I believe that good things happen to good people. This winter, I’ve had wonderful things happen with the support of strangers, friends, ski resorts and brands. Sadly, bad things also happen to great people and last week a friend hit a tree. He blew out his knee and ended his season. Subsequently, I got this message:
“Alexa, if you can get to Nelson by 3pm tomorrow, you can have my spot at Baldface Lodge”.
It was ON!
It was obvious to Peter that he was in no position to snowboard. In a bittersweet turn of misfortune, I was gifted an experience of a lifetime… if I could get to that helipad in Nelson by 3pm the next day, that is.
I was in Whistler. 780km to the west. No 4WD rental cars available, no friends driving east (they all left a few hours earlier), no rides south to Vancouver. It was 9pm. I trawled every hitchhiking Facebook group on the sea to sky highway. I called friends for advice on which airport was the safest/closest to fly to. I found a bus leaving Whistler at 2.30am, a flight leaving Van at 9am and a transfer to take me to the heli-pad from Castlegar airport at 1pm (only 29% of flights have landed at Castlegar this winter due to weather!). My good friend Inga, exhausted from snowmobiling all day, drove an hour south from Pemberton to drop all my stuff off and wish me luck. It was on (thanks to the support and kindness of my friends).
You never get a second chance for a first impression.
I had no time to develop an expectation of this trip. I was scattered at best and exhausted from finishing a 7 day avalanche operations course. Such was my state that I forgot my main clothes bag at Castlegar airport on arrival. Good people came through again and my driver went back and got it for me. But I had made it. I was in Nelson! A single British girl, alone, knackered but with boardbag and camera gear in hand. I waited at the helipad for a few hours alone until guests stated to arrive. First through the door was not what I was expecting. I endured a short ‘what are YOU doing here’ conversation, void of any eye contact from this utter twat, ‘been coming here 16 years’ industry kid with a hipster moustache and a bad attitude. First impression of the cat skiing clientele: self-entitled douche bags. But as more people came rolling in: The Texans, the Hawaiians, the Burlington Burton head office crew, the unassuming tech entrepreneurs, it became obvious this was going to be an amazing week of high energy shredders, all sharing one thing, ‘their love of snowboarding’. Judgement was an anomaly and I was, as per usual, the only girl.
The legend of Baldface Lodge
“There was no luck. It was a lot of hard work. A lot of taking chances” – Jeff Pensiero on setting up Baldface Lodge.
Jeff Pensiero started Baldface Lodge with a remortgage of $50,000, some snowshoes, a snowboarder’s dream and probably a hangover. Heliskiing in Canada and the USA was founded on the European ski ethic of bunny turns, neatly stacked lines and tight ski suits. JP was always the black sheep of the heli group. They didn’t want snowboarders and they sure as hell didn’t like snowboarders. He wanted to build somewhere for his people, for snowboard culture. That was the drive behind Baldface Lodge, a spot for snowboarders, for good times. He did it all just to go snowboarding a lot. The legendary Craig Kelly whom JP met outside a CD shop in Nelson after a chance introduction, came onboard. Together they and snow-shoed the terrain above Nelson to map of the 32,000 acres of ridge connected glades, that today makes up their tenure. The first cat purchased was bank rolled by Dave and Nate from the Foo Fighters after another chance introduction. One lodge, 7 chalets, 4 cats, 185-195 liters of fuel every 4 days, 3x 30,000 gallon diesel tanks and 45 guests every 3 or 4 days. 16 years on and Baldface Lodge is a slick, well-oiled machine delivering passionate snowboarders the best days shredding of their lives. Daily doses of heroin in the form of powder, pillows, peaks and pitches are a regular here. JP himself is an incredible, personable, legend of snowboarding and it was truly an honour to chat to him, hear his story, meet his friend and share his stoke (thanks to Toby and Chris for setting up an interview with JP that will soon be available on the Baldface website).
“I wasn’t going to accept failure at any point. I wanted it to become what it was to become, because it was supposed to be there” – Jeff
6.5 hours of cat skiing across 32,000 acres of terrain
I was grouped in a cat with the Hawaiians, a group of 5 partying surfers from the North shore that have been friends since college. Joining them was Tiare (one of their sisters) and their dad Larry, an incredibly SICK snowboarder in his late 60s with more heliski days, shred sessions and stories than most get in a lifetime. I lucked out BIG TIME. This crew rode hard, looking for pillows on every pitch with Tiare leading the charge by pushing the boys ever harder. I couldn’t have asked for a better group. Props to Baldface for doing whatever research they did in the 15 hour timeframe to link me with this crew. It was on and I was fired UP!
