Cat skiing at Baldface Lodge — It’s NOT just for the Pros!

Nowadays, nearly every snowboard flick has a segment filmed at Baldface Lodge.  From Travis Rice’s film “Fourth Phase” to Afterforever by Absinthe, there is a ton of footage from this amazing locale.  The real questions in your mind though… “How does it feel for normal shredders, like you and me, to ride at a place like this? Is it possible to be just as amazing and spectacular as the films make it out to be?”  The answer is a resounding YES!  Here’s a glimpse into our Local Freshies® journey we took a few years back, for our very own Baldface adventure…

*BEEP*, *BEEP*, *BEEP*

That’s the sound of your alarm clock attempting to wake you up. Laying there motionless, you suddenly realize that today is special. Today is different. It’s the day to go to Baldface Lodge! Leaping out of bed you rip open the curtains with excitement. Your heart rejoices at the sight of falling snow but thoughts of doubt begin to form. Will the helicopter be able to fly? Is there a way to the lodge when it snows? How much snow is falling up in the mountains? But first, sustenance is needed to kick-start the most exciting chapter in the Powder Highway journey.

The view from Baldface Lodge in the morning. An amazing way to get up!The view from Baldface Lodge in the morning. An amazing way to get up!

Panic ensues on where to go next!

After a great breakfast, another cup of coffee, and then some dessert, it was time to head to the airport. Driving to the airfield, a sense of panic comes over you. The only thing you see is a long runway and no other buildings. Where were you supposed to go? Fortunately, a kind soul stopped by the car and asked if you were lost. In fact, you were! Smiling, they point towards the other side of the runway and say that w-a-a-a-y-y-y-y on the other side of the airstrip is the actual Nelson airport building. This is where the helicopter will pick you up. Driving to the other side of the airstrip you see the humble airport tower. Finding “official” airport parking along the fence of the runway, you park the car and walk into the building. Standing behind a fold out table you meet Vynessa, the host for Baldface Lodge. She greets you with her pleasant demeanor and starts the process of checking you in. Being excited, a little nervous, and unaware of the process, you are the first in line. An hour later, your helicopter mates begin to flood the building, checking in and preparing for the trip ahead.

Helicopter taking off for Baldface Lodge from Nelson Airport.

Helicopter taking off for Baldface Lodge from Nelson Airport

Introductions start around the room and you begin to get even more excited for the week ahead. In the distance, the sound of a quiet whop, whop, whop can be heard. Immediately everyone rushes to the windows squinting and searching for the helicopter. The sound of thumping can be heard getting louder. Through the snowflakes and fog the helicopter suddenly appears. The nerves disappear and adrenaline fills the air. You watch as crew begins filling the helicopter with gear and supplies for the week ahead. Vynessa calls out “Ok, I need the first group of people for the helicopter to watch the training video on how to enter and exit a helicopter.” Fifteen minutes later, the first helicopter ride leaves. What seemed like an instant, Vynessa then suddenly calls your name to view the film next. Rushing the next group into the hangar, you watch the safety video. It makes sure everyone understands the basics on how to enter and exit the helicopter and what to do in an emergency. This does not feel like any emergency video you’ve ever seen on an airplane. This was serious! As the film ends, the tin walls of the hangar began to vibrate. Just like before everyone, runs to the windows to look at the helicopter coming in. Visions of Vietnam movie flicks flash through your head as the helicopter lands. With a sudden whoosh, the door swings open and the flight crew yells smiling, “You guys ready to go?” Without hesitation, you run to the helicopter and enter it like a pro.

On our way to Baldface!

Helicopter landing at Baldface Lodge

Helicopter landing at Baldface Lodge

As the helicopter takes off, the first thing you notice is how much safer and sturdier it feels compared to an airplane. This might not be the case, but it at least felt that way. The helicopter flies out of town following the terrain of the valley for only a few minutes. Almost as quickly as you left, you began the climb over a few mountain peaks and to the hallowed grounds of many snowboard videos… Baldface Lodge. With snowy peaks everywhere and snowfall reducing visibility, the lodge appeared out of nowhere like a fantasy. Is it real? As you gently land, the door swings open and the crew yells over the rotors to exit. The blades continue to rotate causing snow to blow everywhere making this place seem like a fairyland. This is heaven on earth…

Shrouded in a thin layer of fog, the snow continued to fall lightly covering all 32,000 acres with a fresh coat of white. A lone lodge sat in the center of this wilderness – it was Baldface.  Known for its mark in snowboarding past, present, and future, Baldface is celebrated for being the first backcountry operation to accept touring and guiding by snowboarders.

The Baldface Lodge in its element. Lots of freshies to be found. Image taken by Kevan Dee.

The Baldface Lodge in its element. Lots of freshies to be found. Image taken by Kevan Dee.

