From Rogers to the Bugaboos

A storm on Mt. Sugarloaf during their 1973 Rogers Pass to Bugaboos ski traverse left Chic Scott, Don Gardner, Dave Smith and Ron Robinson tent-bound for five days. [Photo] Chic Scott

Nineteen seventy-three was my best year as a mountaineer. I climbed four north faces in the European Alps and narrowly missed the first ascent of a 25,000-foot summit in the Nepal Himalaya. But perhaps the most memorable experience of that year was an 80-mile ski traverse in May from Rogers Pass to the Bugaboos, across the glaciers and ice fields of the Selkirk and Purcell ranges.

We were not the first to ski the route. It had been traversed in June of 1958 by four young men from Dartmouth College: Bill Briggs, Barry Corbet, Sterling Neale and Bob French.

They had written a brief account of their adventure in the Canadian Alpine Journal, and when I read it I wanted to repeat their journey. It gave me something to dream about during the long winter months while I worked the Strawberry T-bar at Sunshine Village Ski Resort.

We were four on the traverse. Joining me were Don Gardner, with whom I had skied from Jasper to Lake Louise across the ice fields of the Continental Divide in 1967; Dave Smith, a climbing partner from Europe and fellow guide at the International School of Mountaineering in Switzerland; and Ron Robinson, a young and enthusiastic university student from Calgary.

The 15 days of our ski adventure were some of the most magical of my life. We skied across sun-baked ice fields surrounded by spectacular peaks, told tales late into the night around wilderness campfires and marveled at the Milky Way in the nighttime sky. At one point we lay for five days trapped in our tent high on Mt. Sugarloaf while the wind whipped deep snow around us.

At the end of the tour, we skied down the Bugaboo Glacier into the springtime valley and watched butterflies dance on the gentle breeze. Lynne Grillmair, alone at Bugaboo Lodge, put the icing on the cake when she served us a breakfast in the lodge. Orange juice, cinnamon buns, bacon, sausage, eggs and coffee satisfied our ravenous hunger as we gazed contentedly out the large windows at the magnificent Bugaboo Spires.

The traverse has gained in popularity over the years and has become a classic, done by several parties each year. It is now done from the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass, as it is easier to coordinate helicopter access to the Bugaboos at the front end of the trip rather than the tail end.

The mountains and glaciers of the Purcells and Selkirks are just as breathtaking as the peaks along the world-famous Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, but here in Canada you won’t have to contend with thousands of ski mountaineers. In fact, out there on the glacier, you will probably be happy to encounter even one other party.

For more than 50 years, Chic Scott has built a career as a prolific historian, writer, guide, organizer and pioneering skier. This essay was first published in “50 Classic Ski Descents of North America.” Buy a copy of the Great Northern Issue, in which this essay appears alongside a complete history of skiing on Rogers Pass, B.C., here.

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