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Get ready to earn your turns

Unpretentious lodge offers backcountry adventure

By Lindsay Yaw
Skiing Magazine


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Sorcerer Lodge skiers climb up the slopes before skiing down.
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(Skiing Magazineexternal link) -- "If you like to drink Scotch," says Tannis Dakin, owner and operator of Sorcerer Lodge, "then you'll get along famously with this crew." While it's true that Sorcerer's guides can throw back a tumbler or three of Glenlivet, come dawn they'll be there at your bunk shining headlamps in your face and prodding you to get out on the hill.

Just know that they've been up for an hour, studying avalanche conditions and weather reports. "That's why you punters pay us," says guide Dave Rutherford. "To keep you safe."

With basic accommodations, hearty food, and an unpretentious vibe, Sorcerer serves as counterpoint to the high-class, high-cost heli empires that abound in this part of British Columbia. More to the point: Although a heli shuttles you to and from this Selkirk lodge, at Sorcerer you climb for your turns. (And climb, and climb some more.)

In fact, spending a week touring in rope teams across Sorcerer's extensive glaciers could double as randonnee race training. And, yes, we did say rope teams. Sorcerer Lodge is a backcountry outfit with a ski-mountaineering sensibility. If your crew has brought enough mojo, plenty of jagged peaks in all directions can be bagged.

Or simply rack up fluff mileage on 30- to 40-degree glaciers. The nights, which include much exaggeration, carbo-loading, and that ubiquitous Glenlivet, often end with a somewhat randy game of strip Jenga. The loser runs around the hut naked as flashbulbs pop. Then everyone hits the sauna.

Max elevation: 10,666 feet

Max vertical drop: 5,400 feet

Average vertical logged per day: 5,000 to 7,000 feet

Prices: $1,550 Canadian dollars (7 days plus heli-shuttle)

Getting there: From Calgary, take Highway 1 west 87 miles to Golden. Continue northwest 35 miles to the Heather Mountain Lodge and heli-pad.

Snowpack

The Selkirks normally have more stable conditions than the Rockies to the east, but prolonged instability can occur. Last year, October rains produced layers of ice that made for sketchy conditions until April. As for snow quality, half of the skiing is on north-facing glaciers that grow a 10-to 13-foot base each winter, so crust usually isn't a factor.

Terrain highlights

Ski-mountaineering types should make their way to Escargot: Shaped as such, it's wrapped in a friendly rolling glacier. Be prepared for a few hours spent getting there, though, which is why most folks stick to the lower glaciers to max turns. Ask to hit Perfect Glacier, a frying pan-shaped, 1,000-vertical-foot run tilted to 30 degrees and coated in flawless powder.

Weather

Pacific storms bump up against the Canadian Rockies and dump a lot of their moisture on the flanks of the Selkirks. This means the sun doesn't shine much: Cloud cover prevails for about 70 percent of the winter. January temperatures usually hover around -- and sometimes well beneath -- the freezing mark, so plan for cold snaps when you're packing your bags.

The guides

If you like speed touring and have a steady hand for Jenga, ask for Frenchman Bruno Bagneres -- he's a fully certified ACMG/UIAGM guide who prefers '80s-vintage fleece, Vuarnet cat-eyes and skinny skis. Otherwise, pass hiking time talking world politics with ACMG Rutherford: "Come with me, and you might learn something new about your country."

The lodge

The red-and-white, gingerbread-style, three-level hut sleeps up to 18 people and offers basic amenities -- wood stove, kitchenette. Fresh sheets and multiple comforters are provided. A propane-fueled drying room downstairs dehydrates your clothes overnight.

The chow

Plenty of energy-restoring recipes are on the menu: The French toast with bacon, Thai curry, baked salmon, and Nanaimo bars (think chocolate, custard, and coconut) aren't exactly lo-cal.

Bang for buck

How much vertical you cover depends on your group, which could range from naive city slicker to macho mountain mama. Fill the hut with your closest, fittest buds.

Must-know

If it's a low-snow year, meandering beyond the guide's skin track while on a rope team just might leave you dangling in a crevasse.

Essential gear

Avoid the catastrophe of quitting early because of cold, blistery feet. Pick up a pair of heat-moldable liners like these from Scarpa for your tele or AT boots. ($160-$169, bdel.com)


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Copyright 2004 SKIING Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
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