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January 29, 2020

A Ski to Packraft Odyssey in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains

Adventure Stories

Photos by Andrew Burr | Story Carmen Kuntz

With gusting winds blowing outside, we were cold just thinking about the whitewater to ski touring trip we had planned for early February in BC’s Coast Mountains. But good friends will follow good friends into questionable adventures. So, I convinced my friends Andrew Burr and Rok Rozman to pack our skis and packrafts and take on water in all its forms.

As a whitewater kayaker, I wasintrigued and surprised by how paddleable and packable these vessels were inwhitewater. Naturally, I wanted to give them a try in our other home, Canada.Wouldn’t it be cool to pick a zone where we can play in whitewater and then skiup and over a mountain pass, to paddle out the other side?! The boys were keen.So, Rok and I marked the dates in our calendars and picked Burr up at theVancouver airport.

You know you are in a specialpart of the world when you don’t have to go far from your backyard to find epicadventures.

We put onto the Cheakamus River,located just off the iconic Sea-to-Sky highway between the towns of Squamishand Whistler. This river has some extreme whitewater sections, but we paddled ashort, mellow segment which brought us to the base of Cloudburst Mountain.Water, ice and all conditions in between made for some unique paddlingperspectives and lines.

We packed our packrafts, unfolded our Elan Ibix Tactix foldable skis and started the long haul up to the peak of Cloudburst Mountain. Bushwhacking and getting slightly lost only added to the feeling of adventure.

Even though our entire trip tookplace within cell service, the feeling of solitude and the raw winter weatherreminded us that no matter how close to home you are, the mountains and MotherNature are always tougher and stronger than you. Two cold nights of -15 to -20Cand our crew became sunshine worshipers and an even tighter-knit than when westarted.

After a quick summit celebrationand snack, we made our way down the other side of Cloudburst…some more quicklyand gracefully than others. With limited days on skis, I was wishing for aboard during the descent. After shaking snow out from inside my jacket, pants, underpants,mitts and helmet, I was laughing and snowplowing down the logging roads to theSquamish River.

Back on the Water for Fishing and Fun.

Once we were back on the water,we were greeted with sunshine that almost made us forget those cold, sleeplessnights on top of the mountain. We took in all the sights and sounds of themighty Squamish River, reveling in the power of water to erode banks, depositsand, stone and massive tree trunks.

The cold nights continued, butwith some foresight and planning, we had morning sun exposure to coax us out ofour sleeping bags. Days of fishing, floating and singing were a treat as we allhad a new perspective for the ease of traveling on water in sturdy andresponsive packrafts.

Could it Be… Packraft Converts?

As we reached the Pacific Ocean and Howe Sound, Rok and I are officially packraft converts. We are hooked on these wonderful little vessels and all the opportunities they open. As whitewater kayakers, we were expecting to have to wrap our head around the handicap of paddling a bathtub. But we couldn’t have been more wrong! Alpacka Raft packrafts track like a dream and pivot like a large kayak.

They carry speed when you need itbut can flow with the pace of the river when the time comes to drift. They holdan insane amount of gear and pack up to easily fit in or on a backpack. Askayakers, we are used to carrying heavy, cumbersome boats, crashing throughportage trails with thick plastic digging into shoulder blade or bumping offhip bones. But walking with a packraft? No problem!

Using packrafts and foldable skiswe were able to combine paddling and skiing into a frigidly funnymini-expedition the Coast Mountains of BC. As with all good trips, this one hashatched many more ideas for multi-sport packraft trips!