Flash Back Fridays

ROGERS RIDGE: 1973

A story by David Boulding

On the northeastern edge of Buttle Lake and connected to Strathcona Park by a snow bridge to Mt. Adrian, lying north/south, is Rogers Ridge. Over a mile high with a large bowl leading to a small lake and with several terraces of bluffs and trees, Rogers Ridge was Jim’s idea of a ski hill. It was shaped like the top of Whistler with steep sides and rolling hills on top, and had the best 360- degree view on Vancouver Island. His plan was to use the income from the Rogers Ridge Ski Hill to fund the concept of the rural resource village at the Lodge. He also wanted a ski hill that was integrated into a complete outdoor education program and resort development, not just a ski destination.
To explore developing the hill, Jim, for several trips, would rent a heli-copter and fill it with friends, staff, and any luminaries he could find and go skiing on a gorgeous day. It was only ten minutes away from the Lodge. The powder was always deep. The skiing was great, and the price was only 50 bucks. There was a catch! Although no one figured it out until the end of the day, people were encouraged to ski ‘all the way out’ to the highway.
For Dr. John Ross, Irene Ross, Frank Stapley, Charley McFarlane, Tom Feeley, Bruce Baikie, and Bill Goggless, it was a trip they would never forget. The snow was deep; the hill had steep bluffs and huge first growth firs (later logged by TimberWest). The last 2000 feet to the highway overtaxed their abilities. Thirty five years later, John Ross said affectionately, “that Jimmy… a bit of a madman… I loved the guy, but that ski out nearly killed us all!”

Jim had asked everyone he could persuade to ski out to the highway so he could get a good map of the mountain and a sense of how the hill could be developed. He wanted to know where to make the ski trails in the future. The Ross expedition proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that future groups skiing down had to keep veering right and stay out of the creek/gulley that ONLY APPEARED TO LEAD TO THE HIGHWAY. This group of Campbell River adventurers established that the bluffs at about 2000 feet to 1000 feet above the highway were not skiable. It took other trips to find the correct route to the highway.

A couple of years later I was on another trip. Jim had the usual suspects paying the 50 bucks and a couple of newbies, including Jim Fiddick from Gold River, and a local chiropractor who was a hot skier. There were several helicopter loads. This time, Jim asked his staff and a few excellent skiers to ski out, while others were favored with a ride out in the helicopter from the 2500 foot level. This trip was memorable because the staff and the experienced mountain skiers took several hours to get out, even with Jim’s direction to keep veering right and avoid the bluffs by the creek.

The special note on this trip was watching Alan Strid skiing. Alan was perhaps the toughest person ever to work for Jim. The young New Zealand ex-Outward Bound instructor had shown his true colours helping Jim at a February rescue, where Alan and Jim dove into the icy waters of Upper Campbell Lake to check out a sunken car. The headlights were on and beamed up at the causing them concern, but discovered when Alan went into the car that it was in fact empty. To Jim, Alan had moxie, that invisible quality of the right thing. Alan for his part, refused to ever admit he did not know how to do something. This time, Alan did not advise Jim that he, a New Zealand farmer, had never skied before.

Alan and I were roommates and although he was short, he could be intimidating because he was absolutely fearless. Once, on a snowy Elk River Trail hike with eight or 10 students trudging up through waist deep snow, some kid slipped off the log and slipped in the waters of the Elk just some 100 meters before a water fall. This was in January and about 2 pm. In a flash Alan dropped his pack, his hat and mitts, took off his Stanfields top, and dove into the river. He grabbed the kid, and then dragged himself and the kid up a 15 foot snow bank where the rest of the group was waiting. Quickly, he stripped the kid of his wet clothes and had the other students help him get the nearly dead kid into dry clothes. As he was now an expert on pitch sticks and Vancouver Island fire lighting, Alan had a fire going in a few moments and eventually all was well. This kind of leader does not let not knowing how to ski stop him from enjoying a day of free helicopter skiing in the deep powder.

I was sworn to secrecy the morning we were to load the helicopter and had time to only tell Alan how to fit boots into the skis. As we left the helicopter, and at the top of the ridge, Alan watched the group ski off into the sun and down the hill, obviously picking up tips. He turned to me, and asked for advice in the form of a question, “Do I have to keep my feet together all the time?” Briefly, I explained what little I knew about skiing, about feet, bending, weighting and un-weighting each foot and other useless info. He said, “So… not all the time, only when I want to turn in a new direction… right?” He continued, “If I want to go straight, all I have to do is keep my feet together and pointed down hill, right?”

So he stood at the lip of the great bowl, pointed his skis straight down the fall line, and screamed, “Let’s go Yakimo!” at the top of his lungs. Yakimo must be some New Zealand ski god, because Alan went straight down and gently landed within 50 meters of the waiting helicopter. Following Alan down the hill was terrifying; he flew down the hill faster than a rock falls from the sky. We both made the error of ignoring Jim’s command: ski right up to the helicopter. We stopped some 50 meters from the machine and had to swim carrying our skis through chest deep powder. That left Alan and I sweating and out of breath.

The advanced skiers pumped up by Jim, left for the ski out. This time, Jim stood on the last promontory and pointed out a possible route to the highway. These were experienced mountain people and looked forward to an adventure in mountain powder skiing. They made the bottom several hours after dark and had some unkind words for Jim, suggesting that he needed better info on the mountain. He did. These mountain skiers delivered the needed info which Jim applied to the next trip.

Myrna was not along for these early trips. She did ski later when Jim had a good mental map of the mountain. The skiing was totally a bonus and she, along with the Jim’s motley crew of friends, staff, and mountain savvy types enjoyed a fine day. Even that trip had some volunteers who skied out, this time on a new route and arrived at the bottom again hours later. There was a droll incident that highlighted the only dangerous thing we do at the Lodge involves crossing or driving Highway 28. After a day of perfect powder skiing, I hitchhiked a ride back to town in the returning helicopter with Annie and Liz. The pilot gave us a quick turn around tour of the park’s magnificent view and then flew to Campbell River, dropping us off at the empty parking lot by the Dairy Queen. We walked over to the highway and hitchhiked home. Of course, as we were terrorized by Myrna about junk food, we never went into the evil purveyor, the warm and cozy D.Q. But Myrna was livid, purple with rage, anyways. She objected, in language normally associated with Jim, that I had put her children’s lives in danger. She went on and on, until Jim suggested that, “Yes, it was a bad thing, the hitchhiking, but it was nothing compared to flying about in a helicopter over the snowy mountains.” Annie rode up in the front seat beside the pilot.

Myrna was right, Highway 28 is the most dangerous aspect of Strathcona. Each year we phone up Western Mines, and remind them we have started up and to please tell the drivers there are now kids on the road and that they need to slow down. These days the mine manager includes slowing down by the Lodge in his safety briefing.