Knuckleheads pow ski through the backcountry above Powell River

Volunteer group has been improving access to the region for the past 20 years

You’d have to be a knucklehead to think that there’s any skiing near Powell River. At least, that’s what North Vancouver adventurer Ean Jackson thought before hooking up with his friend Doc Pow and the SnowSeekers media crew.

Barr, who lives in Powell River, had heard rumours about decent backcountry skiing  in a zone known as the Knuckleheads. Jackson, 61, is a frequent visitor to the area (he’s one of less than a half-dozen trail runners to complete the entire 175-kilometre-long Sunshine Coast trail in one go) and was game for the challenge.

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The day-long epic to the Knuckleheads began with a 20-kilometre – give or take – jaunt up the Stillwater Main and A-Branch logging roads punched deep into the Coast Range by MacBlo back in the 1950s. A half-hour hike followed, with a pickup by members of the Powell River ATV club, who utilize all-terrain vehicles equipped with four rubber tracks to gain traction in deep snow and steep terrain. From there, Jackson and company donned climbing skins and slogged up Sentinel Ridge for about 50-odd turns down an untouched mountain face in surprisingly dry – for the Coast Range – powder. After negotiating some mean-ass slide alder and grinding his bases along a logging road, Jackson said, “Yep, it’s Pow-town. But you’ve got to work to get there.”  

The SnowSeekers were officially knuckleheads. For the day, at any rate.

The original knucklehead was a guy named Victor Cole, whose family belonged to the Mount Diadem ski hill – a modest, volunteer run operation that consisted of three rope tows set up in a clear-cut just outside of town. Young Vic successfully went searching for longer, steeper runs – a snow seeker in the 1960s, if you will. Looking up at Cole’s perfectly carved S-tracks in a distant alpine bowl, a Powell River local – probably not a skier – remarked, “You’d have to be a real knucklehead to ski that!”

Knuckleheads
Powell River local Jim (a.k.a. “Doc Pow”) Barr snowboards down a gladed run with the Big Knuckle in the background. - Supplied, Steven Threndyle

Sixty years later, a whole new crew of knuckleheads have discovered the bowls and glades 1,500 metres above town. The Knuckleheads Winter Recreation Association is a hardy, gregarious, and industrious group of Powell River volunteers who have been improving backcountry access and building attractive, low-impact cabins for overnight use for the past 20 years. Last summer, KWRA members built their jewel in the crown, the Vic Cole cabin, named in honour of Knucklehead Number One.

Exceptional volunteers like Allen Parsons are the key to the Knuckleheads success. The 66-year-old retired mechanic (and now owner of a dog boarding business) has survived two heart attacks and a bout with esophageal cancer. He has toiled tirelessly for the past decade to clear brush and fill in ditches on the decommissioned logging roads that lead into the alpine. He has even built a special snow grooming attachment that fills in the ruts made by the ATVs on the up-track.

Indeed, Jackson and the SnowSeekers might still be tromping along the road if they hadn’t received transportation assistance from Powell River to the Vic Cole cabin. As the ATVs ascend to treeline, the Seekers find themselves in a high alpine zone of tempting bowls and open glades. an alpine landscape of bowls and high ridgelines. Sentinel Ridge offers a stunning view over the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island and eastwards across the endless waves of Coast Range peaks and valleys.

Like most creative endeavours, the idea for building a cabin hatched in a pub; specifically, says Knuckleheads chairman Nordman, “at a table in the Townsite Craft Brewing tasting room.” Once funds were raised, the Vic Cole cabins were quickly built.  The walls and floors were pre-fabricated down in town and slung up to Sentinel Ridge by helicopter; with assembly and finishing done up on the mountain. The skilled, efficient tradesmen were able to erect the new cabin in less than a week.

The ski runs from Vic Cole Hut are in the 300 to 400 vertical metre range. A short patch of glades above the cabin provides the perfect slope to practice those telemark or splitboard snowboard turns. And with the Knuckleheads whizzing by every few minutes, you can likely hitch a short ride to the top to do it all over again.

Knuckleheads
A rare snowfall on the Earls Cove B.C. Ferries route. - Supplied, Steven Threndyle

If You Go:

Powell River (pop. 12,000) is on the upper Sunshine Coast on. Access from Vancouver is via Highway 101 and two B.C. Ferries trips (Horseshoe Bay – Departure Bay; Saltery Bay – Earl’s Cove). Total one-way travel time to Powell River is 4.5 hours. Powell River is also accessible via BC Ferries from Courtenay/Comox on Vancouver Island. 

Access into the Knuckleheads is via logging road. Due to active forestry activity in the area, public travel is restricted from Monday to Friday. High clearance 4x4 vehicles will make it the farthest. In winter, chains are a good idea. The are a is suitable for snowshoeing, too.

There is no charge to use the Vic Cole cabin (sleeps ten). There are kitchen facilities including a propane stove for baking brownies once you get back from a big day of skiing.

Useful websites include:

Knuckleheads Winter Recreation: theknuckleheads.wordpress.com/about-kwra.

Tourism Sunshine Coast: sunshinecoastcanada.com.

Townsite Brewing: townsitebrewing.com.

 

Townsite Craft Brewery

Upper Sunshine Coast locals are truly fortunate that Belgian brewmaster Cedric Dauchot set up shop in Powell River’s historic Townsite neighbourhood.

The brewery is ensconced in the refurbished brick Federal Building two blocks up from the pulp mill that is still a major economic driver for this city of 13,000. Built over a period of 20 years from 1910 to 1930, the Powell River Townsite was one of North America’s most socially progressive and attractive company towns, built to house employees at a pulp and paper mill that would become the largest producer of newsprint in the world.

Townsite Brewing’s tap room features everything from robust Tin Hat IPA and Perfect Storm Stout to small-batch sours, saison biere, (seasonal beer), wheat beers and something called “oud bruin.” The tasting room ambience is both whimsical and educational; “question and answer” flip cards provide visitors with details about the unique Belgian brewing process, and guests are greeted by a wonderful Emily Carr-like mural at the entrance to the tasting room.

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