Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, is an archipelago off the northern coast of British Columbia. It’s home to the Haida people, a First Nations group known for their carving and canoe building skills. The main industries are tourism, logging, and fishing. There are also mountains there, mountains that catch a legendary amount of precipitation—more than 10 feet of snow per year in many areas—before it gets close enough to sea level to become rain.
I grew up in Prince Rupert, not far from Haida Gwaii, and I’d heard of one or two people skiing there in the past. But unlike much of coastal B.C. and Alaska, it’s still largely unexplored when it came to the sport.
This year, I decided to travel to Haida Gwaii with my cousin Levi, who has been my ski companion since the days when a few grand could buy six months of skiing, provided you lived in your vehicle and enjoyed meals of canned soup.
The ferry to Haida Gwaii leaves from Prince Rupert, not far from the Alaska border, and takes six to nine hours depending on the conditions of the seas. The ferry is expensive, it runs infrequently, and it’s often forced to return to the docks due to the manic waters of the Hecate Strait, the body of water that separates mainland B.C. from Haida Gwaii.
The Prince Rupert’s Queen – running between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. Photo: Miguel B.
We departed for Haida Gwaii at night, anxious to stretch out and sleep after an uncomfortable drive that day. We joined crowds of travelers who avoided the $70 fee for a private room and instead laid down in the passenger lounge in neat rows on the floor, like kids on a field trip. Once away from the dock the northern winter night swallowed us whole. The boat’s engines and the chorus of snores were the only sounds we heard. Ferry carpet is thin, the lights are bright and the Hecate Strait, even on its best behavior, isn’t the type of water that lulls you to sleep. It was a long night, but soon enough the ferry was being roped to the creosote ties of the Haida Gwaii dock.
There’s nothing sweeter than arriving somewhere new by driving out of the mouth of a ferry; it feel like a scene in one of those military recruitment ads. Levi and I drove off the boat and away from the terminal feeling like anything was possible. We turned west towards Queen Charlotte City (population: 948) and when we emerged from the woods we saw the mountains of the Queen Charlotte Range for the first time. The mountains were bare of snow right to the top. The rocky peaks actually looked warm in the pink dawn light. Skiing did not seem possible.
We decided to visit the local forestry office. We bought a map and asked worker at the front desk questions about the local trails.