Things To Do
BC’s Coolest Ski Towns
The case for skiing north of the border, written by an American
Valhalla Provincial Park first caught my eye while I was still living in the United States. I had no idea where in western Canada the Valhallas were located, only that getting a closer look at their insane rock spires looked like a good enough reason to go. That was before I caught sight of the Valhalla ski movie, teasing me, pre-season, with images of skiers blowing through piles of deep, dry powder.
It isn’t like me not to look up a location on a map, but for some reason, the Valhallas seemed like they would be located in some incredibly hard-to-get-to location that I might find myself near in future travels. I had no idea I was about to move next door to them.
A couple of weeks after moving to the Kootenays, I was shuttling some mountain bikers up Giveout Creek, a logging road with excellent trails, and as I rounded a corner the trees cleared away and there I saw them — the crazy spires I’d seen only on the screen.
I didn’t have to ask, but I wanted the confirmation.
“What are the names of those mountains?”
The crew in my car looked out their windows and casually affirmed my hunch: the Valhallas.
Though the park isn’t far from Nelson, the road in is slow going — not only because of all the twists and turns, but also because the views require you to pause. By the time my hiking partner, Brent (a native of the area), and I got into view of the jagged mountains that make up the range, the sun was just past the prime golden hour for photography. It still managed to work its magic on my lens — I couldn’t believe I was finally standing in the presence of these mountains.
This was shot nearly at dusk, but I was determined to capture my first look at Gimli, a spire that rock climbers are proud to check off their bucket lists. I left the exposure open and let my old camera record my first glimpse of where we’d be hiking in the morning.
The next day’s hike was mostly tree-covered. Huckleberry bushes, some with ripe little treats, covered the forest floor and helped distract from the unrelenting uphill. It was difficult to gauge progress in the trees, but then the view opened up to this glacial valley and my jaw dropped.
The trees resumed as we moved beyond the valley. At this point, the trail was almost hugging the side of the mountain. What I couldn’t get past was the silence — I couldn’t even hear my hiking partner’s feet on the trail. And then, rounding one last major corner, Gimli suddenly loomed in front of me. Needless to stay, I stopped and stared for a while.
My hiking partner isn’t a photographer, which means he makes much better time than I do. By the time I caught up to him at the ridge camp, he was already making friends with the local wildlife. At first I was concerned; it seemed he was boxed in by what I thought were aggressive animals. As I moved slowly up the trail, keeping an eye on them, I saw that they were nearly as docile as dogs. I didn’t want to test the waters, though — their horns looked plenty threatening. We both attempted to keep a wide margin between them and us, but they seemed to want the interaction. I later found out that the family of Valhalla goats are renowned for being very friendly and curious.
There was no getting away from these guys. They would pop up over rocks and ridges, looking as casual as if you and they were old buds.
I watched two small groups of climbers making their way up the multi-pitch route of Gimli, their accents telling me they had travelled from the southern hemisphere and Europe. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the quality of the rock and the formation of Gimli in general — this spire, and the surrounding rock, could easily draw people from around the world. We continued past. I thought Gimli would be the destination, but my hiking partner had visited before and asked me to persevere just a little longer. My curiosity was enough to drive me forward over the loose ground.
There was no way to prepare for this. We crested the wall we’d been hiking toward and suddenly the land dropped out from the ridge, nearly leaving me teetering on the edge with the suddenness. Beneath was a sweeping icefield feeding aqua alpine lakes, and craggy peaks brushing quick-moving clouds — a visual feast.
My camera couldn’t pick up the full scale of this place. Looking to my left (vs right as in the previous photo), I caught Brent unpacking lunch further down the ridge. He looked tiny in the midst of Valhalla’s landscape.
Brent asked to borrow my camera, a rare occurrence. I was too occupied with the view to realize he was taking a photo of me. Behind me sits the lower portion of Gimli, and below is the start of the icefield seen in the previous photo. The scale here is massive, the kind that puts you in your place as a human.
There is nothing better than great atmosphere when stopping for lunch. No restaurant in town could compare with the million dollar views I had while I ate my bread and cheese. Cost: free.
We headed back, the scale of the scenery still dwarfing us. Here, Brent considers the awesome choices of ski lines as I take note of the avalanche paths.
Once we reached the front side of Gimli again, the family of mountain goats rejoined us on the trail. Whenever we stopped, they would gather closer and begin eating the vegetation around us. As soon as we moved, they were at our heels. As cautious as I am around wildlife — always trying to obey the rules — I feel certain I could have put a leash on the whole bunch and walked them all the way home (and the illogical side of me wished I could). They finally let us continue on, alone, at some invisible barrier that seemed to stop their territory. I wished them goodbye, not feeling silly about it at all.
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