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  • Writer's pictureGrete Eliassen

Indigenous Women Outdoors' Trip to Kees & Claire Memorial Hut

Updated: Apr 16

Recently, I just got back from a backcountry ski & snowboard trip to Kees (pronounced ‘case’)  & Claire Memorial Hut located in the backcountry of Whistler Blackcomb Resort. I was invited by professional snowboarder and guide Sandy Ward to join the Indigenous Women Outdoor (IWO) crew for a two-day trip. After moving to Whistler (unceded territories of the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation) just last year I could not have been invited on a better first time trip out to the hut.


Gabrielle Savage & Grete Eliassen enjoy the summit of Flute off Whistler Blackcomb with Indigenous Women Outdoors
Gabrielle & Grete (author) on top of Flute Summit

Route to Kees & Claire Memorial Hut From Whistler Village


We met in the Whistler Village on April 1st, 2024 at 9 am. I was late because my children’s school played a little April Fools joke on me and no one was at school. Therefore, I needed to pivot and rearrange my plans, which I did and somehow managed to meet the IWO crew right on time at the bottom of the Whistler Gondola.



 

Everyone was smiling and looked so happy to start the adventure together. We got in line at the Whistler Gondola and Sandy noticed Erin Bradley had the wrong split board binding on her board, she tried to fix it, but by doing so Erin put her finger in the wrong spot, pinching her finger in the binding and then blood. Luckily, there were plenty of medical professionals in the crew to take care of her.


After the quick medical attention was addressed everyone proceeded to load the Whistler Gondola. Not long after, Sandy noticed she had misplaced her coffee and radioed to the crew if anyone had seen it. Two people responded with, “We got your coffee, we will drop off at the Olympic Station.” Sandy retrieved her coffee, everyone unloaded by the Roundhouse Lodge, quick bathroom break and then it was off to the elements of the mountains.


Aiyana from Indigenous Women Outdoors pulls her skins apart on a backcountry trip to Kees & Claire Memorial Hut Whistler Blackcomb
Aiyana transitioning from up-hill to downhill with her skins
The Route

Peak Express would be the second and final lift of the trip. If anyone reading this has gone on Peak Express, then you know how high off the ground you ride the chair right before you get off. And with a 50-70 pound pack it can be a little scary. Luckily, everyone rode and unloaded the chair safely and started their descent behind the Whistler Summit with a beautiful view of Black Tusk and Garibaldi on the horizon.


After skiing down the mountain towards Harmony Express everyone transitioned into walk mode on their skis and snowboards right below the chair where there is a cat-walk that wraps around Piccolo Summit to the Musical Bumps ski touring route (Piccolo, Flute, Oboe, Russet Lake and Fissile Peak). This is also when we did our final beacon check before heading into the backcountry together.


Gabrielle Savage and Ali K. from Indigenous Women Outdoors standing on top of Oboe Summit with Fissile Peak in the background
Gabrielle & Ali enjoying a snack with Kees & Claire Memorial Hut in the background

.Flute Summit

Everyone did very well with heir first few steps traversing around Piccolo Summit with their newly rented or purchased ski & snowboard touring gear. However, even though we were following a cat track, the track was angled on a slope and holding an edge with a our backpacks is quite difficult if you are not experienced. A few people had their first falls, but were not hurt and kept going up towards Flute Summit. Once arriving at the summit, the first of the backpacking snacks were dispersed, mangos, energy chews and water. Det’ele mentioned they would like to perform a smudging ceremony before entering into the new terrain, but the wind was too much on top of the Flute Summit, so everyone decided it would be best until we got into the protected trees of the next descent.


Elsa from Indigenous Women Outdoors skis down the Musical Bumps at Whistler Blackcomb towards Kees & Claires Memorial Hut
Elsa skiing down Flute Summit towards Oboe (Musical Bumps)

Skiing down Flute Summit looking at Fissile Peak is like skiing on a cloud. The most magnificent terrain all around you, you’re skiing on a slope that is reasonably safe and not in an avalanche prone hazard path. You can really let go and take in all the beauty as you are skiing and snowboarding down. However, this time of year does mean spring conditions which can lead to catchy snow, one of the skiers went down and carefully avoided hitting a tree. Even after all of this, I think to myself, I cannot believe I am here right now, skiing with the IWO crew.


