My 25th birthday was spent doing the things I love most: skiing in the mountains with friends. Fernie has a special place in my heart. The lizard range is known for big precipitation dumps (usually snow but sometimes rain) and incredible alpine views. I was lucky enough to spend my quarter century celebration at Thunder Meadows Cabin for 3 nights with 6 of my closest friends.

We started off on the holiday Monday in February, bright and early. There are a few routes into Thunder Meadows but we decided to take the Island Lake Lodge road heading up Thirst Quencher Bowl to the Cat ski area. Island Lake Lodge runs the Cat Skiing operation in this area. They allow touring groups to ski up this bowl, but ask groups not to ski down. I imagine they want to keep the fresh lines for their paying customers.

Our first day was beautiful. Avalanche conditions calmed down after some snow over the weekend, and we were able to travel safely. The first section of the skin track is through the old growth forest. The ancient Western Red Cedar trees along this trail are up to 800 years old and have been spared the fires and logging of nearby areas. They tower over everything, but offer a safe and beautiful path up to the alpine.

The tour to the cabin is steep so it took us about half a day. Luckily, the cabin provides all kitchen items, and sleeping pads, so our packs were mostly full of clothing and food (and of course avalanche safety equipment). Near the top of the col was the first real avalanche terrain we encountered. This was the point we had to route find and discuss options as a group. There were 7 of us total, we have all skied together, so this made decisions and collaborations an easy task. We chose our route, went 1 at a time, and successfully crossed to the other side.

The alpine in this area is breathtaking - literally because of the hard climb but also visually in the amphitheater of peaks. Coming out of the trees is always shocking, but in the Lizard Range, the headwalls hit you like a ton of bricks. I have lived near the Rockies all my life, but every time I am among these giants I cannot help to be in such awe.

The weather was super warm the whole time we were up there. This made for warm and cozy trip but we definitely didn’t have any powder days! We had to make very conservative ski choices because the sun was heating up the slopes and making the snow heavy and slabby. Luckily, I was with some of my favorite people in the world. We made the best of the conditions- played around with jumps, dug snow pits, and stuck to the limited tree runs. We also chose to stay close to the hut which made for some amazing (and hot) lunches and a lot of card games!

On the last day, as we descended from our alpine getaway, the weather deteriorated as we lowered in elevation. Snow turned to rain and only intensified as the day went on. Still, the people I was with stayed positive and awesome. Regardless of weather or snow conditions I had one of the best birthdays of my life. For me, being in the backcountry can be a break from reality and the busy (sometimes frustrating) city life. But surrounding myself with amazing company and mountains, is when I thrive - I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. Those cold, damp, uncomfortable moments are what bring people closer and I become more human, for that I will always return. 

- Dena Maxwell

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