New Patagonia Film Explores the Classic Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Ski Traverse with a Team of Three Women
For ski mountaineers, the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass is a North American classic, a bucket list traverse for aspiring guides and recreational skiers alike. The route has a poetic beauty to it cutting north-south in the Columbia Mountains and bookended by two mountain playgrounds, Bugaboo Provincial Park and Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park. This epic was pioneered in 1958 by Americans Bill Briggs, Bob French, Sterling Neale and Barry Corbett. They made a tough, stoic quartet. For the era, it was a monumental nine-day tour de force that involved more than 11,000 metres of ascending and 135 km of weaving through the Purcell and Selkirk mountains. They did it before Canadian Mountain Holidays had built Bugaboo Lodge and could provide helicopter food drop support. And considering the heavy gear of the day and intricate route-finding required, it remains an impressive achievement still hard to match for the average backcountry skier.
Last winter, two Patagonia athletes, skier Leah Evans and snowboarder Marie-France Roy, teamed up with Nelson-born ski guide Madeleine Martin-Preney to tackle this iconic ski traverse. Evans and Roy are front and slack country shredders to the core. The latter of the two had never rappelled on a climbing rope or slept in a tent in winter while on a ski traverse. Conversely, Martin-Preney is a veteran of many long traverses and slogs and is a skilled ski mountaineer. Their adventure is captured in the recently released Patagonia film Mind Over Mountain. This candid and often humorous documentary explores the mental and physical struggles of the ski traverse, from the euphoric highs of skiing down the endless Conrad Glacier to the downright drudgery and toil of ascending toward Malachite Spire, one of many long climbs along the route. The film is also a window into group dynamics and how the mountains can bind or divide. In this case, the challenge strengthened the bonds among this trio of women.
Though they started as three friends embarking on an adventure, it soon became clear that Martin-Preney’s skill and experience would change this dynamic and place her by default in a leadership, sort of unpaid guide roll. In other words, the lion’s share of decision-making would fall on her shoulders. Rather than getting defensive, Roy and Evans unpack this realization with a candor and levity that would likely be absent from a group of men. I know because I am one.
At one point, an exhausted Roy collapses on her backpack at the end of another long day and watches incredulously as Martin-Preney, the energizer, digs out a tent platform and kitchen area. I’m sure there was tension at times; after all they’re only human. But the joy and sense of fulfillment the women feel when they finally reach Glacier Circle Hut, their last night before skiing up, over and down the Illecillewaet Neve to Rogers Pass, literally shines from their faces.
Inside the hut, Roy, Evans and Martin-Preney find the spot on the wall where one of the pioneering Americans scrawled a matter of fact record of their passage more than 50 years ago: “10 June 1958—Ski Traverse from Bugaboo Creek to Glacier. Started June 2. -Alpine Ski Club of America.”