A Skier’s Guide to the White Pass

It’s a familiar story – a cliché, really. Come to Yukon for a holiday, get hooked on the place and decide to move here.

That’s what happened to Claude Vallier and his wife when they visited the territory from their home in France.

“After a couple of trips, we really fell in love with the place. We thought we could just try it for a couple of months, or one year,” Vallier says. “After almost four years, I think we are going to stay. We don’t think about moving from here.”

The biggest lure, Vallier explains, was the territory’s mountainous terrain and the opportunities to pursue the outdoor lifestyle they and their two young daughters enjoy.

“I spent all my life in mountains. I come from a small village in the Alps. And you know, skiing and mountaineering, it’s the only thing that you can do, so I spent all my life doing that, and I was working on the mountain, too.”

In his home village of Le Grand-Bornand, in the heart of resort country near the Swiss border, Vallier worked as a police officer with the federal force.

But his job wasn’t about catching crooks and issuing speeding tickets.

“I was in a special team about search and rescue in the mountains. I was a ski instructor there, and a mountain instructor also.”

Although he has retired from police work, the 38-year-old has no intention of giving up his lifestyle as a skier, snowboarder and mountaineer.

He is a search and rescue volunteer at Mount Sima, and also volunteers with both the newly-formed Yukon Avalanche Association and the Yukon section of the Canadian Alpine Association.

He is also the author and publisher of a new guide to backcountry ski touring, snowboarding and telemarking in the White Pass area.

That project, which has been over three years in the making, traces back to his arrival in the territory, when he saw the “really big potential” for his favourite activity, ski touring.

“The terrain is perfect, it’s a long winter, with a lot of snow,” he says. “And I tried to find information about the area, but the maps are not really very good, and there is nothing about ski touring. It was really hard to find good information.”

For the next three winters, he set about exploring the area on his own, camera in hand.

When he shared his pictures with friends and other skiers, he says, they wanted to know about the different locales and how to reach them. At their urging, he decided to document his experiences by way of an illustrated guide.

The English-language version, White Pass: Backcountry Skiing Between Yukon and Alaska, goes on sale in Whitehorse this week. The original French-language version also came out recently.

With 146 pages and more than 180 photographs, the guide documents 50 separate routes in the White Pass area where enthusiasts can indulge in touring, telemarking and snowboarding.

The photos, Vallier explains, allow readers to see the terrain for themselves, rather than relying just on the author’s subjective verbal descriptions of the experience. And he won’t name a specific route as his favourite.

“I don’t have a favourite place, because the places are all different. The snow is different, and the scenery is different.”

However, he is willing to speak of what appeals to him most about skiing in this part of the world.

“You can be in the middle of the mountains without any tracks around you, without any noise,” he says. “In the Alps now, it’s impossible to find that, because there is always a plane around, and some roads down in the valley, and you can hear the noise of the road and planes.”

Vallier calls the silence he experiences here “a kind of luxury. It’s not possible to find this everywhere.”

Not surprisingly, for someone who has spent most of his adult life rescuing people from mountainsides, Vallier devotes part of his book to getting out a message of safety in the backcountry.

“A lot of people really want to go into the mountains for skiing, but you need to know the risks and the dangers,” he says. “Even if it’s a basic trip, and an easy slope, there is some risk and danger. It’s mountain.”

Another message Vallier tries to convey is the importance of minimizing human impact on the wilderness environment.

“A lot of people don’t really think about it, but for me, I think it’s really important. We can try to have a really small impact, just try to be aware of the plants and animals, and try to avoid some areas sometimes, in some period of the year.”

Vallier doesn’t expect to make much money from his first publishing venture, and he’s still learning the ropes about such things as distribution.

“I’m really good at the outdoor stuff, but I’m not a businessman,” he admits.

Still, the French edition will soon be for sale in France, and the English version will be available in Haines and Juneau, Alaska. He is also exploring the possibility of online sales.

Vallier is proud of having his first book printed in Whitehorse, rather than elsewhere.

“It’s a bit more expensive, but I’m living here now, and I really appreciate that the Yukon, and especially Whitehorse, is a kind of community. So I really wanted to do it locally.”

And even with the ink not yet dry on his first book, Vallier is already working on his second backcountry skiing guide, this time in the Haines Pass – Haines Junction area.

As with the first, Vallier sees it as “just a good way to share my experience, and to get more people to love the area and love the mountains, and use a really low-impact practice. That’s my goal.”

White Pass: Backcountry Skiing Between Yukon and Alaska will be available December 23 at Mac’s Fireweed Books and Up North Adventures. List price is $39.

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