On May 2, 2019, skiers Stefanie Falz and Cam Mclellan skied a new line off Chisel Peak near Invermere, British Columbia. This is their story as told by Cam.
Skiing has taught me so much about patience and perseverance. I grew up in Invermere, British Columbia where conditions can be hit and miss. However, with the right timing, and a good dose of luck, I have had some of my best ski days ever, right in my backyard. This past winter was interesting. From weird snowpack layering and lack of bridging strength to prolonged cold (good ol’ polar vortex) to avalanche incidents, I had to turn back from multiple objectives. For the longest time, I had given up on any real big lines.
Finally, it was May. Work was done for the year, spring was in the air and a significant warm up had occurred which was followed by some excellent cooling. We had had some late spring snow storms in the alpine. We threw around several ideas in casual conversation. “Do you think the snowpack has healed enough for this?” “What about going here?” “What about the basal facets?” “Do you think there’s enough snow here for this to be in?”
“What about skiing Chisel Peak?” I asked my girlfriend out of the blue. Her eyes light up like a kid’s on Christmas morning and I knew instantly we had a big line to chase after. You know that feeling you get when you’ve just made the right decision and your gut couldn’t agree more? We were both feeling it, 110 per cent. Chisel Peak, called Indian Head Mountain on topo maps, is a prominent mountain east of Invermere. We can even see it from our kitchen window. When seen from town it boasts huge vertical, steep faces, couloirs and other stunning features that look enticing but are often overlooked for the lack of snow on the east side of the valley. I had skied a line on Chisel Peak a few years before but as far as I knew no one else had skied it. Swiftly we moved into action, looked at Google Earth, read guide books, and made a plan for the next day. After a few hours of prep time and talk, we were sorted and off to bed.
The next morning, we woke up rather casually, ate breakfast and were out the door. Even though Chisel Peak appears close to town, the access road is quite rugged and it took
an hour and a half to reach the trailhead. We followed the summer hiking trail until we couldn’t anymore and then began to work our way up to tree line. With surprisingly easy travel conditions and minimal transitions it only took three hours. Here, we could look at the face up close and pick our exact descent line. We were happy to find a healthy winter environment up high. At this point we were forced to start boot packing up the main ridge. It seemed to take forever with shallow, faceted snow amongst rocks and stiff wind drifts. One slow step after another, we made our way, taking turns in the front.
Now for the crux of our entire day: ordinarily this would be some specific piece of terrain that needs to be navigated but on this day the crux was the most unpredictable of all, spring weather. It seemed like the closer we got to the summit, the more the weather started to come in. After a while, my confidence was actually getting a bit shaken. Never having skied this section of the mountain, I wasn’t really sure that skiing in “Helen Keller’esque” visibility would be the best decision. Now this was where having the right mountain partner was important. Thank goodness for my girlfriend, otherwise we would have definitely bailed. A calm and very reassuring “It’s clearing up. Let’s go!” came from behind me when I wasn’t looking and sure enough, the skies were parting and giving us the thumbs up. They say behind every great man is an even greater woman and on May 2nd, we proved that saying right.
A quick punch up to the summit treated us to one of the most magnificent views in the entire area. A quick break and transition was had as the weather was still iffy and we were blasted by howling winds. Then it was game on. The ski down was the kind of experience one really ever only has in dreams: fresh pow turns on steep terrain.
Initially off the top we were treated to steep, tight turns in a chute that the wind had loaded up with fresh snow. A few short, quick turns and some side slipping through a narrow section got us warmed up quickly. That coupled with the howling winds and minimal visibility kept us on our toes. Towards the bottom of the chute, the skies began to part and within moments, one of the most epic views I’ve ever enjoyed on a ski descent was presented to us: we could see the lake, and town, and even imagined we could see our house. Once we had negotiated that section, we enjoyed a quick traverse out on to a more open section of the face. From here, we skied the face in short sections as some rock bands, chokes and little passages required some unique route finding. In-between these sections and lower down, we enjoyed some of the best late spring skiing I’ve ever had. A perfect ten centimetres on a soft but supportive surface all the way down to tree line. We stopped at the bottom of the face in the trees to look back on our accomplishment and have a lunch break. Once we had refuelled, we quickly glanced at our map and ventured further into the trees in the hopes of trying to link up with the summer trail and ski right back to the car. As luck would have it, we managed to pull off exactly that! Thanks to some careful navigating and some genuine luck, we managed to link openings in the woods down to the summer trail and the summer trail to the road. From there, like two little kids playing in the woods, we skied over dirt from snow patch to snow patch, celebrating with laughter as we had just pulled off something rather remarkable.
The fact that we were the first two humans to have skied this line on Chisel Peak, and in great condition to boot, had us smiling from ear to ear. Once we arrived back at the car, we got changed, enjoyed some tasty post trip snacks, marvelled at our descent and drove back to town.
It just goes to show that even in a not-so-snowy place, patience provides the goods. When you least expect it, lines you’d never think you’d ski just happen to present themselves.