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

Photos by Andrew Burr | Story Carmen Kuntz

And so it began…

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 was intrigued and surprised by how paddleable and packable these vessels were in whitewater. 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 ski up 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 the Vancouver airport.

Perfect backyard access to this packraft-ski adventure.

Travel by Packraft and by Ski.

You know you are in a special part of the world when you don’t have to go far from your backyard to find epic adventures.

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

“Water, ice and all conditions in between made for some unique
paddling perspectives 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 took place within cell service, the feeling of solitude and the raw winter weather reminded us that no matter how close to home you are, the mountains and Mother Nature are always tougher and stronger than you. Two cold nights of -15 to -20C and our crew became sunshine worshipers and an even tighter-knit than when we started.

After a quick summit celebration and snack, we made our way down the other side of Cloudburst…some more quickly and gracefully than others. With limited days on skis, I was wishing for a board 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 the Squamish River.

Packrafts and paddles ready for the snowy descent!

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, sleepless nights on top of the mountain. We took in all the sights and sounds of the mighty Squamish River, reveling in the power of water to erode banks, deposit sand, stone and massive tree trunks.

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

Keeping the packrafts cozy by the fire.

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 it but can flow with the pace of the river when the time comes to drift. They hold an insane amount of gear and pack up to easily fit in or on a backpack. As kayakers, we are used to carrying heavy, cumbersome boats, crashing through portage trails with thick plastic digging into shoulder blade or bumping off hip bones. But walking with a packraft? No problem!

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

The best packrafting feeling there is, the completion of a successful trip.