Spearhead Traverse, British Columbia


In the early ’90s, Canadians Trevor Peterson, Eric Pehota, and some friends quietly pioneered a number of huge first descents in the Coast Range. Their famous lines dot the Spearhead Traverse—a horseshoe-shaped Silk Road that starts in Blackcomb and ends at Whistler. They skied here, among spiderweb crevasses, appalling weather, and huge relief, largely unknown because the ski industry was watching Scot Schmidt get extreme inbounds at Squaw Valley.

With Peterson’s premature death in 1996 in Chamonix, Canadian freeskiing lost its figurehead. Ultimately, however, it would inspire leagues of Canucks to come to Whistler and ski the lines that he and his friends had fathomed for the rest of us.

The Spearhead usually takes three days. One guy has done it in four hours. But to sprint the Spearhead is to ski ignorant. Why not pay respect to the Peterson-Pehota lines? We planned to do it in four days and ski every line we could. So we put our trust in guide John Furneaux—a guy who filled his pack with bacon and Scotch but left his tent at home on purpose. A guy who’d done this traverse so many times he could ski it sans map.

We began at the East Col of Blackcomb Peak, just below where Peterson’s ice ax sits bolted to the rock. After two hours and 2,000 feet of vertical ups and downs, we stood on top of Mount Pattison’s 40-degree northwest face and descended it in a whiteout. Then up Mount Trorey’s round north face for another steepish whiteout run. Then up and over the col so we could set up our tent camp in a basin. As promised, John insisted on sleeping in a snow cave to ensure all could eat bacon.

The next morning dawned clear and we skied Mount Tremor’s 55-degree west face, each turn making me regret not packing Depends. We bagged Mount Macbeth, skied the upper glacier, and slept in a basin behind Mount Fitzsimmons.

The next day we aimed for the classic of the classic Peterson-Pehota lines: the 1,771-foot, 50-degree north face of Mount Fitzsimmons, first skied in 1991. But it whited out again. So we roped up and moved along our crevassed route, blind, while Furneaux alternately advised us, “Don’t blow it here” (you fall, you die), and that the terrain was “spicy” (deadly).

We would spend our last night at the Himmelsbach hut at Russet Lake, near the base of Fissile Peak, the looming showpiece visible from Whistler’s lifts. Five more famous lines stem from the summit but we skied the tamer, 40-degree Banana Chute—the only line the whiteout would allow. Innumerable face shots later, we returned to the hut to raise a Scotch to the Rossignol Bandit mounted below the loft. It belonged to Bret Carlson, a Whistler freeskier who also died young. He was a big-mountain prodigy as short on attitude and long on skills as Peterson was. Unlike him, Carlson achieved fame—but only in death.

Guides: All of the Canada West Mountain School’s guides are ACMG certified and know the route well.
Season: All winter long, and often as late as July, but April and May are best.
Terrain: You name it. As mellow as 25 degrees or as steep as 55 degrees; as short as 500 feet or as long as several thousand.
Weather: The Coast Range is famous for its hard-to-predict weather, due to its proximity to the ocean. But the maritime climate is what makes those steep descents possible.
Book It: It’s $500 for the four-day trip. The Canada West Mountain School runs three Spearhead tours each winter, in March, April, and May.