Dispatches: A Sail-to-Ski Trip to British Columbia

Sailboat True
Photo: Andy Cochrane

“Adventure” may be described as a trip in which you don’t know the outcome. For instance, there are very few adventures in grocery stores, there are some in the dog park, and there are many when you’re reliant on favorable wind, fair weather, and the will of the mountain Gods.

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In mid-spring last year we plunged into an expedition that necessitated all three to fall our way—a sail-to-ski trip along the British Columbia coast.

Sailing at dawn

Adventures are most often spurred by lofty goals without a clear path to them—they include at least a few obstacles and unknowns to avoid, and offer some sort of payday at the end, for those with the right mix of skill and luck. There is always some inherent risk of failure, even for the most prepared.

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Our trip checked each of these boxes in spades, with a goal to ski where few (to none) had been before, and a couple big ocean crossings and a wild rainforest standing in our way. Going in, we knew that we could fail.

Preparing gear on the boat

Aiming to have his outfit be the first to establish a commercial operation in the area, Ben propositioned me to guide a pilot sail-to-ski trip last spring, testing the viability of the logistics and ultimately the quality of the snow.

Ben is a captain, father of two, musician, crabber, and all-around troublemaker. His boat, True, is based in Bainbridge Island, Washington. We knew we had an epic sail in front us, venturing far enough north to find good coastal snow.

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As you learn in life, nothing good comes easy, and also, nothing is impossible. For two months we scoured sailing charts and mountain topos, finding a route that gave us the best chance at corn turns. We partnered with Helly Hansen, manufacturer of premier sailing and skiing apparel, and received support from Faction Skis, MSR, and Dynafit, providing us with some of the best skiing, mountaineering, and winter camping gear on the planet. These relationships helped make the dream much closer to reality.

Ben at the helm

Next, we found a crew of misfits, each with sailing and backcountry skiing experience. A Denali mountain guide, a two-time Olympian, an Antarctic logistics manager, two backcountry experts from Colorado, and my ski partner, Wyatt, who I trust like a brother. In mid-April we loaded enough food and gear for a zombie apocalypse onto the sailboat and shoved off the docks, hoping for the best.

Our target was Princess Louisa, a glacially carved fjord roughly 200 nautical miles north, across the international border and deep into the windy channels of the Sunshine Coast.

Leaving port
Preparing skis onboard
Packing gear

Despite some engine trouble early on, the sail went about as well as we could have hoped for. In three-and-a-half days on the water, we had a strong wind at our back for nearly half the passage north, helping us make great time. We were able to sail the entire Strait of Georgia, the largest hurdle between us and the Coast Range.

On our last days, as the mountains started to rise straight out of the shore, we began packing gear on the deck of the boat and building excitement for the land adventure ahead.

Unloading the boat
Starting the hike
Crawling uphill
Rainforest hike
Hiking through the forest

The hike uphill was steep—4,500 feet in 3 miles, muddy, and challenging. We moved steadily, crawling over and under logs, crossing streams, and carefully scaling the slick granite walls toward the snow line. Despite heavy rain all day and temps floating in the mid 30s, morale stayed high. We all knew that skiing was right around the corner.

The ski begins

After days of hard work, patience, and luck, we had finally reached our goal: the snow-capped peaks surrounding Princess Louisa. Skinning up to 6,000 feet, we had views of the valley below and mountains around us, as the fog and mist rolled in and out. The hooting and hollering never stopped.

Skiing at last

After a couple days of skiing laps below Sun Peak, it was time for us to retreat down the mountain and return home. Despite mixed conditions and variable snow, the trip was a true success: there is a huge amount of skiing along the coast of British Columbia, and it’s accessible by sailboat. Not such a bad idea after all.

All Photos by Andy Cochrane.

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