Ladies, Splitboards and the Great Outdoors: A Season Finale of Sorts at the Wendy Thompson Hut

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Item: Pemberton Hut Trip 4/5/13
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It was 5 a.m., and the cars were loaded with six ladies and a few of our male comrades. After some dispute and speculation due to high avalanche danger, our crew finalized the decision to head north for a three day hut trip in the Marriott Basin in interior BC. Powder was our mission, but with the avalanche conditions predicted to be high the duration of the trip, safety was our main concern. With the cars loaded and passports and coffee in hand, we headed into unfamiliar territory, laughing in excitement and anticipation of the journey we were about take.

The sky was clear and welcoming over the distant horizon as we began the long trek to the hut. It’s not every day that the women outnumber the men two-to-one on a backcountry hut trip. But nowadays, times are changing rapidly in the world of splitboarding and women’s snowboarding; more and more lady rippers are getting out on their splitboards and into the backcountry. The group dynamics were only getting broader and more hilarious as each personality quirk began to reveal itself. Five hours, two blisters, and a flask (or two) of whiskey later, we arrived at the Wendy Thompson hut–a gothic-style wooden A-frame standing alone in the depths of the surrounding alpine peaks. Although the cabin was cold, deserted and dark, to our weathered group it felt warm and inviting; we slipped off our boots and out from under our 40 pound packs.

We spent the next two days exploring although we didn’t have to look far for good turns and sketchy conditions; with nearly two feet of new snow and high winds, low-angle pow turns were unanimously deemed our best bet. Thankfully, two brothers in our group had extensive backcountry and medical training; one a pro patroller, and the other a local firefighter and EMT. We were grateful for their experience—each lap was glorious, full of fast powder turns that felt like the first time, every time. Based on the hoots and hollers from friends as they rode out of their line with a snow-filled grin on their face, I can only assume they were thinking the exact same thing.

At one point, putting our boards back together at the top of a peak with the wind howling at 60 mph, I was suddenly struck with the strangeness of the joy we were finding in such extreme conditions—not only finding, but searching out. It reminded me of a time when I was a kid and asked my dad—an avid freestyle skier and mountaineer—why he liked climbing mountains so much. His answer was simple: “There is a feeling you get that can only be achieved through climbing mountains,” he said. “Each step is a challenge, an individual test of strength and commitment. It’s the feeling you can only experience after reaching the top of a mountain with your heart threatening to pound out of your chest, your adrenaline pumping and all of your senses heightened. You can see, hear, and feel everything. Nothing will ever make you feel more alive.”

Our respect for the power and authority of the mountains paid off after that first initial storm; the clouds eventually lifted and we enjoyed powder and skinning in the sunshine until it was time to pack up and head home. With his words still lingering in my mind, I dropped into some of the best lines I have ever snowboarded in my life–realizing all the while exactly how right my father was.


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