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Summer Stashes: Photographer Abby Cooper explores the fading snow of Whistler

The dog days of summer are here, but while most of us plan to cool down by the nearest swimming hole, for some the quest to find winter carries on. Not content to quench their thirst for snow with ski films, these die-hards head for the hills in search of high alpine lakes and snow-spotted peaks. 

All summer long, we will add to the growing list of places where you can find snowy terrain to beat the heat. For this installment of “Summer Stashes,” we talked with photographer Abby Cooper about her summer missions in the Whistler area.

Kate Zessel makes her way down a strip of snow in the Tricouni region of Whistler, B.C. [Photo] Abby Cooper

Kate Zessel makes her way down a strip of snow in the Tricouni region of Whistler, B.C. [Photo] Abby Cooper

Location:  Brandywine Mountain, Decker Mountain, Tricouni Area, B.C.
Team: Abby Cooper, Kate Zessel (Brandywine and Tricouni), Mitch Winton (Decker Mountain)
Prime Time: June-July
Summit Elevation: 7, 260 feet (Brandywine Mountain); 7,943 feet (Decker Mountain)
Descent Dates: Late June; Mid-July; Late July 

Kate makes a summer river crossing on Brandywine Mountain. [Photo] Abby Cooper

Kate Zessel makes a summer river crossing on Brandywine Mountain. [Photo] Abby Cooper

Backcountry Magazine: Tell me about one of the early summer lines you skied this season.

Abby Cooper: I skied Brandywine in June, which is a pretty big sled zone in the winter. You would never go touring there in the winter because people just rip back there on their sleds. But my friend Kate and I decided to ski it this summer, because the sleds have no way to get up there this time of year. The roads are difficult to travel without a truck with a lot of clearance, and luckily we had that. It ended up being a ten-minute walk in the mud for us before skinning.

We got up to a massive alpine meadow in the snow, and we pieced together snow bridges. If you had tried to follow our skintrack to get where we were going, you would have seen the biggest zigzag ever. We just went up for a couple laps, because it was a pretty gloomy day out.

Abby Cooper enjoys the approach for summer turns. [Photo] Kate Zessel

Abby Cooper enjoys the approach for summer turns. [Photo] Kate Zessel

BCM: Where did you head next?

AC: Next Mitch Winton and I went up to Decker Mountain. We skied it in July, which is pretty unheard of. We had to navigate through massive boulder fields, and I ended up scrambling quite a bit. I definitely had a point where I wished I had been roped in. There was one part that was a skinny snow bridge over a drop off with cheese grater rocks—definitely a no-fall zone. On any summer shred mission, there is usually a point where you just end up shuffling down a section or two. You think, “Well my turns may not be pretty, but at least I got some.”

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Abby Cooper scrambles up Decker Mountain. [Photo] Mitch Winton

On the way back, I got another lap in on the East Ridge, which is cool because it looks back in-bounds at Whistler Blackcomb. It wasn’t the most painful summer slog that I have ever done, but it was definitely outside of the box. Not many venture up to the terrain that is considered “slackcountry” in the summer.

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Abby Cooper makes turns down the white ribbon on Decker Mountain. [Photo] Mitch Winton

BCM: And recently you did another tour. Where was that?

AC: Two weeks ago, I went to Tricouni Peak area with Kate. The approach is typical. You drive down a Forest Service road as far and as high as you can, meet up with a trail, start hiking and then leave the trail so that you can find some snow. That trip was interesting, because we left Whistler at 7:30 p.m. We were squeezing in a summer mission, with just enough sunlight to get back. We got to camp at 11:30 p.m., set up camp and made a fire. We woke up at 4:00 a.m. so that we could see the sunrise and scout our lines that we couldn’t see when we arrived in the dark.

From there we started hiking right at 6 a.m. and got in a very long summer line. We couldn’t skin the whole way up because it was suncupped and hard, but the line was super consistent and long. You don’t get that often in the summer. Usually you are linking up patches. We skied down to a lake and were back in Whistler by 11:30 a.m.

Kate Zessel navigates the melting snow of Tricouni. [Photo] Abby Cooper

Abby Cooper navigates the melting snow of Tricouni. [Photo] Kate Zessel

BCM: Tell me about your Cirque Lake trip and why you decided to go back twice.

AC: Apparently I can’t get enough of this subpar summer snow. Kate and I did a decent slog up to Cirque Lake area twice in one week. You start with a drive up a 4×4 service road, then canoe 2.6 kilometers across a lake—which my dog ran and swam, so it ended up being more like four kilometers with all the weaving.

After the lake crossing we scrambled up past a waterfall and popped out into alpine heaven. The patches there had the biggest suncups I’ve ever ridden, but the journey to get there was so fun. We did it once on a cloudy day, and when our friend asked to go again for a film project on a sunny day, we obviously couldn’t say no.

To me, summer skiing isn’t about the snow quality, but about the fact that instead of hiking down something the whole way, I get to go downhill on my snowboard. I love adventuring and finding places where I can do that, because why not?

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