Melanie Bernier has seen her share of mountains all over the world through the years.
The former Whistler resident, who has attended five Ski Mountaineering World Championships, noticed some positive differences about some of the backcountry conditions across the pond, especially when it comes to extended trips in the backcountry.
"Having spent some time in Europe, I just noticed that it's so typical to go in the mountains and go in the huts and stay there. It's just acceptable," she said. "Here in Canada, we don't have that kind of hut system. What I noticed is that a lot of people from multiple generations are sharing a day in the mountains because it's so easy and here, it's not the same, because if you're going to go for a day in the backcountry, most of the time, you're going to spend the whole day outside. If there's some huts where you can stay, you can get people to spend multiple days out there instead of just a one-day trip."
That, Bernier said, is why the Spearhead Huts Project is central to growing the sport in the Sea to Sky. Three huts are slated to be built in Garibaldi Provincial Park, with the first slated to be built next year near Russet Lake with two, near Mount Pattison and Mount Macbeth, set to follow in later years as funding allows. The Russet Lake hut is set to be open midwinter in 2018.
"The Spearhead Traverse was my introduction to backcountry skiing. It's a beautiful, beautiful traverse, but for people that are not super at-ease with travelling in the backcountry and sleeping outside, it can be a bit of a (deal-breaker)," she said. "It's going to bring so many people to be able to explore and achieve the traverse."
To help push the project to where it needs to be, the Spearhead Huts Committee will host the annual Spearhead Soiree at the Pipe Shop in North Vancouver on Nov. 22. Bernier will be one of three speakers that evening, sharing tales of her time in the backcountry.
"I'm going to talk about one instance where I was racing and it got pretty difficult, out of my control. We train super hard to get to a good level and you just hope you're going to be healthy and able to perform at the highest level that you can. Sometimes, there are elements out of your control and you're going to have to deal with it, address them and keep on pushing," said Bernier, who now calls Revelstoke home. "I'm sharing a personal story, hopefully inspiring people to push their limits in the mountains."
Author and skintrack.com founder Stano Faban and glacier researcher Dr. Gwenn Flowers are also on tap to speak.
Soiree organizer Sue Drinnan noted that with all the elbow grease that has gone into getting the project to this point, it's a good time to recognize those who have helped carry the load.
"We really need to celebrate those seven years worth of work that have already gone into it, so the park-use permits and we need to acknowledge how many volunteer hours — thousands of volunteer hours have gone into this. We're marching right along," she said.
In addition to the speakers, Drinnan noted there would be a photo contest where entrants can submit snapshots of their favourite backcountry moments. She encourages anyone with a photo to submit, not just professionals, as several different factors will be used to determine the finalists.
As a practical note, she also encouraged attendees to choose their apparel wisely as the Pipe Shop won't be the toastiest, at least to begin with.
"The building is unheated but we recommend that people dress in layers because at the beginning, it'll be cool and at the end, it'll warm up nicely," she said.
As for the project itself, committee chair Jayson Faulkner said it is going forward pretty much to plan as all due diligence is being completed before construction begins.
"(There are) no real big changes to the timeline. We're progressing fairly steadily as we go. We still have some fundraising to do and we did some work on the site this summer just doing some of our enviro assessments and our archeological assessments," he said. "Our design has evolved a little bit as we go and we're continuing to do some fundraising for that first hut. We need a bit of cash for that but we're really hoping to hit the ground running next spring as far as construction goes and we're hopefully on track for our 2018 opening."
Early-bird tickets are $18 until Nov. 12 and $25 afterward, while VIP tickets are $37 and include food and a drink.
For more information, to volunteer or buy tickets, visit www.spearheadhuts.org.