Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Burnie Glacier Chalet - The Good Life

We spent the week of February 24-March 2 skiing with longtime friends and customers at the Burnie Glacier Chalet in the Howson Range of British Columbia.  The Howson Range is located between Terrace, BC and Smithers, BC and all of our skiing took place between about 3000 and 7200 feet (1000 to 2200 Meters) above sea level.  We had the good fortune to be at the chalet with UIAGM/IFMGA guide and chalet operator Christoph Dietzfelbinger.  Christoph has the terrain dialed and put an incredible amount of care and thought into the placement of his lodge and the layout of the facility.  Christoph is a very professional and highly skilled ski guide and was a tremendous asset to our group.  On top of all this we greatly enjoyed listening to him swearing in German when wrestling with the various functions of his computer.

The Burnie Glacier Chalet is reached by a 20-30 minute helicopter flight that starts at the end of a plowed logging road outside of Smithers, BC. 
 Set near the terminus of the Burnie Glacier at about 300o feet (1000 M), the timber frame lodge faces SW and sits under the excellent 1800 foot tree runs on the west flank of Tom George mountain.  

The lodge is heated by wood, and powered by a combination of solar and a small generator (used in cloudy weather.) and very comfortably sleeps up to 14 people.  Perhaps most importantly BGC has a wonderful wood fired sauna.  

In addition to the phenomenal terrain and experience of Christoph, we were all very impressed with the culinary skills of Monica, our camp chef.  "Cook" would be too small a title for Monica, a master in the kitchen.  We all realized a couple days into the trip that Monica made just about everything we ate from scratch or from simple ingredients: strudel, cheese and dill biscuits, cinnamon rolls, sockeye salmon, chicken curry, a staggering array of soups, polenta, fresh salads, the list goes on.  Not a single thing that we ate was anything short of delicious, and all were lovingly prepared by Monica on a wood burning stove 50 miles from the nearest town.

A typical day started at 6 am with the guides up to check the weather, grind the coffee, and come up with the plan for the day.  We would then assemble at 7 am for a breakfast of granola, fresh fruit, yogurt, strong coffee, tea, baked goodies, eggs, and other delights.  Following breakfast everyone would start pulling together gear, which had been hung overnight to dry, and packing for the day's ski tour.

Off by 8:30 am we would either take on a long tour such as Polemic Pass or Loft Peak and be out of the entire day, or we would do two shorter tours such as Tom George Mountain and Solitare Peak with a ice lunch at the lodge in between the morning and afternoon tours.  
The terrain provided a variety of aspects as the range tends to run North-South and the glaciers coming out of it run East-West.  

We arrived right at the end of a long dry spell that had remained cold and ski
ed high glaciers covered with surface hoar.  As the week progressed a few storms replenished our snow, buried the surface hoar, and generally decreased snow stability.  We saw everything from moderate snowfall to sunshine to high winds, yet always managed to find good skiing.

We usually were back to the lodge between 3:30 and 4:30 pm at which point we would fetch water, chop wood, and then retire to the sauna to relax and clean up before dinner at 7 pm.  And endless supply of wine and beer coupled with tired muscles had us all asleep each night by 9:30 pm after a quick post dinner Scrabble game.

The lodge amazingly had satellite wi-fi, which is used to send and transmit information about weather and avalanche conditions.  Although we tended to try to keep the lid on the temptation to surf the net in such beautiful surroundings, it was a good tool for collecting reasonable weather information and allowed everyone to keep up with things back home.  

Olivia and I will certainly be planning another week at Burnie Glacier in the winter of 2008-09.  We hope that Christoph will be available for some skiing and Monica for the cooking.  Amazing place and amazing people to share it with.