The unparallelled experience of early season cold powder

July 18, 2016 Vince Shuley

The fall can be a trying time of year. It’s dark, it’s cold, and it rains a lot. But it’s also the time of year when anticipation and excitement is at its highest. And if there’s anything skiers and snowboarders look forward to the most, it’s early season cold powder.

early season cold powder heliskiing
Last Frontier Heliskiing guides enjoying the fruits of the early season | Photo – Aurelien Sudan

Sometimes it’s a tease. Snow often makes a cameo appearance weeks before the start of winter, only to be washed away by torrential rain. It’s these episodes that send ski town locals into a frenzy, building up expectations even more before the snow has had a chance to stick.

But when that first storm arrives – and it always arrives – a sense of urgency ripples through the ski community. People have given up powder cold turkey for the last five or six months, but addictions begin to relapse. Cravings get the better of us.

early season cold powder heliskiing
Suffering for the early season pow pay off | Photo Vince Shuley

Ski resorts can rarely open so early to accommodate the cravings. Lake Louise is usually the first in Canada (a 2015 opening date of November 6), usually followed by Whistler Blackcomb. Resorts down in the U.S. will sometimes start spinning lifts for a special pre-opening weekend (if the snow is good enough) to help build some marketing buzz.

Opening Day powder is awesome. Hitting the mountain with your friends again, talking smack on the chairlift, and greeting acquaintances not seen since April, that’s all a part of the fun. However, the hunt for powder on Day One can get a little out of hand when folks begin to explore too far off-piste. That sweet-looking powder field is probably riddled with rocks, logs, and creek crossings lurking underneath, and the alpine isn’t due to open for another week.

What’s the solution? Head to the backcountry. If you’re fine with sweating your way up logging roads for a few hippy turns, then you can be skiing weeks before the opening day masses. It does seem arduous at the time, but as soon as you drop in for your first powder run of the season, there’s simply no regrets about putting in all that work.

If you want to take it easy and your local resort isn’t playing ball yet, December can be a great month for heliskiing. Days are shorter, yes, but powder is plentiful. It’s also a slower time of year for heliski operators so there are plenty of chances to grab a deal on seats and stretch out in the lodges.

early season cold powder heliskiing
Friends and pow, weeks before the resorts are open | Photo – Vince Shuley

Whether it’s from a helicopter, a chair lift, or a six-hour hike, that first line of early season cold powder is one that is remembered for the rest of the season, sometimes longer. It reminds us why we choose to dress in Gore-Tex space suits and strap planks of fibreglass to our feet. The season will hopefully reward us with plenty more days like this, but if we all died tomorrow in another mass extinction, at least we got to enjoy the early season cold powder of the season.

early season cold powder heliskiing
See you soon… | Photo -Aurelien Sudan