Ripley Creek – A Remote Heli Skiing Outpost
At the end of Highway 37A, near the Alaskan border, lies one of the most remote heliskiing locations in North America – Stewart, B.C.
It’s a historic mining town that appears to have been forgotten by time. The houses are old, some even abandoned, remnants of former boom times. Prior to World War I, the town’s population was more than 10,000 people.
The golden years for Stewart are over as most of the mines are little more than dust. Now, it’s population hovers around 300. Regardless, the quiet town is home to Ripley Creek, one of Last Frontier Heliskiing’s two bases of operation.
The north is quiet and beyond vast, unlike some heli skiing operations in southern B.C., which are increasingly bursting at the seams as more people venture limited available backcountry areas.
Our nearest neighbour is our very own, Bell 2 Lodge, a roughly two-hour drive away.
Nestled at the end of the Portland Canal, rugged peaks and glacier tongues make up Ripley Creek’s backdrop. There’s space for up to 24 guests, and with no two rooms alike, there’s the option to stay in a prospector’s house, an old clothing shop or even a former brothel.
Even if you have stayed at Ripley Creek several times, each visit is a new adventure. The lodge is at the southern end of our tenure – a tenure that is roughly four times the size of Hong Kong. The area is so vast, we’re still exploring it. If you’re lucky, you might even get a first descent and ripe a line never skied before.
First and foremost, Ripley Creek is all about the skiing and riding. The area generally receives 30 per cent more snow than Bell 2 Lodge, for a seasonal [late January – mid April] average of more than five metres. That’s more than three times my height.
Since we use small helicopters and have groups of just four, plus a guide, the ski options are plentiful. For example, we can ski steep narrow forested couloirs, while most other heliskiing operators, that have groups of up to 11 guests, cannot.
With smaller groups comes freedom.
Some of the heliski runs at Ripley Creek tend to be steeper and longer than Bell 2’s. If conditions are right, guests may get to heliski slopes that are up to 2,000 metres in elevation – that’s two kilometers of vertical – which is unheard of for most heliski operations.
It’s common to ski from mountain tops to valley bottoms via long glacier runs peeling off massive icefields. Skiers get to pass between trees that are as big as the pillars from the Parthenon temple.
Since Ripley Creek’s terrain is generally more aggressive, it’s not well suited to intermediate skiers and snowboarders. It’s for the strongest, keenest and most adventurous guests.
As a result, the average weekly vertical skied is almost 45,700 meters [150,000 feet], which is 8 times the height of Mount Everest. It’s also on average, 2,700 meters [9,000 feet] more than Bell 2 Lodge.
Stewart is dominated by the rugged Coast Mountains, which are draped in old-growth rainforest. When you step out of the helicopter at the top of a run, the view is an endless sea of ice and peaks, with the distant emerald green Pacific Ocean twinkling.
It’s lonesome country.
It’s incredibly rare to come across anyone else while skiing. It’s more likely to spot a mountain goat, moose or if you’re really lucky – a grizzly bear waking up from hibernation [yes, this has happened].
In this remote outpost, Ripley Creek is all about the bare essentials: hot tub, sauna and soulful food served across the street at the Bitter Creek Cafe, which conveniently doubles as the bar.
Similar to Bell 2 Lodge, breakfasts are family-style, including eggs benedict, smoked salmon and cinnamon bun french toast. Lunches are soup and sandwiches, perched on a mountain top. After a hard and long day of heliskiing, guests enjoy an après of snacks like tacos and ribs, served with beer or a stiff drink.
After a shower and perhaps checking some emails (if you must), the Bitter Creek Cafe serves a four-course dinner. It’s fine dining, but not pretentious.
Expect elegant dishes similar to beef tenderloin and halibut, rather then something outlandish like avocado toast served in a hat on fire.
There are slightly more options during down days at Ripley Creek than Bell 2 Lodge, which shouldn’t be surprising as it’s in a town after all. Options include visiting the local museums, one of which centers around toasters. Yes, you read that right. Toasters. The things you brown bread in before smothering it with butter. The Toastworks Cafe has more than 1,500 toasters, making it the largest collection in Canada.
Guests can cruise the historic Stewart streets on bikes, exploring the ocean’s boardwalk or rocky beaches. There’s even the opportunity to visit the town’s other bar, the King Edward Hotel. Meet and mingle with locals and learn what it’s like to live on Canada’s last frontier.
There’s even frisbee golf. And snowshoeing, which is perfect for exploring the forest that surrounds Stewart. With it’s hanging lichen, skunk cabbage and brambles, you may find it similar to Mirkwood from the Lord of the Rings.
There are also opportunities for bonfires, which are perfect for roasting a Canadian classic – smores and skeet shooting. With skeet shooting, guests attempt to break clay targets mechanically flung into the air with a shotgun. If that doesn’t sound Canadian, I don’t know what does.
Guests can even go international and visit the U.S. to get ‘hyderized’ – a shot of booze that’s roughly 95 per cent alcohol, which is so strong that it’s illegal in B.C. The American border is just 4km from town.
While Ripley Creek centres around skiing, there are plenty of options to do something funky, something slightly left of ordinary.
Time may have forgotten Stewart, but heliskiing at Last Frontier’s Ripley Creek will ensure it’s a holiday you will always remember.