We laughed so hard in the snowcat — the machine that grooms trails at ski resorts — that our stomachs hurt, and then charged hard through the untracked backcountry snow behind our guides. From high mountaintops and ridges, we had expansive views of mountains and valleys in every direction. When the Steamboat Powdercats mechanic helped us jump the dead battery in my Toyota 4Runner, we were as giddy as we had been when we were roommates in the late 1990s when everything about our lives revolved around powder, sun, skiing and friends.
How things change. These days adventure for most of us might be going to the grocery store and back, or navigating the ever-changing world of remote work and online school. Exercise has moved from the slopes and onto basement treadmills or stationary bikes, with a few squats and push-ups mixed in. Even if you’re fortunate enough to live near a ski resort, as I am, covid-19 precautions mean a reservation system. For me, that means my family has booked about 10 days at our local hill, while the rest of Colorado nabbed all the weekend spots from December through March.
So I’m looking ahead to fall 2021 — and winter 2022. Maggie and I cannot physically shred pow this winter, but it’s almost as fun to plan our next ski trip. And I’m thinking next year is when we should go big.
How big? Think heli-skiing or cat-skiing; sailing to Norwegian fjords and skiing couloirs that seem to drop into the ocean; exploring Iceland on touring skis; or throwing yourself off waist-deep Japanese powder fields on the north island of Hokkaido. For options closer to home, think of that one resort you’ve always wanted to visit — Alta? Jackson Hole? Telluride? — and head there.
For spring 2022, I’ve got my heart set on a seven-day heli-skiing trip in British Columbia at Bobbie Burns, one of 12 backcountry lodges owned and operated by CMH, the oldest and largest heli-skiing company in North America. The newly renovated lodge has gorgeous rooms, comfortable lounging areas, gourmet food, hot tubs, a recreation room and even a climbing wall — but it’s the skiing that makes me drool. A mix of high-altitude and extremely long, steep gladed skiing in Canada’s Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges, this is truly a skier’s paradise, where days are spent finding the flow with the help of gravity and light snow and guides who know exactly where the best terrain lies. If you haven’t yet skied British Columbia, put it on your list: Up there, a typical snow year means a waist-deep base topped with anywhere from boot-deep to several feet of fresh powder.
Of course, there are a thousand reasons not to plan an epic ski trip. As a ski writer, I hear them all. The money, the time away, finding child care, finding friends to travel with. I get it. Most of the time, I travel alone or with a friend like Maggie — even though my husband and I met and fell in love over skiing. And most years, I would empathize. But this is not most years. This is probably the most disruptive year I will ever live through. Between the rapid spread of the pandemic and the gripping fear and sadness that came with it, the fact that nearly all of my assignments disappeared in late March and are only now beginning to come back and the abrupt transition to online school for my elementary-age sons, this year has challenged my family in new and unexpected ways.
It might seem odd to plan a major ski trip under these conditions; what if travel to Canada is still restricted in 2022 — gulp — or something else comes up that would force me to cancel? Well, then, I’ll adjust. And fortunately, CMH — and a suite of other adventure travel companies — would be flexible. Covid-19 has impacted them, too, and they have responded with flexible cancellation policies — not that I plan or hope to use them.
So that’s where my mind is: In 14 months, I hope to be on a plane to Calgary and then taking a bus to a helipad somewhere deep in rural British Columbia, and then hopping into a helicopter for a lift to Bobbie Burns. Maybe that’s your dream, too. If so, get ready to make your deposit, because CMH and other heli-skiing and cat-skiing operations will be opening reservations for spring 2022 any day now. But if you want to plan a big trip that doesn’t involve rotors or jet fuel and you’re not even sure where to start, here’s how:
Set your budget
Heli-skiing is expensive, starting around $900 per day and increasing during peak travel times (mainly late January through early March). Cat-skiing — when skiers and snowboarders ride to remote terrain in an enclosed cab on the back of a snowcat — can start around $400 per day; some cat-skiing operations have remote lodges that guests can reach by car or helicopter while others offer day trips where guests meet at a specific location. Consider other travel costs as well — lodging, food, transportation.
Pick your region
Will you stay in the United States? Head north to Canada or south to Chile or Argentina (in which case, you’d be skiing in our summer)? I’ve always wanted to ski Japan’s north island and also in Scandinavia, but following the pandemic, I plan to stay slightly closer to home and venture further afield as I adjust to whatever the new normal is. Having skied throughout the Rockies, some of New England and Southern California, I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite destination. Still, there are few towns as jaw-droppingly stunning as Telluride, Colo., and I’ve never found a friendlier and rowdier party scene than I did during a spring ski trip to California’s Mammoth Mountain. To pick your region, simply ask yourself what’s important. For bare-bones amenities and extreme terrain, Silverton, Colo., is unrivaled. For world-class instruction, grooming, beauty and posh, well, there’s a reason Aspen still reigns supreme among the Hollywood set. The untracked powder in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon at Alta and Snowbird is no longer a secret, but Snowbasin near Ogden, Utah, has the same quality of snow and fewer crowds. Jackson Hole, Wyo., has its infamous tram and out-of-bounds skiing into Grand Teton National Park to the north. Dig deep into your skier or snowboarder heart and ask yourself: Where do I want to go? Go there.
Grab a buddy
One major point of this trip is to bond, and you know who in your circle loves winter and snow as much as you do. If they protest (see above reasons for not planning a ski trip), simply remind them that you’ve got a year to plan and save. Pairing up helps economize and it’s often safer to ski with another, but mostly it’s just more fun; all of us need and deserve quality friend time after enduring 2020.
If you’re looking at an operator, as I am with CMH, contact the company now to see when it will be open for reservations. Ask about the deposit and when the balance on the trip is due, as well as the company’s cancellation policy. If this is going to be a DIY trip, start looking now for lodging. House rentals can help save money because you can prepare meals there. Hotels can be nice for the daily room cleaning and, depending on location, easy access to the slopes. Some motels offer dirt-cheap rates for basic, clean rooms (looking at you, Motel 6 in Jackson Hole). Hostels are another low-budget option and book up well in advance; both Crested Butte, Colo., and the Hostel in Jackson Hole offer wonderfully clean and inexpensive rooms in terrific locations.
This may be the most important part. Once you agree to the plan, do the advance work needed to make it happen. Don’t underestimate the value of having something to look forward to. Yes, it’s a year away, and things could change. But with luck, they won’t.
Occasionally I’ve felt guilty about bailing on my life for my once-a-winter ski trip with Maggie. But still I have gone. Always I return home refreshed and rejuvenated. Spending time with a friend in the mountains in a way that engages every part of you — body, mind, spirit — is inimitable. And because those experiences are out of reach this winter, do the next best thing: Plan next season’s ski trip now.
Walker is a writer based in Boulder, Colo. Follow her on Twitter: @racheljowalker.
Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC's travel health notice web page.