Each day started with home smoked bacon at 7am, or 6am if you wanted to join yoga and stretch out. The guides of Baldface kindly invited me to shadow them during my stay; supportive and aware of the mechanized guide training that I was currently enrolled in through Heliski US. So my day started at 6am doing weather observations at the study plot with my tail guide Dillon, followed by the morning guide meeting (I was incredibly grateful for that opportunity). At 8.30am we loaded the cats with delicious food, spare snowboards of unusual powder shapes and smiles at the other frothing faces and full morning bellies. We rode on average 10-12 drops a day on pitches as steep as 45degrees. There is no shortage of variety in the terrain here. Attest to that is Confirmation Ridge, home to the Red Bull Supernatural. I have been catskiing 3 times before and to be honest, I’ve been bored of the short, shallow, low angle terrain offered. I was somewhat skeptical of how it would compare to heliskiing. ‘Lex, it’s not Jones worthy steep!’, my cousin joked when I asked if I should take my Alaska snowboard set up. I’m glad he was wrong, it was worthy. I was blown away by the consistant steep riding, sluffing pitches and Alaskan levels of adrenaline. The Baldface Lodge terrain is next level. Cat skiing surprised me and to be completely honest, I think I may have been converted…at least a little!
“I really see women’s snowboarding as something we need to invest in. I have daughters and I want them to snowboard forever”
– JP on why he chose to host the Full Moon women’s snowboard crew in December and support what is sure to be an incredible project documenting the history of women’s snowboarding.
Thank you from all women in snowboarding for doing that Jeff!
The proof is in the powder:
This post could go on for 1,000 more words describing the amazing experience that were just four days at Baldface. Instead, I’ll try to summarise the highlights and let the pictures to the talking:
- The food: Lamb shanks, short ribs, pork chops, incredible salads, pastries to die for, pizza and soup when you come off the hill. The chefs at Baldface even have their own Instagram food account. The food is that good!
- The luxury lodge: Again, I lucked out. I had a suite in the main lodge with a view of Craig Kelly’s cross high on the ridge. Craig sadly died in an avalanche in 2003 while guiding in Revelstoke. The cross is synonymous with Baldface Lodge and snowboarding in general. Seeing it at sunrise every morning was an honour. Craig was a huge inspiration to me as a young girl. Truly blessed. The lodge is beyond comfortable and the sauna is a luxury blaze king on steroids!
- The art and snowboard memorabilia: Adorned all over the walls are vintage snowboards that remind you of Baldface’s heritage in snowboarding. Jamie Lynn has painted one of the cats, his art hangs everywhere as does the work of Mark Parillo, Jeff Curtes and other artists and photographers (for art just like this, check out Travis Rice’s Asymbol gallery or pop in to the gallery in Jackson Hole and see Ashley).
- The guides: I am incredibly grateful to Baldface for offering me some mentorship during my stay. It’s so valuable to see how different operations run their show and Baldface have an incredibly experienced team, watertight procedures and a solid level of respect for the terrain, the snowpack, each other and the aspirations of their guests. My lead guide Joel has been there for 16 years and I learned so much from him, my tail guide Dillon and all the other guides during my stay. Thank you so much for even being interested in my development and future as a mechanized guide.
- The crew, especially the girls of Baldface: Like most mechanized operations, awesome like-minded people have dedicated their lives to the mountains and found a way set up a life there. Baldface is no exception. What was exceptional was the number of girls up there: housekeepers, front of house and kitchen staff, all local from Nelson. Four of the girls joined us in our cat over two days and they RIPPED! Tiarie and I were pumped to have a crew of girls to shred with. Another honour bestowed on us, and we lapped it up (as did the Hawaiian boys!).
- The remoteness of the lodge: A short helicopter ride from Nelson in a Bell 212 takes you up to the lodge (I felt like I was going to war in that massive bird!). The lodge sits at 2,057m with views that expand over countless, classic British Columbia ridges and trees. Sunrise will melt your eyes and sing to your soul. Every view from every ridge top was spectacular. And of course, all this for just your group.
This post and every single powder turn, drop and pillow I popped off is dedicated to Peter and his knee recovery. Like me, Peter quit his job to snowboard the world this year and his amazing season was cut short the day before his Baldface trip (he had already been to Antartica, Japan, Canada and the US with plans of Alaska and Greenland on the itinerary). I’m more than grateful for the opportunity to have stood in your shoes at Baldface Lodge. Good things happen to good people and buddy, you have the sickest powder turns in your future very soon. Wishing you a swift recovery mate.
Thank you so so much for Baldface for allowing the spot to be transferable, another sign of how much they support snowboarding and spreading the stoke.
Baldface Lodge offer cat skiing trips from 3 to 4 day stays from mid December through to mid April. Prices range from c. $2,500 for a 3 day stay in the lodge, low season to c. $5,000 for a 4 day stay, peak season in one of their 7 4-person chalets (I recommend the lodge). While prices are en-par with heliskiing on a per day analysis, unlike heliskiing, you are guaranteed to be able to ride every day. And when the terrain is THAT good, that’s definitely something to consider!
Still Stoked is keen to run a girl’s trip to Baldface Lodge in February 2017. If this is something you would like to be part of (a crew of sick shredder chicks!), then get in touch though the contact form or our Facebook page or ski trip page.