In case you hadn’t heard, December of 2015 was a an all-time month for snow. The Pig Alley Weather Station on Whistler Mountain measured 338cm for the month, making it the fourth most snowy December in the last 15 years. This made for amazing resort skiing during the storms as well plenty of alpine shredding once the skies cleared.
But the resort can get busy – very busy – during the Christmas and New Year holiday week and while there were some anomaly days where the highway was packed like sardines and the lift lines were half full, the crowds did eventually find their way to the slopes.
What better time to head out and explore some backcountry areas?
I received a text on Boxing Day from my good friend (and reliable touring partner) Dan Cudlip.
“How about we get the season checklist rolling with this day trip on New Years Eve.”
An attached photo showed the steep and moderately exposed line down the east face of Vantage Peak off the Duffey Lake Road. It’s a line that’s usually ignored due to said exposure that unfurls over a blind roll and the alternatives down the northwest face usually have better snow with less hazards.
But we didn’t want to make it that easy. With a stable snowpack that had been kept cold for almost a week with the high pressure system, we knew we could handle the small amounts of sluff on the face and perhaps even score some decent photos.
Knee deep in the Duffey
Dan and I are big fans of touring in loops in the backcountry. It sometimes means one of us hitching back to the car before retrieving the rest of the group and all the gear, but this time we had two cars. I was departing from Whistler on the morning of the 31st and Dan would meet me on the Duffey Lake Road driving from his part-time paramedic job in Seton Portage.
I picked up Dan at the Caspar Creek pullout, leaving his truck their for our egress back towards Whistler at the end of the day. We then parked at the busy pullout at Cerise Creek and began our climb up the hiking trail in the direction of the Anniversary Glacier.
It was a cold start at -15 degrees C at the car, though it wasn’t long before we were shedding layers touring through the trees. Within two hours of leaving the Cerise Creek parking lot we were at the Vantage Col (two reasonably fit fellas moving reasonably quick in the cold) before slogging up the last few hundred metres of vertical to Vantage Peak.
At the peak we saw another duo readying for their descent down the northwest face and thanked them for breaking trail up the ridge. After some lunch and photos on the summit, it was time to hit this line before temperatures rose enough to compromise the stability.
More than blind faith
This was where I needed reassurance that we had a line all the way into the safety of the main bowl on Vantage Peak’s east side. Dan had indeed done his homework, and even had a photo of the face handy on his phone to show me our route. As someone who spends excessive amounts of time on Google Earth, I was sure that if Dan said the line would go, it would go.
We leap frogged down the steepest and tightest sections near the top, pausing in safe spots to watch each other descend and snap a few photos. The snow was variable at the higher elevations, but with the exposure we were glad that the snow wasn’t soft enough to sluff and potentially knock one of us down the face. Once clear of the cliffs we could open up into wide turns in perfect boot-deep powder.
Some the best days in the backcountry can end with a taxing exit. For us it was battling against the overgorwn alders over the old logging road along Caspar Creek. Two hours, a handful of curse words and couple of facial scratches later, we back at the truck high-fiving the end of an exceptional day in the Duffey. We only skied one line and only a third of it was great powder, but the sense of pride we’ll feel every time we look at the east face of Vantage Peak made the whole mission entirely worth it.
Mountain Skills Academy offers Backcountry/Freeride tours and courses in the Whistler Blackcomb backcountry and throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor, including areas along the Duffey Lake Road. Don’t worry, our guides know plenty of bushwack-free exits. For more information on our backcountry offerings click here.