FAMILY LIFE IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
AT BOULDER HUT
Words and Photos by Abby Cooper
This isn’t just a backcountry ski lodge – it’s a glimpse of life lived off-the-grid with simple necessities, extraordinary hosts, and some sweet skiing. Abby Cooper dives into the daily life of the Yancey clan at Boulder Hut, where “school” means everything from homework to hospitality to life skills learned only in the alpine.
Rotors whirling, the beast of a helicopter kicks up loose snow as we crouch around it, bracing our bags in place as we begin to mentally unwind for a week of backcountry bliss. It’s a surreal experience taking a helicopter into a backcountry lodge, but the real experience starts when the quiet begins. As the machine flies out of sight, I expel the last of my real-life stress and inhale that crisp mountain air, admiring the terrain. Life is about skiing now. That’s it.
MEETING THE YANCEYS
“Dad, can I drive?” ten-year-old Boulder Hut resident Alden Yancey asks as he loads our gear onto a toboggan fastened to a snowmobile more than twice his age. He hops on the sled with his dad Mark, while his older sister Grace climbs in the toboggan with a load of incoming bags. We follow on foot down a small trail, and a log cabin emerges from the mountainside.
There, the iconic Boulder Hut sign adorns the common lodge used for eating, cooking and socializing, while a separate sleeping hut is located within a two-metre hop. The family and staff each have separate living quarters. Two sheds, a sauna, and two outhouses complete the small off-the-grid backcountry compound. Simple and timeless, the buildings suit the Purcell Mountain range setting perfectly.
Together, Mark and Sarah run Boulder Hut from the backcountry outside of Kimberley, B.C., while simultaneously running a family, homeschooling their children and wearing just about every hat possible. Before we can meet Sarah, a big white pup, Rosie, stalls us. Yes, even the family dog joins the Yanceys for six months of full-time backcountry life. A docile girl, Rosie isn’t fazed by the helicopter or the coming of a new group; she’s just concerned with sneaking in some belly scratches between naps and critter chases. Mark steers us in the main building and here we finally meet Sarah. Her flawless multi-tasking of dinner prep and quality conversation is impressive – she’s clearly done this for a while. After taking over ownership in 2005, the Yancey family vowed to preserve as much of the lodge’s historic charm as possible.
BUILDING BOULDER HUT
Founders Art Twomey and Margie Jamieson’s dreams of sharing and preserving the Purcells for future generations came to life when they built Ptarmigan Hut in 1969. The 70’s are littered with milestones leading up to the creation of what we know today as the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy – a 500,000-acre protected area. Art was a photographer, cinematographer, glacial geologist and a true influencer of all disciplines for the Canadian Avalanche Association. His legacy has shaped our mountain culture as we know it, and for the better. Art’s love of chasing the wild took him all over the world, but it was the Kootenays and Margie that kept his heart. In 1984, they built a second lodge, Boulder Hut. Much of its authentic charm has gone unchanged in the decades since.
The lodges are nestled in a 15,000-acre ski tenure that sits at the foot of the Purcell Conservancy. Art and Margie’s history is themed with the intention to protect the wild, whether that’s a glacier, a herd of elk, or the experience of skiing deep blower powder for generations to come. St. Mary’s Provincial Park is another fruit of their labour. Lying to the west of Kimberley, B.C., this zone has untapped potential for ski touring and hiking, thanks to their efforts.
After Art’s passing in 1997, Margie took her time in finding the right candidate to pass their legacy to, and the Yanceys more than fit the bill. Boulder Hut isn’t just a backcountry ski lodge; it’s a glimpse of life lived off-the-grid with simple necessities, extraordinary hosts, and some sweet skiing.
DAILY LIFE & THE ART OF BALANCE
Just a week with the Yanceys gives us valuable lessons and takeaways for us ‘on-the-grid’ folk. Some days are defined by communication with the outdoor world and playing the seemingly never-ending game of logistics. Some are much more mechanically-defined by a needy snowmobile and custom hydro system that doesn’t like cold temps. Artisans of MacGyver-ing, they always make it work. Even the kids learn the art of balancing hut life. Their schoolwork rotates between the family cabin, the main hut and outside, while other days they tour with their family or friendly guests. Evenings may not always have a rhyme or reason, but you can be certain the family is together. Whether it’s jamming on guitars and bucket drums, building a ski jump in their ‘front yard’ by headlamp, building a snow cave, playing games or socializing with guests, the Yanceys have lodge life dialled, and they lead by example. While their schedule isn’t like clockwork, there is clarity in their priorities.
They love it out there, and they love it even more together.
After returning from a late tour with dusk approaching, I spot Mark and Sarah looking as though they’d also been touring. To my surprise, they were just heading out on a sunset tour for date night. If that’s not an indicator of soul mates, I’m not sure what is. Their passion for each other’s company, where they live and what they do oozes out of each member of their family, and is showcased through their work ethic and constant grins. Aside from earning respectable grades, Alden and Grace are working on an extensive education of mountain etiquette, social capabilities, and life skills that many take a lifetime to develop. Their environment fosters personal growth and a love for the mountains, and it is one that would make Art and Margie proud.
A trip to Boulder Hut will compare to other ski lodges in the sense of epic skiing and a comfortable place to rest your head, with easy alpine access. What sets it apart, however, are the interactions you’ll have with the Yanceys and the way they live their lives. It leaves an impression that lingers well past your stay.
I dare to say it’s impossible to visit Boulder Hut without feeling moved, without feeling a need for self-calibration. Being surrounded by a family that knows what they want to do and certainly knows who they are causes one to reflect: What am I passionate about, and how much have I clouded that intention with nonsense?
This fresh perspective is a gift waiting for you when you visit this treasure of a lodge, and the family that inhabits it.
A lover of all things outdoors, Abby Cooper is a splitboarder, climber, hiker, adventurer, photographer and writer. She’s living life one adventure to the next with her dog by her side.
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