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Cain Bound by Neil Borecky  


Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Cain Bound

by Neil Borecky
Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Sometimes you find a place and after you return from it, you still can't believe that you were ever there. Mt. Cain is one of those places. It's one of those places that your mind-camera has taken disproportionate number of pictures compared to the amount of time you spend there. My Cain-bound weekend has a year of memories attached to it.

We rescued ourselves from Mrs. Cameron's Scottish hospitality, bearing a 12lb loaf of banana bread and a car-load of good wishes, and rolled north along highway 19 towards the Nimpkish Valley. The gas station outside of Sayward will tell you the way to Mt. Cain, but in reality, you're sort of drawn to the small green sign just outside of Woss that says 'Mt. Cain Ski-Area'. There's a few cars in the parking lot at the bottom, where the ski-ferry (a newly acquired 3/4 school bus outfitted with chains piloted by the able Nahum) will meet you at 8:30 am if you feel that your car isn't up to the robust challenge of chugging up the mountain logging-road.

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

It's fun to pass by a parked, shiny SUV and lay the pedal to the floor of a small hatchback. If nothing else, the road would make the most jaded of Quebecois rally-drivers slaver with excitement. With our radiator held together with two cans of Rad-stop, somehow, three of us and our ample gear managed to navigate a road that is marginal. Chains are a prerequisite, so is loud speed metal music to drown out the noises issuing from a tortured vehicle.

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

When it seems that you have definitely blundered into oblivion, and you've vowed to purchase a BCAA membership, a few cabins begin to appear in the trees and the parking lot for Mt. Cain comes into view. Picture a place devoid of crowds, lacking in the bustle, vinyl-banners, and the punk-circus; a place carved out of the side of a mountain by a hard-working group of locals with a very strong desire to ski. A curious but benign mix of fallers, planters, island-dwellers and ski-bums, it feels like home. The kind of place that from whence snowsports spawned. A small community hill where most people know each other and strangers are treated very well. It has a very strong Alpine flavour, with minimal facilities but a rustic log lodge and an incredibly friendly atmosphere. (Pic. Chalet). They practically hand you a snorkel when you drive up...for a very good reason; the place is closed from Tuesday to Friday. Powder accumulates all week. I will say little more on the subject of powder, because it seems to be a sacred word at Mt. Cain. It's also easily the word most often uttered . You are immersed in the bizarre cult of Ular.

Perhaps the best indication of the unique nature of this spot is that the majority of operations are run by dedicated volunteers. Unpaid volunteers. Motivated by P-O-W-D-E-R, Mt. Cain is managed by the a non-profit society, the Mt. Cain Alpine Park Society, and bills itself, '..Vancouver Island's only community owned and operated ski and snowboard facility.' You tend to feel a little humbled when a smiling liftie puts the t-bar under your tender heinnie, knowing that they're doing this out of the good of their heart.

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Character abounds in this snowy hinterland; casting quota quality. Handle bar mustachios surround. Bring your manners, frontier courtesy is still standard. (That means no cussin' unless you've broken something good.) Even though it takes two T-Bars to reach the 1500 feet of vertical, riders tend to embody the phrase 'powder hound'. The base of the lodge can appear as deserted during the day since most are on a mission to float across as much frozen ocean as they possibly can before the ponies stop pulling them toward the top. Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

When we dragged our parched carcasses onto the Alpine-hut movie set that is the apres-ski, luck was raining down on us as heavily as the powder. For 20 bones a night for all three of us, we managed to score one of the hostel-like rooms...each one basically a private crawlspace under the eaves of the second floor with a mattress to lay your weary head. There's a large common area too, but with the pub downstairs...we opted to eat and drink like Vikings in front of the giant Grandpa Fischer. Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

The lodge is run in the manner of an old-fashioned Inn... enjoy the hospitality and stumble up the stairs to bed. It gives you the feeling of being in someone's hand-built domicile. That's probably why I volunteered myself for dish duty. That and the motivation to stay on the good side of the chef, Shay, and her daughter, the comely Kiera. The lodge is Shay's domain. She lays down what little law there is, and I don't think too many risk raising her ire; the food's too damn good...it kind of sedates one into a dreamy glowing feeling. Night life. Moon-watching, touring the compost toilets, passing around conversation wax, ceremonies to Ular. The slide show of a lunatic. A man who rappelled/chopped/smashed/hacked his way through a 30 ft. cornice to drop a 50 degree dog-legged chute he named 'Cahones'. There's a lot of cahones in that lodge, and a lot of places to use them on that mountain. Don't soil yourself... you're on your own and no one is going to change your diapers for you.

After the fog of the evening cleared, we managed to lose a whole hour of our lives. Not as thrilling as the time I suffered from alien abduction, but daylight saving-time managed to strip us of a few more desperate blanket clutches. 6/7 am. comes early, but when volunteer for 'Shovel-Patrol' after quaffing too many Dos Equis , you better make sure that your ass can cash the cheques that your mouth wrote the night before. Riding up with a character named Campbell from Sointula on the back of a SnowCat, dawn never looks so good, nor breakfast so far away. Four of us fixed up the T-Bar Track, smoothing it out so that the T-Bar would not careen way off to the side, dragging its fallen occupants by the thigh..up the mountain. No names necessary here...Judge. (Sidenote: you catch on to riding a T-Bar up on a board in about 3 minutes). There's a sense of satisfaction riding up the lift each time and admiring your handiwork.... along with the nonchalant whistling that comes with the over-heard comments: 'Which drunken bastard fixed THIS track'. Shay rustles up free breakfast for the Shovel Crew. Coffee that wakes people up in the valley below.

For those who are experienced about winter in the mountains and don't mind a slog when it is safe to do so; the back country of Cain is astounding. It's not for the amateur, but it is dramatic. Most mental pictures were from the sweet pockets of time spent there. No more on this subject. Some things are best explored by one's self, rather than x-rayed, exposed to harsh light and spoon-fed travel-magazine dissection. It would be a crime to spoil the secrets, and deride the pleasure of such an epic discovery. Hint: Snorkels are not optional.

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos
Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos
Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Cain, and its brother mountain Abel, are not mythical, so much as legendary. While being just off the beaten track, it is a world away, a step back in time and space where it feels like a small town harvest fair all the time.

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos
Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos
Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

It's inhabitants seem to acknowledge the soul that pervades this mountain. Campbell of Sointula waxed from the Chalet's view of Mt. Abel, that it happens because of the volunteers, and although Mt. Cain never breaks even, even 25 more adults a year would put it in the black. Cain skis a delicate line between needing a few more quality people to support it, without inviting the crass commercialization and crowding that has sullied the snowcapped-peaks the world over.

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos
Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos

Perhaps the very naming of this spot risks inviting too much, but as the old proverb goes, 'Bad roads bring good people', and chances are they will never pave it. There's certainly a bigger twinkle in every clear eye that scans over you, and a palpable taste of adventure emanating from each planked figure.

Never has a place made it so difficult to let go of winter.
Praying for Powder,
Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos
Neil

Mount Cain snowboard & ski photos
photography by Neil Borecky, Julie Wafaei, Mike Wilson

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