With Derry and Greg, Carolyn and I started off on our first backcountry ski trip, dark and early at 0530 on December 28, 2012. The Jeep was pretending to be a coffee house, complete with tunes, breakfast wraps and a seemingly endless supply of coffee. By the time we reached the trailhead, we were pumped with caffeine and ready to start the skin up to Phelix Hut. Despite the occasional tumble, and the precarious shuffle across the “unmaintained log” (“may be rotten”!) the logging road went smoothly. After dealing with feet issues and sacrificing Carolyn’s tights to the blister gods, we began our ascent of the switchbacks. Though the switchbacks were not the greatest times in the world (“this is different, guys”), by Greg’s account, we “totally rocked the skin up and [proved] that [we] are no longer noobs”. We emerged onto the lake belting out our favourite Beatles songs (in harmony) and arrived at the hut, greeted by Murray and vodka. That night we indulged into some of the 8L of wine we’d brought up.
Rising in the morning seemed to occur exponentially. Once one person got up, the hut quickly filled with bustling about and the smell of white gas and instant espresso. Catastrophe was avoided when Andrew managed to mend his skins with a voile strap and some electrical tape. VOCers then split off into ski groups by ability and ambition.
One of the more ambitious groups, Derry, Murray and Greg, managed to summit Gandalf. This turned out to be a bit sketchy, involving (1) almost falling into several seemingly bottomless pits between deep snow and huge boulders on the boot-pack up, and (2) soloing in AT boots on slippery rock in an attempt to get as close to the summit as possible (i.e. straddling the summit rock).
That night, the near-to-full moon lit up the lake and made all the snow sparkle. Scott, Lachlan, Steph and Clemens and others arrived that evening and some of them took off again to take advantage of some moonlight skiing opportunities – their newly made friends, Smith and Weston, the two Samoyed dogs, accompanied them. These dogs randomly showed up with one of the ski groups and stayed outside all night, despite their continuous attempts to sneak into the hut.
That night the hut reached capacity and Julien was our first under-the-table sleeper. The orchestra of peoples’ sleeping sounds (a few soloists in particular) was heard by all that night.
The next day, the snow-bearded dogs went back down with the first group skiing out. The sky was open and clear, and bright warm rays were shining over all the peaks.
Steph, Clemens and Julien started before most others had finished their coffee and skinned by the four lakes between Aragorn and Shadowfax and up the north-west side of Aragorn. In the true alpine/French style – minus the should-stand-moves- they summited Aragorn and performed shoulder stands on top.
Greg, Murray, Derry, Scott and Caroline “slayed the powder dragon” on the south Frodo ridge and Return of the King; Murray and Caroline both had yard sales on the ridge, and Derry hit a bump in the Peregrine Col going mach two (really fast), resulting in a bloody lip. Everyone feasted on Murray’s homemade basil loaf (although it probably tasted like blood to Derry).
The evening commenced with a stretching and wine drinking session in the loft, accompanied (as usual) by Murray. Derry amazed us all with his Thanksgiving dinner (minus the Turkey) complete with fresh mashed potatoes (how much did those weigh again?), fresh vegetables, and from-scratch mushroom gravy. A very large portion of the wine was consumed and Jeff’s amazing cheesecake was inhaled by all.
Andrew, Lachlan, Carolyn, Cora and I found our place in the bowl on the backside of Cabin Hill – huge stretches of untouched marshmallow-y pillows made for very enjoyable, beginner-friendly skiing. The peak of our day included our naked photo shoot overlooking Long Lake and Shadowfax, though the guys half-assed it (literally).
Greg, Murray and Derry hiked toward Aragorn. Murray saved “Avalanche Andy” in record time (don’t ever ski with Andy-that guy is always getting caught in avalanches). The pillow line down was like a powdery roller coaster and they all agreed it was the run of the weekend. On the way down, Murray dropped about twelve feet straight into a tree well, and Derry had the crash of the weekend, tomahawking down a series of pillows followed by Murray’s “Holy shit!” Greg was ready to call for a helicopter evacuation on the satellite phone, but his concerns were soothed by Derry’s hysterical laughter. Later they built a booter (a large jump, usually in the backcountry) on Cabin Hill, where Greg landed the sketchy-est 360 ever, and Derry attempted to go off the jump backwards, resulting in another spectacular fall.
Steph, Clemens and Julien went up Peregrine col and spent the day on different ridges, peaks and valleys west of Frodo and Gandalf, all with untouched, fluffy powder. Their favourites included a run from a knob west of Gandalf down through an open forest.
Alfred, Christina, Jacob and others laid down fresh tracks on both variations of Return of the King and Scott, Marcin and Phil did the same on the Two Towers, an epic 40+ degree slope.
That night we managed to finish off the 7 mickeys and 8 L of wine we had brought up. We came into the New Year faces painted and feasted on maple walnut ice cream, magically prepared and shared by Spencer and Caroline. And like any Phelix New Years, 2013 would not have been complete without a naked run around the hut, champagne and fire works (aka signal flares). New Years proved to be the best and most memorable of our sing-alongs, with highlights including Murray’s falsetto on “Brown-Eyed-Girl”, Greg’s a capella version of “No Diggity”, and a great group effort rendition of “If I had a Million Dollars”.
We all allowed ourselves a sleep-in the next morning (8:30 am!), and rose into the year surprisingly with no hangovers to speak of. One by one different car groups took off. The ski down went relatively well – the surface hoar made everything look absolutely magical, Phil met a koala and a lizard in a tree, Carolyn found a balance between going a reasonable pace, but not so fast so that she would fall and have to spend five minutes getting herself back up with her pack on and everyone was at the cars by 3:00 p.m. The descent was completed by a ridiculous number of high fives and my own bail upon receiving one from Phil.
Phelix left me with some truly great memories I will never forget: Phil’s French and always true stories, Jeff’s poptarts, Greg’s striped onesy and hip hop beats, The Sleeping Beauty Marcin, Alfred’s ridiculous ski slang, Spencer’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”, Caroline’s recorder, Murray’s Chemistry themed songs (“She’s an Anion”), Lachlan’s amazing first attempt at skiing, “Where’s your headlamp” (Sung to “Where’s your head at”) and of course, ballin’ hut style (puffy, thermal underwear and hut booties).
Jenny, Kyle, Emma, Adam, Steph, Clemens, Julien, Anders, Christina, Alfred, Jeff, Sabrina, Yvan, Caroline, Spencer, Jacob, Phil, Scott, Marcin, Murray, Lachlan, Cora, Carolyn, Derry, Greg, Andrew (did I miss anyone?) made Phelix the best New Years so far.
I’m sure many people agree with Steph that those days at Phelix “…were the best skiing days of my life”.