A place built on following your dreams

A nice coat of fresh snow over Baldface Lodge. Image taken by Kevan Dee

A nice coat of fresh snow over Baldface Lodge. Image taken by Kevan Dee

Jeff Pensiero, the owner of Baldface, is an avid snowboarder and a man that followed his passion. Born in Cleveland, OH, he went to school in New Hampshire and as an adult, he spent 11 seasons in Tahoe and trekked all across the world following the snow. At 26, he struggled with the age-old question “What do I want to do with my life?” During that soul searching journey, he saved up for a heli-skiing trip. Sadly, the entire experience left him with a bad taste in his mouth. At that time, snowboarders were treated as second class citizens at these operations. Also, the entire days’ worth of snowboarding was not included in the expensive cost. From this lasting impression came inspiration and the birth of a new idea — A cat-skiing operation that catered to snowboarders. It would be all about the five-star service, high quality snow, and an overall epic vacation that you would tell your great grandkids about.

The sign at Baldface Lodge. Image taken by Kevan Dee.

The sign at Baldface Lodge. Image taken by Kevan Dee

From that moment, the concept of Baldface was born. Now came the hard part. Where to start? Jeff decided the answer to that question was the location. He looked all over North America, Europe, and even South America. In his mind their was only one choice…the Kootenay Mountains in Western Canada. The consistent quality and quantity of snow this mountain range offered as well as its unbelievable terrain made the decision an easy one. Once this decision was made, there was no looking back.
With the help and support from his friends like Craig Kelly, this place became a reality. In fact, Craig helped Jeff find this location and in turn, he found a new passion — Baldface is where Craig Kelly himself actually learned to guide. At this time Craig was already a legend. He was one of the first snowboarders to make a living off the sport. Instead of cashing in on his name, he became the student. Following his own growing passion, he headed into the backcountry to hunt for powder.

Getting ready for the day

So, where should we go? How about there! Image taken by Kevan Dee

So, where should we go? How about there! Image taken by Kevan Dee

Just like Craig Kelly found his new passion in the Kootenay Mountains, the focus at Baldface is on riding/skiing high quality powder. They make sure to provide a high level of service along with a first-class adventure. If you wake up a bit earlier each morning, you can join the stretching class led by the masseuses to warm up your muscles and prepare you for a long, amazing day in the mountains. Breakfast is served promptly at 7:00 am and is simply fantastic. All the classics are offered — 7-grain oatmeal, pancakes, bacon, eggs and then a different gourmet dish each morning, topped off with coffee roasted locally in Nelson, BC by Oso Negro. As breakfast winds down around 8:00 am, it’s time to pick what you want to bring in your lunch sack. No wasting time driving back and forth to the lodge for food!  Baldface makes sure you maximize your vertical and are fueled by food-on-the-go while out in the snowcat. Gourmet sandwiches made with local lunch meats, a heathy quinoa salad, homemade granola bars, and even fresh peanut butter cookies, this lunch is perfectly suited for powder hounds…and you can take as much as you can fit in your lunch bag!

Finding out how serious the backcountry is

Where to go next? How about that way! Joaquin pointing out the goods at Baldface. Image taken by Jeff Patterson Photography

Joaquin pointing out the goods at Baldface. Image taken by Jeff Patterson Photography

With stomachs filled and lunches packed, you finally get to meet the guides and the group of eleven people you will be riding with for the rest of the trip. Joaquin, originally from Taos, NM, is the lead guide. After searching the world for the best powder, from Chamonix to Alaska, he finally settled here in the Kootenays. Mitch, the tail gunner, is a young rider learning the ropes of guiding. He cut his teeth in places like Lake Louise and spends his summers as a whitewater rafting guide in the Northwest Territories. Both are amazing guides and will make sure your group gets home safe after each epic day. Introductions aside, the guides started the process of handing out an avalanche transceiver and a backpack filled with a shovel and probe to each person. Once equipped, we were escorted out to the front of the building to begin the crash course in avalanche training. During the lesson, everyone had to prove they could use the transceiver in case of a burial. Once the exercise was complete, it was time to practice our teamwork. The mission, to dig a person out covered under six feet of snow. This was scary stuff. In this situation, the people in your group were the only ones that could save your life. Do you really truly trust all these people assigned to your snowcat? It was a sobering moment when this realization hit everyone at the same time. Working as a team while out in the backcountry is incredibly important to make sure we all stayed safe and came back alive. Fortunately, the guides are dedicated to steer the teams into safe zones on the slopes, but it’s better to be prepared. For more about backcountry safety, check out our series here.

