Pow skiing in Powell River? Only a Knucklehead would believe that.

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Powell River, B.C. – 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 tagging along with the SnowSeekers crew to explore a rumoured “Pow Town” backcountry zone at the upper end of the Sunshine Coast. Though Jackson, 61, is a frequent visitor to the area (he’s one of less than a half-dozen trail runners to complete the entire 180-kilometre long Sunshine Coast trail in one go), he never heard of the Knuckleheads prior to last week.

Stick around Powell River long enough and chances are you’ll hear the locals refer to it as “Pow Town.” Indeed, the award-winning Townsite Brewing used to offer a PowTown Porter. To skiers and snowboarders, though, PowTown might mean “close proximity to first tracks and face shots.”

Well, Powell River isn’t there quite yet, but (relative) newcomers like Joel Nordman and Gregory Blais are certainly trying. Last week, Nordman, Blais and other members of the Knuckleheads Winter Recreation Association (KWRA) hosted the SnowSeekers crew to prospect for fresh turns. It did not disappoint!

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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!”

Powell River Skiing
Photo: Doc Pow

Powell River’s Knuckleheads is a mountain region home to some epic turns.

It’s a pretty sweet feeling once the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) finally breaks through the trees and magically pops into a landscape of alpine bowls and well-spaced glades. The most prominent is Sentinel Ridge, which 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 around a table in Powell River’s outstanding Townsite Brewery tasting room. Raising the necessary funds took a couple of years but once the money was in place, the hut was quickly built. The walls and floors were pre-fabricated in town and slung up to Sentinel Ridge by helicopter. This was built by volunteers over five  x 7 day work partys, requiring ~ 2000 volunteer hours, and it will continue to be run and maintained by the KWRA, a volunteer operated associated.

Powell River Skiing
Photo: Steven Threndyle

Better than slogging up a logging road, the SnowSeekers received royal treatment from the local ATV club.

Our journey began with a hour-long jaunt up a 4x4 only logging road, a half hour hike and 20-minute riding on the back of an ATV driven by members of the local Powell River ATV club. 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 skis along a logging road, Jackson said, “Yep, it’s pow-town. But you’ve got to work to get there.”

Skiing Powell River
Photo: Steven Threndyle

There is no charge to use the Vic Cole cabin, which sleeps 10, but donations are suggested by us here @SnowSeekers. Always leave it better than you found it.

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.

Townsite Brewing

Powell River beer
Photo: Steven Threndyle

Townsite Brewing’s Belgian brewmeister create's some delicious brews, including Sentinel Ridge – perfect for pow fans.

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. It was built to house employees at a pulp and paper mill that would become the largest producer of newsprint in the world by the 1950s.

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.

It was hard to figure out what Ean Jackson enjoyed more – the Pow Town pow or the Townsite draft. As a self-proclaimed “beer bagger,” – slang for a beer connoisseur who goes out of his way to sample local craft beers, Jackson says Townsite is at the ‘top of the hops’ when it comes to craft beer excellence. As a one-time home brewer himself, Jackson knows quality when he tastes it. “It’s worth coming up here just for the barrel-aged Cardena Quad,” he says.

When You Go:

Travel time to Powell River is anywhere between four and six hours. Access from Vancouver is via Highway 101 and two B.C. Ferries trips (Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay; Saltery Bay to Earl’s Cove). Powell River is also accessible via B.C. Ferries from Courtenay/Comox on Vancouver Island.

Access into the Knuckleheads is via logging roads. Due to active forestry activity in the area, public travel is restricted from Monday to Friday unless you are carrying a VFR radio to communicate with the haul drivers. High clearance 4x4 vehicles (equipped with chains) will get you the farthest. There are kitchen facilities, including a propane stove for baking brownies once you get back from a big day of skiing. There is no charge to use the Vic Cole cabin (sleeps 10), however donations are appreciated and Knuckleheads memberships are available off their Facebook page. There are kitchen facilities, including a propane stove for baking brownies once you get back from a big day of skiing.

Skiing in backcountry areas means severe weather and avalanches are real hazards. You and everyone in your group must be self-sufficient—carrying all the proper gear (transceiver, shovel, and probe) and have avalanche training. Familiarize yourself with #LeaveNoTrace principles and BC Adventure Smart is a great resource to help you get informed before heading outdoors; and always remember the three Ts—trip planning, training, and taking the essentials.

Doc Pow has provided a pretty detailed story on how to get to this amazing place – click here to read

Useful websites include:

Sunshine Coast Tourism can help you plan your search for untracked powder.

Townsite Brewing is a "must visit" for anyone visiting PowTown. 

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