Chicks on sticks

🕔Dec 01, 2011

A chopper touches down somewhere in the BC backcountry, lifting a cloud of snow in the early morning sunlight. Five women hop out and busy themselves shovelling paths and designating sleeping spots in the tiny backcountry cabin as the pilot returns for the rest of their group.

When sleeping bags are unfurled, food stashed and skis readied, the seven women discuss where to start their five-day backcountry ski adventure. “We could explore that peak over there,” one waves a hand casually toward the west. “Maybe dig a pit on the way up and talk about the stability.” The others nod in agreement.

Let’s not confuse agreement with apathy. For the last few weeks, excited emails have been flying: Do we have all the gear? The helicopter booked? Enough wine? Will there be snow? Will the avalanche conditions be safe? Will there be enough wine?!

Along with their beacons, probes and shovels they packed enough enthusiasm for the Canadian alpine ski team. But there’s something that happens when women recreate together. The experience becomes as important as the objective. Camaraderie replaces competition.

Women’s-only recreation events are a growing trend for the supportive and social environment they create, and many are popping up across northern BC. If you’re reticent to join the boys in the backcountry, grab some gal pals and head out for some fun. Here are a few places you can start to develop the skills, make some ski buddies and begin planning your own girls’ getaway.

Kick ’n’ Glide Gals
What: Bulkley Valley Cross Country Ski Club’s women’s cross-country ski clinic
Where: Smithers
When: Jan. 15
Cost: $25 members, $35 non-members (plus trail pass)

As director of promotions for the Bulkley Valley Cross Country Ski Club, Leanne Helkenberg has organized what she describes as a “no-testosterone” women’s cross-country ski clinic for the past two years.

“There’s less pressure, I think. There’s less competition. It’s just more social, which people really enjoy. They feel more comfortable around each other, trying new things,” she says. “It’s a good way to meet other women, whatever your skill level. I think it really comes down to the social part.”

The event began over a decade ago, but took a hiatus for several years until it was brought back by popular demand three years ago. Although previously an all-weekend event, it now takes place over one day with three 1.5-hour ski lessons and an après-ski social in the Buchfink Lodge that includes wine, snacks and door prizes.

“Basically, you’re organized into various groups depending on your level,” Helkenberg says. “Last year we had 40 women.”

Participants can work on their skate skiing, classic skiing or both over the course of the day. Book your spot early; last year’s event filled up early, with people attending from as far away as Hazelton and Burns Lake. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. and the first lesson is at 9:00. For more info, visit

Babes in the Backcountry
What: Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry 
Recreation Area women’s days
Where: 30 minutes west of Smithers
When: Jan. 15 & Feb. 19
Cost: Free

When Smithers skier Brian Hall envisioned a local backcountry area, it was about promoting a local ski culture and finding a place where skiers of all abilities could have fun.

“To me, the backcountry is a lot about friendship and health,” he says. But, as someone who used to sell ski gear in Smithers, he also noticed that women rarely seemed to ski with one another.
“They buy the gear and I think a lot of them are really skilled, but they don’t call each other and go out. I thought we should encourage women to get more involved.”

Hall was the driving force behind Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Area, a provincially designated recreation area with no lifts, but nine cut runs for a wide range of ski-touring abilities in terrain with very little avalanche hazard. There is a small warming hut with big views at treeline.

Hall recently proposed the idea of organizing a women’s backcountry ski day out at the area, just west of Smithers off the Kitseguecla Lake Road. The events will happen over two weekends, on Jan. 15 and Feb. 19, and will incorporate skiing, avalanche awareness skills and socializing. Hall’s plan is to ski up to the hut early in the morning and, “like a sherpa, light the stove, put out appies, and disappear.”

Helping to organizing the event are Hall’s daughter Jessica, wife Kym Putnam, and Laura Bakermans, who has her Canadian Avalanche Association Operations Level 2 certification and will be working with the group on avalanche skills.

“This will also provide an opportunity to meet other women interested in getting out into the backcountry,” Bakermans says. “I think women are sometimes intimidated or feel less confident in mixed groups. My personal experience with women’s-only groups is that it’s a more supportive and encouraging environment.”

Women can travel by whatever mode they wish: ski, snowboard or snowshoe. On both days, anyone leaving from Smithers and wanting to carpool can meet at the Stork’s Nest Inn; the group will meet at the Hankin-Evelyn area parking lot at 10 a.m. For more information, email

Powder Princesses
What: Powder King women’s day
Where: 195 km north of Prince George
When: Jan. 21-22
Cost: $189 plus HST

Last year was Powder King’s first women’s weekend and this year marketing director Sam Ens hopes to continue growing the event.

“We’ll have lessons for skiing and snowboarding. There will be snowshoeing in the evening and a wine-and-cheese.”

The women’s-only days happen over two weekends and the cost includes lessons, two one-day lift passes, a double occupancy shared room and Sunday morning breakfast.