Oboe Summit

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Det'ele, Eryn and McKenzie from Indigenous Women Outdoors take a rest while traversing towards Kees & Claires Memorial Hut
Splitboarders and sisters Eryn and McKenzie enjoy a lunch break in the protected trees with Det'ele in the background
Russet Lake

As we transition one more time into walk-mode we realize this will be the longest decent of the day. Our stomachs are full from lunch and the weather is still very pleasant with clouds but lots of sunshine. The wind is starting to blast as we reach the alpine again out of the protection of the trees but we know the hut is just over the next summit. Sandy is in the lead and I offer to play tail-guide even though I am not certified in any way. I start chatting with Isabelle Ranger who lives in Squamish and is a former Pro Skateboarder. I cannot believe how much we have in common. She is a mom and most recently Grandma, loves making tea, snowboarding, skateboarding, hunting and I get to talk to her as we walk up the mountain.


Gabrielle Savage from Indigenous Women Outdoors ski tours up towards Kees & Claires Memorial Hut
Gabrielle skinning up the final ascent towards Kees & Claires Memorial Hut

If you have followed my blog or seen my videos on YouTube, you know I want to be a skateboarder and Isabelle is the perfect mentor for me. The clouds start to cover us overhead and it’s starting to be milky but we realize we are almost to the hut. We catch up to the group, peak around the corner and see the Hut! We are all so excited, we almost run to see it up close.


Eryn & Ali from Indigenous Women Outdoors ski touring and split boarding musical bumps towards Kees & Claires Memorial Hut
Eryn & Ali smiling because they are in the mountains

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What's inside Kees & Claire Memorial Hut? (Stove, Beds, Bathrooms)


As we walk into the hut for the first time in our snow gear, it is warm and welcoming. Beautiful windows from all sides of the building, allowing us to see out at the surrounding area. We take our gear off in a drying room and hang everything up. I used the slippers provided by the hut, but the rest of the crew pulled out their own moccasins. We placed our food in cubbies by the kitchen, picked beds in the lower level bunk rooms. There is about 30 beds in total at the hut. Our group of 11 is the biggest group and we are excited to relax and rest after our long day traversing across the musical bumps.


Indigenous Women Outdoors arrive at Kees & Claire Memorial Hut for the first time ever
Gabrielle, Isabelle and Aiyana final push towards Kees & Claire Memorial Hut located under Fissile Peak.

In addition, to clean mattress beds, there is a fully stocked kitchen with all the utensils and cooking tools you could imagine. There were dish cloths, tea pots, coffee presses and propane stoves provided. In addition, there is a fully functioning bathroom, supplied with toilet paper and antibacterial soap. There is a lounge area with wall sofa, yoga mats, fireplace and books people have left to read. Everything you would need or want in a backcountry hut.


Professional Snowboarder and Guide Sandy Ward from Indigenous Women Outdoors enjoys the view with Aiyana and McKenzie on the deck of Kees & Claires Spearhead Memorial Hut
Sandy Ward (Pro Snowboarder & Guide), Aiyana and Eryn (or is that McKenzie?) catching the sunset off the deck.

Apres Ski

We set up a charcuterie board of nuts, cheese, crackers, fruits and drinks. Everyone brought one beer in their backpack. Unfortunately, one beer popped in someones backpack but luckily did not make too much of a mess. Because the hut has four different propane stoves in the communal kitchen it is advised not to light a candle or smoke anything inside the hut. The hut visitors take turns cooking dinner and using the stoves with a cooking schedule placed on the wall. Lights out and quiet time starts at 10 pm so everyone needs to be finished cooking and cleaned up before then.


