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Alta states: A week at Whitecap

Self-propelled paradise in our own backyard



"Wipe your feet before you come in the house!"

-Ron Andrews, owner/caretaker of legendary McGillivray Pass Lodge


You can just see Whistler Blackcomb from the top of Prospector Peak. Barely 40 kilometres to the southwest as the raven flies, its spider web of runs seems light years away from the wild environment in which I now find myself. And I can't help but marvel at the diversity of experiences that this uniquely-blessed mountain region offers.

To the north and east, almost at the other end of the tenure, is the huge massif called Whitecap (the highest in the area at roughly 2,950 metres). Further west is the distinctive face of Weinhold, with its gap-toothed couloir and impossibly steep approach. In between these rocky sentinels thrust the lofty slopes of Royal and McGillivray and Star. Everywhere I look, in fact, offers up major skiing possibilities. And it makes me happier than I've been in months.

I'm the quintessential kid in a candy shop, my head swivelling around the compass quadrants like a spinning top on a wood floor. I'm in paradise.

But enough dilly-dallying. The sun is setting fast. The cold of the approaching night begins to insinuate itself insistingly inside my down jacket. At an altitude of 2,455 metres (just a smidgen over 8,100 feet), the summit of Prospector isn't the kind of place on which to linger. Particularly not in January. But I can't help myself. It's just too beautiful a place to leave.

Besides, I want to make sure I'm rested for the thousand-metre-plus descent back to the valley...

I mean, getting to the top of this monster was no mere cakewalk. We've been climbing steadily for six hours, the swish-swish of our ski skins against the snow the only sound interrupting the holy silence that surrounds us. Must have covered nearly a dozen kilometres - and loads of vertical. Even had a couple of runs along the way. And my eyes have been busy the whole time. Land of grizzly bear and wolverine, soaring eagle and inquisitive whiskeyjack, the high-country surrounding McGillivray Pass is like no other I have ever visited.

And I'm not exaggerating. Really. A mix of monster alpine summits - some of the highest in the Coast Mountains - and skier-friendly glades spread over an impressive 8,500 hectares, the terrain accessed by Lars and Ron Andrews's Whitecap Alpine operation is a snoweater's dream-come-true. Steep drops, untouched snow, aesthetic lines - a full panoply of skiing experiences await those willing to hike for their turns. And gauging by the people who've travelled from near and far to spend time at the lodge this week, the international ski touring community has definitely discovered this gem.