“What we’re suggesting to people is bring a friend that you’d be comfortable sharing a room with,” Ens says. Or, he adds, be prepared to make a new friend. “It’s really all about the socializing.”
Those without gear can rent skis and snowboards at the mountain. Snowshoes are included in the cost.

“I think it’s just a comfort level for some people,” Ens says about the popularity of women’s-only events. “What we’ve found is that people who are interested are quite often married with kids. It’s a chance to get out of the house and have some fun.”

Pampering near the Peak
What: Hudson Bay Mountain ladies’ day
Where: Smithers
When: Feb. 18
Cost: TBA

“When I think women’s day, I think a pampering day,” says Valhalla Pure Outfitters owner Dave Walter. Walter took over Valhalla’s ladies’ day at Hudson Bay Mountain when he bought the Smithers store three years ago. While it’s been a popular event on the mountain for 10 years, before Walter took it over it was primarily about technique.

“We still do some ski development, but you also get the pampering as well,” he says. “We definitely have lots of people who love the pampering aspect.”

The “pampering” part includes a variety of fun and relaxing events, all packed in around a ski lesson and social day for women at the hill. Although details for this season’s event are still being confirmed, the day starts with coffee and registration at 8:30 a.m. in Panorama Lodge. Past events included a manicure or pedicure, massage, champagne, wine tasting, sushi rolling and cupcake decorating.

“We’re trying to find something different for this year,” Walter says. Along with a ski or snowboard lesson (beginner, intermediate or advanced), a “white linen” lunch is served in the lodge and après-ski appies and prizes are a regular part of the event.

“It’s a pretty full day,” he adds. “I do know there’s a lot of guys that are jealous there’s not a men’s day.”

Hudson Bay Mountain food and beverage manager Chrissy Driedger says the cost for this year’s event is still being determined, but adds that the all-inclusive package is always affordable and includes a discounted lift ticket.

Fraser Lake husbands and boyfriends should also note that Feb. 18-19 is the town’s “community weekend,” with full-day lift passes $20.12 for Fraser Lake residents.

“It is a lot of fun,” Driedger says about the annual ladies’ day. “We get awesome feedback. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger as momentum is building.”

For more info, email Dave Walter at or Chrissy Driedger

Rockies Retreat Weekend
What: Marmot Basin women’s weekends
Where: Jasper
When: Four weekends starting in January
Cost: TBA

Ladies considering a girls’ getaway in the Rockies should plan a trip around Marmot Basin’s women’s weekends, which happen once a month for four months, starting in the new year. Exact dates are still being determined.

Director of snow services Colin Borrow started the event last year and hopes to see it grow. He’s currently in discussions with a local high-end hotel about collaborating on a ski-and-spa weekend.

“The ladies had a great time,” he says. “They all want to do it again this year.”

The weekend begins with morning instruction on Saturday followed by lunch and independent skiing in the afternoon—although, Borrow notes, the group continued skiing together for the rest of the day. An additional lesson takes place Sunday morning.

“It’s as much socializing as anything. It’s a lot of fun. The whole idea is it’s a fun group where nobody should feel intimidated.” Borrow’s wife, Kathleen Buffel, will be instructing the women’s weekends this year, along with Marmot instructor Marie-Pierre Flipo-Bergeron. “If we got enough women interested, I would make this a weekly thing.”

For information on dates and possible spa packages as they’re confirmed, keep an eye on Marmot Basin’s website at The event is likely to coincide with the Jasper event in January, Borrow says.

Inspiration in an Evening
What: Stride & Glide Sports’ evening retreat
Where: Otway Nordic Ski Centre, Prince George
When: TBA
Cost: TBA

Jacqui Benson was training to get into the 2010 Olympics and working at Stride & Glide Sports when she attended the running and cross-country skiing store’s first women’s evening ski retreat as a guest speaker.

“I basically just told my story and how I got involved with skiing,” Benson says. She talked to the women who attended about what it takes to balance training and life. “I got really good feedback. Everybody was really happy with the evening.”

When she didn’t make the Olympics, Benson began working more at the shop and, last year, found herself organizing a second event. “It filled up and sold out, like, that day,” she says.

The fact that more than 30 women attended shouldn’t be a surprise: Who could resist a cross-country ski lesson, facial, dinner and dessert, motivational speaker and socializing all crammed into one Friday evening? The evening begins with a lesson at 5 p.m. All events take place at Otway Nordic Ski Centre.

“Otway ski trails are just phenomenal and with the lodge there, it’s great,” she says. Pinning down a date, however, has proven to be more difficult because, like so many winter activities, it’s all weather-dependent. Price is also yet to be determined, but last year’s event was $65.

“It’s been near the end of the season when we’ve done it,” Benson says. For details on the event as they’re confirmed, go to to sign up for email notifications on upcoming events.