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TRAVEL

32,000 Acres of Backcountry Terrain at Baldface Lodge

TRAVEL

32,000 Acres of Backcountry Terrain at Baldface Lodge

No lifts, no crowds and fresh tracks on nearly every run: this is the premier ski and snowboard experience

by Hans Aschim
on 13 January 2015
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Tucked away deep in the Southern Selkirks amid British Columbia's myriad mountain ranges that stack up like a line of dominos across the province, Baldface Lodge is the epitome of an epic destination. On a clear day, it's a short but breathtaking helicopter ride from nearby Nelson, BC. When the snow falls and the clouds roll in from the west—grounding all flights in the process—you might be looking at a bumpy couple of hours in a snowcat. One look at the lodge, and all the travel logistics and coordination are worth it.

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Baldface opened its doors in 2002 with the intention of bringing the soul of snowboarding into the cat-skiing business. Co-founder Jeff Pensiero—an industry veteran—looked at the state of high-end ski and snowboard operations and wasn't exactly stoked on what he saw: out of control egos from guides, uptight vibes and a real lack of fun. "I thought I could do it a bit different," Pensiero explains, "We made it a combination of making it a place where snowboarders were welcome, the guides were happy to share the mountains with guests and there's not so much of a divide between the staff and guests."

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As a result, Pensiero has created an environment that feels less like a resort and more like an adult summer camp. With a skilled and knowledgeable staff in the lodge and on the mountain, guests instantly feel like part of the crew—sharing beers at the bar and hitting the lodge's newly installed party button that activates a disco ball and light show when it's time to turn things up. Hearty, gourmet fare features seasonal and local ingredients when possible and the bar is stocked with some of the province's finest wines rarely seen outside of BC.

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A typical day at Baldface starts out with eating a hearty breakfast and grabbing a bagged lunch for a bite in the cat between runs. Safety is of major importance at Baldface and all guests are required to wear an avalanche beacon and undergo a quick training course. After checking conditions, guests gear up and hop in the cat alongside Canadian guiding legend Lee Usher and pro snowboarder-turned-guide Kevin Sansalone. Riding Baldface takes focus, communication and awareness, but that doesn't mean its not all about having a good time. "Most of the other heli and cat operations, before we started, had skiers making tight little tracks next to each other," says Pensiero. "We wanted to go out and have fun and hit jumps and make it rad." On our trip, Sansalone was happy to point out pillow lines and cliffs to hit that were in line with different abilities. Sansalone is considered one of the top free-riders of his generation with an eye for picking out natural features in runs. Needless to say, we were happy to have him help scope out our lines.

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Back in the lodge, a look around at the decor is a bit like looking at a well-curated exhibition on snowboarding. Early Burton boards and even a few "snurfers" can be found on the wall, along with rare unmounted, hand-painted boards by lodge regular Jamie Lynn, there are even a few custom experimental one-offs from Spring Break Snowboards. Pensiero took the once-fringe sport and gave it its very own (not to mention, incredible) home. "Our decision to be snowboard-centric was a very conscious one," Pensiero says. A cross memorializing fallen pro snowboarder and guide-in-training at Baldface Craig Kelly looks over the lodge. Kelly's deep connection to the mountains was apparent in his effortless riding style and many pros consider him the greatest snowboarder of all time. Overlooking the lodge and distant ranges at sunset, as new weather systems move in and out of the valleys surrounding Baldface—with Craig's Cross in the foreground—the staggering scope of the mountains and the graciousness to be in them is overwhelming.

"It's about a lot more than just the snow here," Pensiero says.

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Baldface Lodge is open from 1 December to 15 April every year. Scoring fresh snow is a near-given, but the deepest days are during February and March. A three-day stay at the lodge—including all meals, cat-time, equipment and heli transfer from Nelson—starts at $2,544. Check out Baldface's booking page for availability.

Images by Hans Aschim

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