The dream for many backcountry skiers is to find themselves in remote mountains with a group of solid skiers. The snow would be deep and the terrain both easy to access and fun to ski. A gorgeous hut with running water, electricity and warm beds would top it off nicely. Heck, let’s throw in a sauna.
Sentry Mountain Lodge, in the Esplande Range west of Golden, BC, is this dream brought to reality. A short helicopter ride brings you to this unique lodge at 2110m. Above the lodge, peaks and alpine bowls are a short tour away and below, well-spaced old-growth cedar forests full of pillow lines and powder run to valley bottom.
It’s not hard to have fun in this setting, especially when there’s a cook keeping you well fed and a couple of guides to break trail. The only way to get more bang for your buck is to come to Sentry during the Hoji Freeride Camps in December.
Most skiers will know Eric “Hoji” Hjorleifson as the star of a dozen Matchstick Productions’s ski movies and as an industry-changing gear designer. What you might not know is that for over a decade, Hoji has been using Golden Alpine Holidays as his high-performance test lab and inviting skiers like us to join him. He brings demo and prototype skis along with extra ski boots and boot fitting equipment, not to mention an obscene array of tools for a backcountry trip.
Hoji late night tinkering
On these four-day camps skiers slide into a simple routine. You wake up to coffee and breakfast, then gear up and head out to ski powder for the day with a pro-skiing legend as both coach and ski partner. You climb and ski alpine faces, pillow fields and old-growth forests. When finally satisfied or exhausted, you head back to your deluxe accommodation in the middle of nowhere for apres-ski.
For guests, Sentry Mountain Lodge has six double bedrooms complete with down duvets and pillows that ensure no one is “roughing it”. The living room has a couch and comfy chairs around a fireplace. The large dining table and steel counter-topped kitchen finish off the main floor. A cedar wood sauna and shower are in a small building nearby. It is nothing like the rustic backcountry huts run by the Alpine Club that most Albertan skiers are familiar with.
All of these luxuries aren’t the reason Hoji spends so much time at Sentry, though. There are two things that seem to keep him coming back. The first is simple. Eric is a fanatical skier, even after years of chasing snow around the globe, and Sentry usually delivers great skiing. When the snow is deep, pillow lines dot the valley and long tree runs drop below them. With clear skis and better stability, alpine ridges call you up high to enjoy the views of Roger’s Pass to the south and the Rockies to the east. One thing new campers are often surprised by is the fact that Hoji isn’t just interested in the gnarly terrain. He’s stoked to ski whatever runs are holding the best snow. On days when sunny latte powder (mellow runs blanketed in such perfect snow you could ski while drinking a coffee) are the right call, he’s just as stoked as he is on technical lines.
Pillows for days! Pic: Dan Hamzic
Of course, there are a number of backcountry lodges across BC with great terrain and snow. So what’s the other reason Eric ends up here? The shop. Sentry is unique in that it has a big garage-like work shop in the basement. There’s plenty of room for a dozen skis to be worked on at once while still having space for boots to be pressed or taken apart. That space, with good lighting and electricity, make the gear mods Hoji is always tinkering with easy by backcountry standards.
This is the secret to the Freeride Camps: Eric gets to design, modify, and test gear while skiing his favourite runs and getting in shape for the season ahead. Having guests on the gear provides even more feedback for his design process. So what do the guests get out of the arrangement?
We get to ski early season powder in beautiful mountains with one of the best skiers on the planet. On top of the usual Sentry Lodge fun, we get to borrow the latest Hoji skis and get help fitting our ski boots. On top of technical pillow lines, we get a pro helping us dial in our attack. And after we ski a line and finish high-fiving everyone, we get to watch Hoji show us how much better we could have done it.
Sentry Lodge is run by Golden Alpine Holidays, who also own three, slightly more rustic ski huts that all line up along the Esplandes (Sunrise Lodge, Meadow Lodge, and Vista Lodge) from south to north. Ambitious groups can connect all four lodges in a traverse of the Esplande Range in springtime. Most seasons Hoji does a camp at Sunrise Lodge as well for those looking for a more hardcore experience; complete with hauling water, no electricity, and no wifi.
Hoji leading the train. Pic: Duncan Anderson
If you want to join the fun next season, call Golden Alpine Holidays to book it now.
Whatever will we ski? Pic: Keaton Wolansky