By Olivier Dion and Thomas Thiery. Follow them at estski.ca
(Translated from the French)
In the imagination of many backcountry skiers, Newfoundland’s West Coast remains a mythical place. Many know there is as much skiable terrain as in Gaspésie and the snow is abundant, but few have skied there. Newfoundland is not easily tamed: strong winds, blowing snow, “whiteout” rainfall events. Everything happened on our heads in Newfie’s land.
Arrival on the island
The night is already well underway when we take possession of our hairdresser’s car. At the Deer Lake airport, the lady advises us to be careful about aquaplaning, especially with all-season tires. Outside, the rain welcomes us, tempestuous. After a few controlled slides, we land in a budget hotel. We will use the next day’s light to figure out where to ski.
First day: discover Newfoundland
Upon waking, the challenges are manifold: find a restaurant serving bacon and eggs, recognize the front of a grocery store, and – most importantly – find the snow. After two episodes of intense rain, the entire snowpack is virtually decimated. With our bags full of food at the Foodland grocery store, we ask for directions to the Gros Morne National Park (pronounced with a strong Newfie accent if we want to be understood).
We drive 70 km (43 miles) to reach Rocky Harbour, a small town in the heart of the national park. Once there, we quickly see that winter tourism is not very popular. The majority of shops and accommodations are closed, except for bars. We continue our exploration in the rain, looking for a place to sleep. We try Norris Point Youth Hostel, a former hospital converted into a community center / physiotherapist / hostel. Nobody at reception, no telephone. We simply borrow their Wi-Fi to find another place, an inexpensive cottage.
First days of skiing: Killdevil and Big Hill
After the rain, the cold and snow have reappeared, and the wind remains constant. Armed with our crampons and ice axes, with little visibility, we tackle two exposed couloirs of nearly 600 vertical meters (1,970 feet). The surface is hard, so avalanche activity is near zero. A small snowfall allows us to ski storm wind slabs. This will be our only solace during the first two days of skiing.
Stay at Daine’s place: Tablelands and Gros Morne
Before we left for Newfoundland, we had heard of a hostel run by a guide in Sally’s Cove. Daine Hewlin, who once guided a team from Ski The East, will be our host for four days. Accommodation is cheap (temporarily without hot water!). We get valuable advice from Daine during our few evenings spent together. He tells us when to go Tablelands, where we enjoy a beautiful “white-bird” day – overcast but with excellent visibility. It’s better than nothing! It snowed the night before, but the strong winds blow at 120 kmh (75 mph). The land is impressive and new cornices above the lanes and bowls are intimidating. During our progress in the Trout River Bowl, we observe that the cornice broke recently, just enough to scare us and make us ski a little below its shoulder.
The next day, we ski the Gros Morne. This is the calm before the next rainstorm – meaning the best day of our stay, with sunshine and no wind! We borrow the summer trail, and end up in crampons, again. The day is a success: 18 km (11 miles) of distance, 1,300 m (4,300 feet) of elevation and 30 cm (12 inches) of powder under the wind. Downhill skiing is not a common practice on that mountain.
Southwest Gulch (SWG) Hut
We hope to spend our last days of the trip exploring the land around the SWG hut in the Tablelands. We spend the night listening to the hut groan in the 120 kmh (75 mph)winds. The next day, Thomas seems a little too motivated by the conditions. He seems to care only about the snowfall from the previous day, but forgets that visibility is only 10 m (32 feet), and the wind is still strong. It’s hard to believe, but we end up skiing glades near the shelter in miraculously good conditions.
The next day we are exhausted. We spend the morning skiing around the hut. Winds have finally calmed down. We climb the first bowl we find, full of snow from the last storm.
We start our last day in Newfoundland in high spirits. We ski the Marble Mountain Resort. A surprise snowstorm filled the mountain with 35 cm (14 inches) of fresh snow, a beautiful gift before leaving.