WORDS AND PHOTOS: Dan Evans
When the heli landed at the Sentry Lodge in British Columbia, a weight lifted off my chest. We jumped out, unloaded our gear, and the blades spun back up to speed. The heli lifted up and flew out, leaving myself, Russ "the mayor" Lybarger, Eric Hjorleifson, and the rest of the group at our new backcountry home for the next four days.
Sentry Lodge sits on the northern edge of the Selkirks in a sub-range that's seldom talked about called the Esplanades. After the original lodge burned down several years ago, version 2.0 is a B.C. hillbilly's dream lodge, complete with leather chairs and nightly ping pong championships.
We're here for one of Lybarger's and Hoji's freeride camps. New Dads, engineers, and a cop round out the group and half of us are repeat offenders from last year's pow frenzy. We're not the flashy sponsored crowd, but everyone shares the same love for the perfect turn and they can hold their own on one of Lybarger's 'mandatory' lines. For most of us, this trip is a glimpse into the life we had been wishing for since we were 18-year-olds living in vans at ski resort parking lots.
I was well versed in Sentry's digs and terrain from watching MSP classics Claim and Attack of La Nina and Sweetgrass' existential journey Valhalla. "This place just lends itself so well to filming, it's one of my favorite places" says Hoji, who spends almost a month of the year here in December. He spouts this off, barely flustered, while he breaks trail for us mere mortals.
On the uptrack my ski partners notice my perma-grin, which is ear-to-ear for good reason. We're climbing through a cool 80-100 centimeters of fresh that fell over the last six days. And there's no sign of the storm stopping any time soon. The new snow and a persistent weak layer keep us to the trees, but no one's complaining with bottomless blower on every turn and pillows swallowing us whole. We imitate Hoji's smooth, purposeful style in the steeps and each day, we nail personal lines that vault our confidence to mythic proportions.
Evenings follow with the same dreamlike state as the days, but now our inner child takes over and the Pilsner flows. On the last night, the stoke reached an all time high and the Mayor took charge of the party with a harmonica. The rest of us were left with pots and pans, but we managed to play a version of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. Later, the Mayer shed his clothes and hucked off a 15-foot jump into the deep snow. Twice. Pulling him out, I laughed so hard I could barely breathe.
With the morning came hangovers and a sunny sky, the peaks perfectly draped in B.C. white. We sobered up quick to take advantage of our precious time in dreamland. And then we were off to another day of early-season slashes and senders and cold smoke.