Reflections in Ice
April 24, 2019
9 a.m. Sharp
The smell of jet fuel seems like a weird way to start an epic spring sledding trip, but when you’re tagging along with Head-Line Mountain Holidays, you just go with the flow.
After all, there are many ways to explore the vast icecap near Whistler, British Columbia, but a multi-day sled exploration supported by a snowcat-powered mobile basecamp sounds like a pretty good time.
So with sleds, snowcat, and Can-Am Outlander 1000 ATVs outfitted with snow tracks already stashed at Head-Line’s high elevation Ice Cap Camp, the only thing left to do is jump in the heli and get out there.
Reflections in Ice
The rewards kick in immediately as our helicopter thumps its way into the air. Above the Whistler heliport, endless jagged mountain peaks stretch out in every direction. We sit silently beneath the drone of the engine, as we grapple with how very small we feel compared to the vastness of the surrounding terrain.
In the air, we use our vantage to visually explore some new zones and to look for the presence of lurking dangers—such as newly opened crevasses—that may have recently formed.
As we near the starting point of our icecap adventure, excitement races through my veins as we soak in the blue skies and amazing views of the southern Coast Mountains that surround Head-Line’s alpine basecamp.
I have spent 30 years travelling in the backcountry and the views from a helicopter are always inspiring. But as we approach, the sight of all the toys lined up on the snow ready to go—along with fist pumps from Head-Line guides Dave and Trevor on the ground—has my heart racing like it is my first day in the backcountry all over again!
Head-Line’s backcountry base of operations sits on the edge of a massive icefield, and a maintenance dome erected there in the snow looks like something out of a Star Wars movie. It’s another sign that this isn’t going to be an average day out riding.
Our group for this expedition consists of Head-Line owner Doug Washer, his photographer friend Daniel, myself and my good friend Steve. We’re all high fives and smiles as we catch up with Dave and Trevor.
After a tour of the basecamp, we load our lunches into our packs and prepare to head off. Even though it is 20˚C down in Whistler, up here at 2200 m elevation it is still winter with some fresh snow from the previous day. We hop aboard our Ski-Doo Summit G4 sleds and set out.
“Many riders who travel this area have no idea of the dangers that lurk under the blanket of fresh snow, but we can enjoy the vast space knowing that we’re in good hands.”
No matter how many days I spend up here or how far I venture it seems that the icecap is never the same. It really is a magical place and it leads you to keep exploring over the next hill, around the next corner and over the next mountain. Truly, it is one of the incredible wonders on this planet and something I wish everyone could experience.
Riding between 1500 and 2400 m in elevation, we travel through crevasse fields the size of small towns, and we don’t see another group all day.
The isolation of the icecap can feel unnerving for the uninitiated. But the guides at Head-Line boast over 100 years of combined experience, which is exactly what you want when crossing huge icefields littered with crevasses, moulins, snow bridges and other hazards. Many riders who travel this area have no idea of the dangers that lurk under the blanket of fresh snow, but we can enjoy the vast space knowing that we’re in good hands.
With dusk approaching, we turn our sleds and our snowcat accommodation-on-tracks, and make our way deep onto the icecap.
The Head-Line snowcat is like nothing you have seen before. It’s a standard Piston Bully snowcat, but it has been customized to carry everything needed for an overnight expedition, including a Cirrus Camper that sleeps four adults in pure, backcountry luxury, with 360˚ windows and sunroofs. This will be our lifeline for the next few days.
Doug knows how to impress, and his choice of parking spot on a picturesque hilltop does the trick. So do the chicken wings, European sausages and gourmet dinner served to us under a blanket of the brightest stars shimmering in the dark sky.
We sit, eat and drink into the wee hours of the night, celebrating all the things that make these trips possible.
“The icecap really is a magical place and it leads you to keep exploring over the next hill, around the next corner and over the next mountain.”
April 25, 2019
The bright warm sun enters the camper and rewards us with incredible views in every direction. Normally out on the icefield, we would be waking up in a cold tent pitched on the snow. But this is different, and I can’t help but think how easy it would be to spend a week or even a month up here, riding, skiing and camping all over the icecap.
As Doug makes bacon, eggs and toast, the rest of us go out to bask in the breathtaking scenery. Just being here, taking in all the beauty, it is clear why Head-Line’s services are in demand. Visitors to this magical part of the world are treated to an experience that you just can’t get anywhere else. And for the majority of people who aren’t outfitted for this type of adventure, it’s the only way to experience it firsthand.
For myself, after a busy season of riding, skiing, snowmobile shows and new sled releases, I’m utterly content to sit back, coffee in hand, and enjoy the moment.
We load our sleds with skis and snowboards—it’s time to get some lines. The 850-powered snowmobiles effortlessly double us up to the summit where we turn the sleds around and ghost ride them down.
North facing slopes at this elevation still have 30 cm of preserved powder, and we enjoy lap after lap of spring season powder skiing.
Sometimes it is not about skiing the hardest line. It’s about being surrounded by breathtaking mountains in every direction, and carving beautiful turns while the sun lights your way. This, for me, is what life is all about!
Doug already has ribs on the barbeque as we ski back into camp—I could get used to this!
As we eat, I reflect on the beauty and the danger of the icecap. The constant movement of the ice and meltwater creates frozen features that are spectacular to witness but can also be deadly, unseen hazards. It is a healthy reminder that while incredible, these places are dangerous and it is important to always exercise caution.
After relaxing, bellies full, in the late afternoon sun for a time, we decide to explore a nearby ice cave.
I am speechless as we drop below the surface into the cavern. Running water reveals our reflections in ice the clearest blue you can possibly imagine. The floor is littered with powdery sand—the result of rock being pulverized for millennia by the moving glacier. It’s a place where measures of time become unfathomable.
April 26, 2019
We spend another incredible night out under the stars. In the morning, we pack up and ride the sleds and snowcat all the way out of the backcountry.
The adventure is a fitting end to another incredible winter for both myself and Head-Line Mountain Holidays, and I can’t help but feel that we capped the season in the best imaginable way.