Opinion » The Outsider

Taking out a powder insurance policy


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Call me spoiled, but I really like skiing in November. Not just token turns, I mean real skiing. Skiing through trees with their branches drooping under the burden of storm snow. Touring that requires hard work to break trail for a skin track. Turns that aren't all defensive speed checks to avoid crashing into unburied saplings, creeks and rocks. Early-season glory turns are something I've gotten used to, but I'm smart enough not to expect them.

Over the last few weeks since winter officially began with the rollout of resort openings across the province, the south coast of B.C. has been in an optimistic state of "low tide, high vibes." I like that attitude. When snow is scarce, find ways to make the most of it. Yet despite my seasoned winter patience, when my snow radar picks up the presence of powder elsewhere, I'm inclined to investigate. Rearranging the work schedule and jumping in my friend's truck, we roared off to B.C.'s Interior to catch Revelstoke Mountain Resort's (RMR) opening day on Dec. 1.

RMR never opens as early as Whistler Blackcomb, but the early morning lineup was no less enthusiastic. Tents littered the corral along with camp chairs and bundled, sleepy skiers and snowboarders. The previous evening at the local watering hole—a delightful ski-town bar called the Village Idiot—the talk of early arrivals ranged from the campers, to the "4:30 a.m. crew" to the "6:30 a.m. crowd" to the "11 a.m. chillers." Being mostly snow starved for the early season, my friends and I tried to beat the 6:30 a.m. crowd by about half an hour.

RMR only has one access point to the mountain; the Revelation Gondola. While the lineup for that lift can get long, you can see exactly who you're up against for the powder-day rush. The roughly two-hour wait went by quickly, fuelled by coffee top-ups and the warmth of the sun rising in a bluebird sky. RMR's first day of operations couldn't have been more picture perfect.

Alighting at the top station of the Revelation Gondola, the procession was more of a mad dash over to the Stoke Chair, RMR's highest lift and access to most of its steep signature terrain. Our group of four took off down Snow Rodeo crossing few tracks, the fall line pitch giving all the speed we needed for slashing turns and launching off early season pillows. For the second lap, we traversed further towards Devils Club, tracks now permeating every open slope cueing us to duck into the trees. With snacks and lunches safely stowed in backpacks, we continued to work our way around the mountain; hiking over and into Lower North Bowl, poking around the Vertigo cliff chutes, mining for Denver Dollars under the Ripper Chair. All under bright blue skies at a crisp -5C.

I rarely travel for skiing this early in the season. It's normally worth waiting for snow bases to build up and terrain to open before burning through a six-hour drive's worth of gas. (There are mid-winter direct flights available Vancouver to Revelstoke if you want to shave that travel time down to one hour.) But I'd been patiently waiting for early-season snow to make its grand entrance in Whistler and the only thing in the forecast in the last week of November was more smiling suns. I needed to guard against the unlikely event that December decided to not bring its usual snowfall to Whistler as well.

I personally detest insurance policies, but I know they're a necessary evil to keep my home, vehicle and wellbeing protected against low-probability calamities. This week's storm cycle has a lot of Whistler skiers and riders breathing a sigh of relief that yes, we're probably going to be OK for snow this season. But when uncertainty loomed, I couldn't pass up a sure thing. Stacking three days of skiing into a 72-hour round trip roadie is exhausting, but far from impossible. It all depends on what—if any—powder insurance policy you end up buying.

Vince Shuley is a sucker for the Selkirk Mountains. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email vince@vinceshuley.com or Instagram @whis_vince.