In the heart of British Columbia's 330,000-acre Glacier National Park, midway between the towns of Revelstoke and Golden, on a road that twists among the granite spires of the Selkirk Mountains, lies Gunsite, a parking area with a large avalanche gun—the only hint at what lies beyond. Here you'll want to pull over. Now you're poised for an in-depth exploration of Rogers Pass, quite possibly the finest patch of backwoods downhill skiing in North America. What determines backcountry greatness? Four factors, all of which Rogers has in spades.
- The White Stuff: More than 360 inches of blissfully dry fluff settles down here each winter. My first taste of the rarefied crystals came several winters ago when I dropped into a run called Lookout Notch and was instantly swallowed by a billowing cloud, the flakes glinting like mica in the sunlight, my tracks deep as gopher furrows. The conditions were so fine that my partners, whose snow vocabulary would daunt an Inuit, declared it one step beyond powder—a talc-like exquisiteness called pooder. Poo, for short.
- (Relatively) Easy Access: At Rogers, you gain your first foot of vertical when you step out of the car. From Gunsite, you're within striking distance of runs like Dome Glacier and the wondrous Seven Steps of Paradise. Three miles down the road at the Glacier Park Information Center lies the trailhead to Ursus Minor Basin, Balu Pass, and Grizzly Shoulder, each offering nearly 3,000 vertical feet of continuous slopes that can be tackled in an energetic half day. Just make sure you bring your chains so you can get out when you're done.
- Serious Terrain: The three vast valleys of Rogers Pass—the Asulkan, the Illecillewaet, and the Connaught—are graced with everything from wooded glades to smooth bowls and immense steeps. And the runs are seemingly bottomless. Out here, the notion of crossing someone else's tracks borders on heresy.
- First-Rate Shackability: Intrepid souls can set up camp if they like, but most will want to leave the dirigible-size backpacks at home. Rogers Pass features four cabins run by the Alpine Club of Canada that can handle 12 to 24 skiers and come equipped with wood-burning stoves, firewood, propane cooking stoves, and lanterns. The Asulkan cabin ($12.50 per person per night) is ideally situated at the base of the Seven Steps run—about a four-hour trip south from the Gunsite parking lot—and has large picture windows. Attention, car campers: Wheeler Hut, which sleeps 24 ($15 per person), has a full kitchen and is an easy 20-minute ski from the parking lot; I've seen people skinning up to it with a case of Molson under each arm.
Rogers is so expansive that the superior snow will undoubtedly go much further than your provisions, so the trip usually takes on an organic rhythm: Ski back to Gunsite, drive to town for a resupply, head back in to the bowls. Repeat. Follow this simple plan and you, too, may discern the Tao of poo.
Rogers Pass, 200 miles east of Calgary, is skiable from December to April; March has the lightest snows and best weather. Warning: This is wild, unforgiving terrain. Skiers inexperienced in backcountry touring techniques should hire a guide. Canmore, Alberta–based Yamnuska Inc. (403-678-4164) leads trips for $200 per day for one person, plus $35 for each additional skier. To blaze your own trail, order the composite Rogers Pass map from Mountain Equipment Co-Op ($12.50; 403-269-2420). Avalanches are a constant danger, so probes, shovels, and transceivers are essential; for a recorded avalanche bulletin, call 250-837-6867. For cabin rentals, call the Alpine Club of Canada (403-678-3200).