Metal Dome Backcountry Ski Trip
A few weeks back, my friend Peter organized a backcountry ski trip with the Alpine Club of Canada up “Metal Dome” in BC’s Sea-to-Sky corridor. I’ve seen this peak dozens of times on the drive up the road to Whistler. It looms large over the CallaghanValley and looks down over the Whistler Olympic Park, almost 4,500 feet below. It’s ominous in an inviting way, like many mountains are.
The forecast called for bluebird skies, sun and warm temperatures beginning late morning. It’s an odd feeling putting sunscreen on before 8 a.m. when the sun isn’t fully up in the sky and it’s still way below freezing. We started early, skinning from the parking area at 8 a.m. Our foggy breath and the sound of our skins on the frozen crust of the old logging road broke the stillness.
Up the logging road
We made our way up the logging road and then headed deep into the trees. The going got tough on some steep sections that were beginning to loosen as temperatures started to warm. There was enough slip-sliding and eventually some of us weren’t even moving forward that we decided to take our skis off and boot pack up the hundred feet or so to a flatter section.
In John Baldwin’s backcountry bible, he called Metal Dome an “Excellent trip with good skiing on big open slopes.” As we made our way out of trees and onto the snowfield, I instantly understood what he meant. Above us loomed some massive snowfields and at the top of the peak, what’s left of the Metal Dome glacier. Heli-ski operators run trips up Metal Dome, so it must be good skiing.
We took a leisurely lunch break, balancing our excitement to push on with the warm relaxing sun on our faces. The nap-factor won each of us over, at least once. Some more than once. We eventually motivated ourselves and started up again, zig-zagging our way to the top. Another hour or two of skinning through the massive snowfields and below some ominous cornices, and we eventually crested a break in the ridgeline just south of the true peak.
The sights were amazing. The Tantalus Range stretched out south of us with its gnarly glaciers spilling off the top. Whistler and Blackcomb to the Northeast. There are mountains in every direction up here. To the north these mountains essentially stretch more than 2,000 miles deep into Alaska. Below us was Callaghan, a tiny speck in the valley with the Olympic ski jumps barely visible.
We put away our skins, clicked into our skis and started making a few sweeping turns on the way down. The snow was excellent, a few inches deep, over a hard pack. Turning was – and always is – a little tough when you first start skiing after a long skin-up. But we all got the hang of it. We even did some old school figure 8s on the way down as proof of how much fun we were having to the probable onlookers on the cross country track almost a mile down below.
The sun was thinking about dipping below the mountain tops, so we took another break at our mid-day lunch spot at the bottom of the snowfield. We made our way back through the trees with a few inevitable wrong turns and eventually made our way back down to the logging road.
We were tired, thirsty and a bit sunburned as we finally got back to the cars about 7 p.m. – a good 11 hours after our morning start.
It could have taken us less time, but the awesome weather, sun and good company kept us on the mountain for longer than we’d originally planned.
All photos by Andrew Sallai