A Pig in a Poke - ACC Adventure Ski Camps
It’s 2014 and the Alpine Club of Canada has a streamlined, consultant-recommended, risk-managing Board of Directors. There are dedicated email addresses for each area of operations at the club’s national office. The club’s membership is larger than ever in its history, and reflects a cross-section of modern outdoor consumers. These kind of people know where Patagonia outlet stores are located, and they have used the ‘compare’ link on MEC’s website more than once while on their lunch hours at work. They look at pictures in magazines, read reviews, and want their next holiday to be good value for money and time invested.
Adventure Ski Camps - The Beginning
In 2000 only some of these things were true. The club had a ‘Winter Camps Committee’ at the time whose chair, Ron Andrews, had a canvas wall tent with a floor and a hole for a stovepipe and a ca. 1945 heater he had appropriated from a mining camp bunkhouse. He also owned his own lodge near Pemberton where he could ski any time he wanted, but Ron figured that the club owed its membership something different, new, and perhaps…exploratory.
I have no idea on how the committee chose the Argentine Glacier as a location for April 2001. I suspect it was nothing more than the little lake that showed on the maps and the looming south face of Mt. Sir Sanford only a couple of kilometers away.
As a commercial venture for the club, the Argentine turned out to be a quixotic success. Setting up and taking down the camp ate heli time, and doubled it when everything was full of frost and weighed twice as much after we were done. The little lake turned out to be mud under ice, and participant numbers had to be padded by sending along club committee people like me to ‘report on the concept afterward’. We had to turn back from ¾ of the way around an extended loop at 4 p.m. one afternoon when we didn’t dare risk the snowpack through the final icefall to get off the glacier and I broke my bindings in a canyon and we repaired them with epoxy and matchsticks by lantern light that night and I rode them the rest of the week. We climbed hockey rinks in ski crampons to get to cols that had knee deep powder on the other side. I saw things I’d never seen before and then I got to ski them. I got to hang my skis in a tree every night. I had the time of my life. I don’t think the scheme ever had a design or a budget. It certainly didn’t make any money.
The Ball Starts Rolling
But we were so psyched we were back at it the next winter, with two weeks put on the schedule for our Frisby Creek edition. “Dovetails – we’ll make it up on the dovetails”, Ron said, referring to the budget he carried around in his head. Lisa got ball caps made for all of us as welcome gifts. The ACMG wanted in and employed our setup for one of their exam sites the week before we brought our folks up. We clearly had hit upon a great idea, and had found another good place.
So of course we had to go somewhere different the following year. And then to another new location the year after that. Because it’s not the place itself, but the discovery of it, that makes an adventure. Of course there were the people – we had a rotating cast of regulars – ski bums, financiers, hot kids with splitboards, seniors with wood-handled shovels and hemp Prusiks, academics, apprentices, and estranged fiancés. They came from as far away as Switzerland and Hawaii, and from as nearby as the heli ski operation that was working the next drainage – all looking for – as Dwight, a highways contractor from Ontario, put it – “…not just another powder turn.”
In successive seasons we took the tents to Hallam Peak, Bachelor Pass, Mystery Creek, Moberly Pass, and Benedict Creek. None of these places had names people would recognize if you printed them on an activities brochure. Yet every one of them would have made a prime location for a successful backcountry lodge operation.
And Then Stops
Eventually, leadership got distracted by other projects, and a dawning era of budget justification at the national office led to a hiatus for the ski tent camps idea. It was tricky to forecast what it would cost when we’d never been to a place before. We gave it a rest. Regular participants followed favorite staff to lodges and traverses and other alpine objectives. Some of them felt they had aged out, others found themselves with different jobs or committed to new families and couldn’t get away. I heard a few “I’m a grandparent, now” excuses. Ronnie retired for a second time. Yet, the memories of those times seem to have burned like a brand. We all keep each other on our contact lists to this day, and can recall those specific hours spent in the snow 10 years after with only a couple of emailed words.
Stockdale Ski Camp, 2015
I have this itch. I want to go back, to a place that I’ve never been before.
If you’re the kind of skier who rates their next vacation by whether you get assigned to the bedroom nearest the ladder from the loft, then it might not be your kind of thing.
Sometimes you get more than you asked for
ACC: "Dave can you write an article to support the Stockdale Ski Camp?"
Great idea. I really would like to see this ski camp idea get some traction again. It seems as if everybody likes to think they’re up for a little something wild, or anyway that’s what they always seem to be saying to me when I’m waxing enthusiastic around 10 o’clock at night. But then when it comes time for them to remember their future the next morning, and commit to the trip, the worries take them – worry that they promised the spouse that they would look at that wine tasting cycle tour in Provence, worry that it will be too hot, worry that it will be too cold, worry that they might not be able to sleep in a tent in the snow, worry that their friends won’t recognize the name of the place when they post it afterward on Facebook, worry that their phone won’t work during a week away, and besides, they’re thinking that the kid could make provincials this year and they’d have to cancel on the camp idea then, anyway, and we really should save another week for the cottage this summer because Dad’s getting older and who knows whether there’ll be another year for all of us...
…and they end by doing a bit of cost / benefit analysis post hoc, telling themselves they can ski the same number of days themselves, for less money (which they can’t, and they won’t) and so instead they wear a rut into their favourite run at the local hill for another year, look at the hero shots from the kids’ GoPro on the download and think “I could do that” and buy another jacket on their lunch hour. Then next April the only swath they’re cutting is behind a lawn mower, down to the barbeque.
Man, I need to take a pill, some day.
How big of an article? Okay to write about previous ski camps? Might even have a photo or two, down at the bottom of the stack.