Backcountry Meal Plan with Ali Shuparski


I am always in awe with people that know how to fine dine while in the backcountry.  I am always amazed with he creativity and the resourcefulness they can come up with when planning meals for this type of trip. Ali Shuparkski who is a part-time ski patroller and avid backpacker planned meals for the entire trip. Even down to my dietary restrictions of eating only vegan.


Backcountry Meal Plan for  for Kees & Claires Memorial Hut with McKenzie and Dani from Indigenous Women Outdoors
Eryn & Dani cooking dinner on one of four meal stations at Kees & Claire Hut.

2 Day, 1 Night Backcountry Meal Plan

Apres Ski

Charcuterie Board: Cheese, Meats, Nuts, Dried Fruits, Crackers


Dinner

Vegan Ramen: Carrots, Mushrooms, Broth, Ramen Flavor,  Rice Noodles, Tofu and Green Onions

 

Breakfast

Vegan Egg Scramble, Biscuit Pancakes and Vegan Sausage.


Lunch

Vegan Wraps, Carrots, Cucumbers, Hummus, left overs from Dinner or Breakfast.


Another note when traveling to a backcountry hut, you have to “Pack In, Pack Out.” Meaning anything you bring to the hut, you have to bring back with you in your backpack home. Therefore, it takes some calculation on how to pack just enough food but not overdo it so you are carrying everything home too.


Professional Snowboarder & Guide Sandy Ward From Lil'Wat Nation guides Indigenous Women Outdoors to Kees & Claires Memorial Hut
Sandy Ward taking IWO farther than they ever have gone together

Good Morning Fissile Peak

We woke up and just like the weather had forecasted it was cold, windy and lightly snowing. We knew our trip would be mostly about getting to the hut, having a nice time and skiing back. Consequently, no one was upset that we were not able to try some of the lines around the hut. We had completed the first half of our goal and now we needed to make it back.


Visibility was very low so we kept together as much as we could as a group but kept our distance and spacing, in case snow did start to move. However, like I said before, the route to Kees & Claire hut is reasonably safe and low avalanche danger. Because the slopes we were traveling on were never steep enough to cause an avalanche. Therefore, our main concern for the day was to make sure everyone met up at each regrouping area and moved together as a team.


Skiing down from the hut into the trees was a little challenging. The snow was even more sticky and had hardened in some spots. Therefore, I advised everyone to try to ski in everyones tracks as much as possible to keep their momentum and smoothness down the run. Run 1 was hard, but everyone made it down.


As we transitioned into the safety of the trees, not feeling any wind, it felt like we had a long way to go but we were making good time. It was starting to snow a little more than when we started at the hut, but not warm enough to delayer. Sandy again, was leading us onto the skin track and I was in the rear making sure everyone felt accounted for.


Return From Kees & Claire Memorial Hut


This year the Singing Pass Trail that is used most often by people who venture out to the Kees & Claire Hut was not advised. So instead of going down and connecting with that trail that allows you to ski all the way to the Whistler Village we ski toured up towards Oboe, skied halfway down Oboe towards Flute, transitioned and ski toured to the saddle where we had our final ski into Flute Bowl then connecting with Burnt Stew Cat Track that would lead us to the bottom of Emerald Express (Green Chair) and all the way down to Whistler Village.


It was a little wet once we started skiing halfway down the mountain, the temps were getting a little higher and the snow we felt up at the hut was now turning into rain. But spirits continued to be high. Det’ele broke his snowboard binding somehow right before riding into the village, so some opted to take the Whistler Gondola down halfway and with their soaked packs. No shade was given, and fully understandable that someone would choose this option.


As we arrived at the village, soaking wet, everyone was still smiling. An unexplainable bond had been created and we could not wait for the next adventure. It was hard to say goodbye but as a mother, I had to make it to school pick up. I can’t thank Sandy Ward and IWO crew enough for allowing me to take part in this epic adventure. I really appreciate the invite and being welcomed into the Squamish and Lil’Wat Territory together.


You can learn more about Indigenous Women Outdoors (IWO) here: https://www.indigenouswomenoutdoors.ca/


Reserve Kees & Claire Hut here:





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