Cain Boundby Neil Borecky
Sometimes you find a place and after you return from it, you still can't
believe that you were ever there. Mt. Cain is one of those places.
It's one of those places that your mind-camera has taken disproportionate
number of pictures compared to the amount of time you spend there. My
Cain-bound weekend has a year of memories attached to it.
We rescued ourselves from Mrs. Cameron's Scottish hospitality, bearing a
12lb loaf of banana bread and a car-load of good wishes, and rolled north
along highway 19 towards the Nimpkish Valley. The gas station outside of
Sayward will tell you the way to Mt. Cain, but in reality, you're sort of
drawn to the small green sign just outside of Woss that says 'Mt. Cain
Ski-Area'. There's a few cars in the parking lot at the bottom, where the
ski-ferry (a newly acquired 3/4 school bus outfitted
with chains piloted by
the able Nahum) will meet you at 8:30 am if you feel that your car isn't up
to the robust challenge of chugging up the mountain logging-road.
It's fun to pass by a parked, shiny SUV and lay the pedal to the floor of a
small hatchback. If nothing else, the road would make the most jaded of
Quebecois rally-drivers slaver with excitement. With our radiator held
together with two cans of Rad-stop, somehow, three of us and our ample gear
managed to navigate a road that is marginal. Chains are a prerequisite, so
is loud speed metal music to drown out the noises issuing from a tortured
|When it seems that you have definitely blundered into oblivion, and you've
vowed to purchase a BCAA membership, a few cabins begin to appear in the
trees and the parking lot for Mt. Cain comes into view. Picture a place
devoid of crowds, lacking in the bustle, vinyl-banners, and the punk-circus;
a place carved out of the side of a mountain by a hard-working group of
locals with a very strong desire to ski. A curious but benign mix of fallers,
planters, island-dwellers and ski-bums, it feels like home. The kind of
place that from whence snowsports spawned. A small community hill where most
people know each other and strangers are treated very well. It has a very
strong Alpine flavour, with minimal facilities but a rustic log lodge and
an incredibly friendly atmosphere. (Pic. Chalet). They practically hand
you a snorkel when you drive up...for a very good reason; the place is
closed from Tuesday to Friday. Powder accumulates all week. I will say
little more on the subject of powder, because it seems to be a sacred word
at Mt. Cain. It's also easily the word most often uttered . You are
immersed in the bizarre cult of Ular.
Perhaps the best indication of the unique nature of this spot is that the
majority of operations are run by dedicated volunteers. Unpaid volunteers.
Motivated by P-O-W-D-E-R, Mt. Cain is managed by the a non-profit society,
the Mt. Cain Alpine Park Society, and bills itself, '..Vancouver Island's
only community owned and operated ski and snowboard facility.' You tend to
feel a little humbled when a smiling liftie puts the t-bar under your tender
heinnie, knowing that they're doing this out of the good of their heart.
|Character abounds in this snowy hinterland; casting quota quality. Handle
bar mustachios surround. Bring your manners, frontier courtesy is still
standard. (That means no cussin' unless you've broken something good.)
Even though it takes two T-Bars to reach the 1500 feet of
vertical, riders tend to embody the phrase 'powder hound'. The base of the
lodge can appear as deserted during the day since most are on a mission to
float across as much frozen ocean as they possibly can before the ponies
stop pulling them toward the top.
|When we dragged our parched carcasses onto the Alpine-hut movie set that is
the apres-ski, luck was raining down on us as heavily as the powder. For 20
bones a night for all three of us, we managed to score one of the hostel-like
rooms...each one basically a private crawlspace under the eaves of the
second floor with a mattress to lay your weary head. There's a large common
area too, but with the pub downstairs...we opted to eat and drink like
Vikings in front of the giant Grandpa Fischer.
The lodge is run in the manner of an old-fashioned Inn... enjoy the
hospitality and stumble up the stairs to bed. It gives you the feeling of
being in someone's hand-built domicile. That's probably why I volunteered
myself for dish duty. That and the motivation to stay on the good side of
the chef, Shay, and her daughter, the comely Kiera. The lodge is Shay's
domain. She lays down what little law there is, and I don't think too many
risk raising her ire; the food's too damn good...it kind of sedates one into
a dreamy glowing feeling. Night life. Moon-watching, touring the compost
toilets, passing around conversation wax, ceremonies to Ular. The slide show
of a lunatic. A man who rappelled/chopped/smashed/hacked his way through a
30 ft. cornice to drop a 50 degree dog-legged chute he named 'Cahones'.
There's a lot of cahones in that lodge, and a lot of places to use them on
that mountain. Don't soil yourself... you're on your own and no one is going
to change your diapers for you.
After the fog of the evening cleared, we managed to lose a whole hour of our
lives. Not as thrilling as the time I suffered from alien abduction, but
daylight saving-time managed to strip us of a few more desperate blanket
clutches. 6/7 am. comes early, but when volunteer for 'Shovel-Patrol'
after quaffing too many Dos Equis , you better make sure that your ass can
cash the cheques that your mouth wrote the night before. Riding up with a
character named Campbell from Sointula on the back of a SnowCat, dawn never
looks so good, nor breakfast so far away. Four of us fixed up the T-Bar
Track, smoothing it out so that the T-Bar would not careen way off to the
side, dragging its fallen occupants by the thigh..up the mountain. No names
necessary here...Judge. (Sidenote: you catch on to riding a T-Bar up on a
board in about 3 minutes). There's a sense of satisfaction riding up the
lift each time and admiring your handiwork.... along with the nonchalant
whistling that comes with the over-heard comments: 'Which drunken bastard
fixed THIS track'. Shay rustles up free breakfast for the Shovel Crew.
Coffee that wakes people up in the valley below.
For those who are experienced about winter in the mountains and don't mind a
slog when it is safe to do so; the back country of Cain is astounding. It's
not for the amateur, but it is dramatic. Most mental pictures were from the
sweet pockets of time spent there. No more on this subject. Some things are
best explored by one's self, rather than x-rayed, exposed to harsh light and
spoon-fed travel-magazine dissection. It would be a crime to spoil the
secrets, and deride the pleasure of such an epic discovery. Hint: Snorkels
are not optional.
Cain, and its brother mountain Abel, are not mythical, so much as legendary.
While being just off the beaten track, it is a world away, a step back in
time and space where it feels like a small town harvest fair all the time.
It's inhabitants seem to acknowledge the soul that pervades this mountain.
Campbell of Sointula waxed from the Chalet's view of Mt. Abel, that it
happens because of the volunteers, and although Mt. Cain never breaks even,
even 25 more adults a year would put it in the black. Cain skis a delicate
line between needing a few more quality people to support it, without
inviting the crass commercialization and crowding that has sullied the
snowcapped-peaks the world over.
Perhaps the very naming of this spot
risks inviting too much, but as the old proverb goes, 'Bad roads bring good
people', and chances are they will never pave it. There's certainly a bigger
twinkle in every clear eye that scans over you, and a palpable taste of
adventure emanating from each planked figure.
Never has a place made it so difficult to let go of winter.
Praying for Powder,
photography by Neil Borecky, Julie Wafaei, Mike Wilson