We're the only ones on a two-kilometre T-bar. That might be amazing — or maybe not so much. It's about noon on Boxing Day and people are only now starting to arrive at Troll Mountain, 44 kilometres east of Quesnel. It's -23C at the bottom and -15C at the top — a decent inversion but still cold enough to keep many Quesnelians in bed enjoying a second cup of coffee. Well, that and an ultra-thin snowpack that means only a handful of the resort's runs are skiable.
That's too bad, because this place has a lot to offer — starting with a healthy 527-metre vertical drop. There's also a wide variety of terrain from perfect beginner slopes and long, fall-line groomers to steep glades and a decent, recently expanded terrain park. Though no one I ask — all longtime Trollers — can tell me exactly how many trails there are (numbers seem manifestly unimportant here), I can see there are plenty. But back to that empty T-bar.
It's a 10-minute ride to the top — not long, though plenty for a cold day. But on a T-bar hemmed by thick trees, you're sheltered from any wind. That wouldn't be the case if you were hanging in the air on a chairlift. Which, were there one, would be a slow fixed-grip obtained secondhand from another resort that would easily take 10 minutes or more to the top. You would hate for it to stop, as chairlifts do, or break down, as old ones are known for. You'd be stuck swinging in the cold while someone went to find the maintenance guy, whereas if the T-bar stopped for some reason you'd just step off it. Am I making the case for T-bars because I love them and Doppelmayr still builds the same reliable model it has for decades (so parts are always available) and I think more resorts like Whistler Blackcomb should open new terrain with T-bars? In part, yes, but mostly I'm echoing the rationale of Troll's owner Hildur Sinclair, whose small-market, low-visit, big mountain can't justify a chair and all its associated costs when, all things considered, a low-maintenance T-bar does the job at the same speed for a fraction of the cost.
"T-bars are the future," she tells me with a smile. I'm convinced.
After taking in the expansive view from the top and chuckling over a sign proclaiming "Texting Station" (cellphone service in this remote locale is only found up here), we make our first run down Astrid's Alley, a zigzagging, kid-friendly trail named for Hildur's mom.
It was Norwegian immigrants Astrid and Lars Fossberg who built the hill in 1972. Like most folks in the Cariboo, Lars was a DIY guy, so the first version of the base lodge incorporated plenty of recycled and repurposed material. He even used the crate the T-bar bullwheel arrived in to build outhouses from. Though now enlarged, the low-ceilinged log lodge remains both expansive and cozy, the central fireplace surrounded in the usual kitsch — old-school skis, snowshoes, historic photos, a trophy case (mostly for dog-sled racing), an inexplicable musk-ox head, and an upright piano that a procession of kids and adults tinkle away on during the day. The lodge vibe is somewhere between rec-room, cafeteria and somebody's kitchen — indeed Hildur hosts weekly potluck dinners here for employees. Hildur owns the hill and lodge but leases rental, tuning, and ski school concessions to Scott, a young energetic guy happy to sell me a Troll Mountain "Keep Calm and Ski On" T-shirt.
After a break for some IPA from local Barkerville Brewery and fries with gravy (a benchmark dish for all Little Areas That Rock), we head back up the T-bar. When Lars installed it, it was one of the longest in North America and thought to be the longest in B.C. But that honour actually went to the T-bar at Murray Ridge in Fort St. James. When Lars found out they had him beat by a few metres, he was despondent.
For our second run, we head toward the resort's second summit where another T-bar currently not in use gets you into some steep north-facing trees. Hildur recently selective-logged some of the area and is using the money from selling the wood to open new tree runs. We head down Snow White, which runs below the peak and seems to go on forever — six kilometres to be exact.
Like all family-operated community mountains, this one has stories. The best is how the old groomer was sold and disappeared into the vast mechanical mists of the region. But when Hildur and husband Len Sinclair got married, they heard it was for sale, bought it, and Ken converted it to an open-air bench-seat cat that carries 24 people. Now, if you're lucky, on snow days this cat will be running from the top, taking skiers and riders to the mountain's higher reaches and bowling-alley powder runs through the trees.
If that isn't worth riding a T-bar for 10 minutes, I don't know what is.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.