PHOTO: Courtesy of Brian Cross
Tucked in the Canadian backcountry more than 18 miles from the nearest town sits a wooden lodge draped in Tibetan prayer flags with space for 12 skiers. Hooks are hung in all the right places, a boot rack adorns the mudroom wall, bladder-drying tubes rise off the stove, and a family-style dining table seats everyone without bumping elbows when toasting the day's lines. A pair of old wooden skis are crossed above the living room filled with couches, a coffee table, and a library of maps and books. Yoga mats and a house guitar rest in the corner. The wood-fired sauna with a stove-heated shower feel especially luxurious in such remote terrain.
British Columbia's Mount Carlyle Lodge is as well-appointed as the terrain it provides access to, including 10 different basins in a 37-square-kilometer permit area within the Selkirk's Goat Range.
"It has everything from alpine steeps to iconic, Kootenay old-growth forest. When you have poor visibility, you head below the hut to the trees. When it's bluebird, you go high,” says lodge owner Brian Cross, who has been running trips from Carlyle since 1987.
You get your first glimpse of what he's talking as soon as you arrive after a 15-minute helicopter flight from the lakeside hamlet of Kaslo. Rising high over the lodge's landing zone is Mount Misti, boasting skiable lines—like the marquee high alpine bowls of Northern Dancer and Three Musketeers—360 degrees off its summit. Other marquee shots stretch above and below the lodge, including the flank of Prospector Peak, which you'll likely lap your first afternoon.
As the week progresses, you'll hit Pyramid Basin, Secret Stash, Lone Larch, and Trapper Tony trees, as well as Twelve-mile Basin, where a grizzly supposedly beds down, and the massive pillow airs of Rock Slide. Alpinists might also climb and ski 8,687-foot Mount Carlyle, which lets you ogle your tracks from the outhouse, a wooden shack lined with ski porn and a framed certificate from the Erie Mining and Milling Company giving Cross all 100 shares of the lodge's mining claim.
"The great thing about Carlyle, other than the sauna, is there's a nice 'portfolio' of terrain," says Bruce Edgerly, who visited the lodge last year. "High alpine, trees, pillow lines—and sometimes the occasional GT Racer track outside the cabin. No matter what the weather's doing, you're going to have a blast. Especially if the Bald Bomber's on duty.”
It's Cross, of course—nicknamed "The Bald Bomber" for skiing naked and crashing in a home movie—who's the linchpin to the lodge's authenticity. Raised by ski instructor parents out of Kamloops (a photo of his mom, Ginnie, in old-school ski garb hangs in the lodge's kitchen), he has more than 30-plus years of hut-keeping experience in the Selkirks, giving him perhaps more backcountry miles there than anyone. Bald as a cue ball at age 19, he's made up for any follicle shortcomings with the beard of an Amish billygoat (his wife of 30 years, Penny, has never even seen his cheeks). Ironically, he spends his summers shearing sheep, running a 110-acre farm in nearby Winlaw.
His beard mimics the myriad slopes surrounding Carlyle—white down the center, and flanked by ribbons of granite gray. It also betrays his 57 years, 20 of which were spent working as a mining prospector, hunting for gold, silver, lead and zinc all over BC. Now's he's struck pay dirt prospecting for powder at Carlyle. "Being a prospector has helped me get pretty good at finding my way around in the mountains," he says, adding that he often joins unguided groups for a lap or two.
For an additional fee, guides can show you around, or you can go at it on your own, which isn't hard, given the area's terrain. Simply look out the window past the prayer flags and spy your line. And as Cross attests, the lodge virtually guarantees fresh tracks no matter the weather, from short laps nearby to longer tours into such basins as Carpenter, Carlyle, and Cody. Plus, there's old-growth galore, letting you schuss trees draped in Spanish moss resembling Bomber's beard. Combine this with 500 inches of annual snowfall, and you'll be lucky to have enough energy left to make it to the sauna.
You might also get a nighttime visit from the Bomber’s fireworks-shooting, vodka-ice-luge drinking alter-ego Boris, who lambasts Cross in a Scandinavian accent. The skit will leave you howling at the moon casting shadows over your tracks.
•Plan each day's route over fresh coffee and one of the many books of maps and photos of the basins' different lines available in the lodge.
•Poach a beer mug and stash it outside before you head out so it's frosted at day's end.
•Hit the Ainsworth Hotsprings, outside Nelson, on the way home. Extra credit: hold your breath through the entire horseshoed tunnel.
Getting there: Mount Carlyle Lodge is located 18 miles west of the town of Kaslo or about 48 miles north of Nelson. If you're flying in, the closest U.S. airport is Spokane; within Canada, closest airports include Castlegar, Cranbrook, or Kelowna. Shuttle services to and from these airports are available.
Booking: Trips run Sunday to Sunday and can be booked self-guided/self-catered, self-guided/catered, or guided/catered. Weeks in the prime powder period of February and March often book a year in advance, so plan early. Based on groups of 10, self-guided/self-catered weeks start at $11,700 (CN); self-guided/catered $16,700 (CN); and guided/catered $21,700 (CN) (includes two guides). Extra flights, as needed, run $500 (CN). For more information, skihikebc.com or (888) 564-8747.