The Lib-Tech Cat – Our chariot for the week

The Libtech Snowcat getting the fluff cleaned off her. Image taken by Kevan Dee

The Libtech Snowcat getting the fluff cleaned off her. Image taken by Kevan Dee

With the training completed it was time to start snowboarding! To our surprise, our chariot for the rest of the trip was going to be ‘THE Lib Tech Blue-Cat’. Now THIS was going to be awesome!!! As we began our drive out in our personal German Panzer tank, it made easy-work of the near vertical road. In less than 15 minutes we made it to the top of our soon-to-be first descent. Dropping into our first run, which was named Fluffy’s, the realization of actually cat-boarding hit. With a decent pitch and widely spaced trees, the turns came easy. It was a great run to get your mind and legs ready. As the day progressed the snow began to fall more consistently and the choice of terrain became more epic. One thing to note, even if it’s warm or hasn’t snowed in a while, that doesn’t mean you won’t find powder at Baldface.

The Libtech Cat in its element. Image take by Jeff Patterson Photography.

The Libtech Cat in its element. Image take by Jeff Patterson Photography.

In reality, it means that you are able to hit runs that are normally off-bounds due to avalanche concerns. We cashed in on that fact. We hit a run called Air Supply, which Mitch had only done once before in his career. It was a HUGE bowl with a perfect angle that allowed you to make massive swooping turns! Everyone in the group felt like one of the pros in a snowboard video. After such an amazing day, what better way to celebrate than to have an excellent dinner. As you heard from the breakfast and lunch options, the food at Baldface is above and beyond most restaurants and it just doesn’t stop coming. Dinner was off-the-hook with a perfectly cooked pork chop, potatoes, salad and veggies.

 

So what’s there to do at night?

Boogying the night away at Baldface Lodge. Image taken by Kevan Dee.

Boogying the night away at Baldface Lodge. Image taken by Kevan Dee

Baldface lodge is divided up into two sections. One area contains all the lodging. This part of the building is a quiet area that allows for guests to go to bed early if they so choose. What if you got beat up on the mountain? Well, you can schedule a massage with one of the professional masseuses.

For those night owls in your group, the other half is where the fun happens. With a fully stocked bar serving local brews from Nelson Brewing, home-grown wines from interior BC, and of course hard liquor, the ‘hang out’ section has a huge comfortable living room, a pool table, ping pong, darts and then turns into a nightclub in the late night hours so you can boogey the night away. And if you are lucky, in the next room adjacent to the lounge you might get to see a jam session by some of the pros that are there during your week stay. Baldface is sponsored by Gibson so there are guitars available to anyone who plays. Just note, this is NOT a place that you should learn how to play the guitar so leave the official jammin’ to the experienced.

A great way to end the trip. Fireworks! Image taken by Kevan Dee

A great way to end the trip. Fireworks! Image taken by Kevan Dee

With so much action during the day and evening, it was tough to get to bed. But by our guide’s advice, it was only going to get better with more snow in the forecast, so rest up and get ready!

Fresh Powder for everyone!!!

From Day 1 to Day 4, the conditions continued to get better and better until finally the moment we had been waiting for happened — A classic Baldface bottomless pow day that you’ve seen in the videos. Over two feet of deep blower snow fell overnight. The turns were weightless and much more exciting. This snow made you feel like a hero. Starting the day out on our favorite run named BB Bowl, the conditions let you stomp through the first set of trees like a champion and then explode out of the forest into the bowl with massive arcing turns, sending huge rooster tails of snow behind you. Turn after turn became pure joy. Snow continued to fall all day and pile up everywhere, causing the smiles to get bigger and bigger. The entire trip was an amazing experience filled with excitement, joy, and hoots & hollers. There were so many epic runs and each was different in its own way but here are some of our favorites from the four day life-changing journey:

It's not as steep as it looks... it's even steeper. Image taken by Kevan Dee

It’s not as steep as it looks… it’s even steeper. Image taken by Kevan Dee

Pachinko Named after the Japanese vertical pinball game, the run fits its name perfectly. With quality trademark ‘Kootenay pillows’ you will pop, pip, and hop your way down this run like a ping pong ball. Pure fun is the only way to describe it!

BB bowl This run is what heroes are made of… Short but sweet, it is amazing. The top starts with a set of tight trees that you have to methodically navigate and then opens up to a huge bowl, which allows for massive turns down the face. Epic!

Cheeky Monkey There is a reason why this run is one of the landmarks at Baldface. The steep pitch, the rollers, and the perfectly spaced trees make you ride or ski like a pro. Beyond a doubt one of the best runs in the world.

Mitch McCambley showing the group how to do a proper butter.

Mitch McCambley showing the group how to do a proper butter.  Image taken by Jeff Patterson photography.

If you ever get a chance to go cat-skiing then the Local Freshies® recommendation would be to check out Baldface. This place might be more expensive than the other operations but there’s a reason why people keep coming back year after year. The riding is out of this world and the level of service is what puts Baldface above and beyond any other place out there.

Some people say they want to go to Disneyland after accomplishing a great feat, but I’d rather say, “I’m going to Baldface.”

One of the few full collections of this famous Burton board in memory of Jamil Khan. Image taken by Kevan Dee

One of the few full collections of the famous Burton board in memory of Jamil Khan. Image taken by Kevan Dee

 

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