, terrain and powder is indeed munificent in their glory.
Mention Northern British Columbia and brows furrow. Mention Smithers and quizzical glances appear. This is not entirely surprising. Sure Canada is big as is British Columbia. For the longest time paper maps (remember those?) of BC cut off halfway up the province with only the more populated parts depicted on maps with legends “There be Dragons” appearing on the northern portion. But there is a northern portion. And it’s surprisingly easy and remarkably, usually involves LESS travel time door-to-door than to the more
well-known parts of this Canadian province.
Do you want stunning terrain? Lots of snow? Magnificent empty country? And relatively easy travel to get there? Read on …..
Getting to Northern British Columbia
From our home in Vancouver to Northern B.C. (Smithers) is 3 hours door-to-door by air. Compare this to destination travellers getting to Interior BC (Revelstoke/Nelson etc) who almost always do so by car. Door-to-door to get to Interior BC is at least 6 hours. From Calgary to Interior BC would be anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.
The time calculus is irrefutable. If you are a destination traveller, getting to Northern BC takes relatively less time door-to-door. That’s one reason to go
In less than 3 hours we were in Smithers in Northern BC.
Northern BC terrain
Terrain in Northern BC is massive. While BC is relatively underpopulated over 80% of its 4.8 million people live in the southern parts. This means that when you get to Smithers, not only are you surrounded by huge mountains; there will literally be more wildlife there than there are people. There’s no competition for lines up north. Another reason to go.
Just a hundred meters above the Burnie Glacier Chalet as you gain the moraine is your first view of the alarmingly large Polemic Glacier
The Burnie Glacier Chalet
With the explosion in popularity of backcountry skiing it is now hard to get into backcountry huts. People book a year, sometimes two years ahead. It’s easy to understand why; the allure of untracked snow; the contrast between inbound crowds vs backcountry solitude; and the inherent attraction of exploration of new places. But backcountry skiing involves its own particular set of challenges many of which revolve around maintaining some degree of comfort in a winter environment.
Voila, the concept of backcountry huts; a location where one can rest and prepare for multiple days of skitouring. To take it the next level, the concept of guided catered backcountry skiing was then imported from the European Alps to BC. At the Burnie Glacier Chalet a group of us joined a backcountry trip guided and organized by Tom Wolfe of Sawback Alpine Adventures for a week of skitouring.
Burnie Glacier Chalet evening
Overhead view of the Chalet and its splendid surroundings
Post-ski beer and chill
Appetizers before dinner
The trip and pictures
Our trip took place between March 22 to 29, 2019 and was booked almost 16 months before that date. Snow depth was below seasonal averages but our forecast was for exceptionally good (albeith unseasonably warm) weather. We were a group of varying skills and experience on this trip with Sharon and I perhaps among the guests having more experience.
This experience told me that we were heading to an area with massive glaciation. Glaciers add a considerable layer of uncertainty to other objective hazards present in backcountry skiing (eg avalanche hazard, weather etc). Experience tells me that you need time and patience to figure out glacier navigation and travel; time I resented having to spend with just 7 days to ski-tour in such terrain. Experience was right! Travel conditions were excellent and we got to explore magnificent glaciated summits and icefields and even score powder skiing in one of the more remarkable warm spells I’ve encountered in almost 20 years of backcountry skiing.
We were fortunate in having Tom and Sean to show us around and got to ski and experience terrain we would never have seen. The pictures tell the story
The group skiining up the Solitaire Glacier approaches with a Polemic Peak view
The massively broken Polemic Glacier
Lance skiing off Loft Peak to the Loft Glacier
Andy on Loft Peak looking to the Loft Glacier
Sharon skiing down to Loft Glacier
Paul L ripping corn slopes on the flanks of Tom George Peak
Sharon and Paul L heading up the Middle Solitaire Glacier
Corn turns for Andy heading to the Burnie Glacier
On Telkwa Glacier shadowed by the overhanging seracs of Kitnayakwa Peak
Daniel traversing Burnier Glacier with a Grand Corner and Kitnayakwa view
Glade on the Middle Solitaire
Georg descending the Nunatak to the Telkwa Glacier
Georg on the Loft Glacier catching pow off NE aspects
Sean on the lower Burnie Glacier
In case you haven’t quite gotten the message Northern BC is amazing. Backcountry skiing is amazing. Sawback Alpine (Tom Wolfe) is amazing. Book now as backcountry skiing is NOT getting less popular.
- Northern BC Tourism – your go-to source for all things Northern BC
- Tourism Smithers – you will have downtime flying and out and there’s a surprising amount of things to see and do
- The Burnie Glacier Chalet itself
- Last but not least a listing of all the backcountry lodges in BC
Tom Wolfe’s superbly professional guiding services via Sawback Alpine Adventures (link is to the specific trip page). Here’s Tom tearing skins on top of Tom George Mountain:
Sean Fraser provides guiding and avalanche education services in the Smithers area generally in winter and other recreational support for summer via Hyland Backcountry. Here’s Sean skinning up to the Solitaire zone:
Beautiful Smithers and Hudson Bay Mountain
Smithers Brewing will keep you entertained