“SO WHAT’S THIS COLD SMOKE POWDER FESTIVAL ANYWAY?” A dreadlocked, lip-ringed snowboarder chick blurted this question at me half way up the Summit Chair on day three of last year’s debut of the Cold Smoke Festival at Whitewater Resort. She had noticed my laminated media pass flapping in the wind, and I admitted that I was writing a story about the event for an outdoor magazine, in Spokane of all places. I had obviously just racked up the third strike of uncoolness in her book: strike 1, skier; strike 2, American; and strike 3, tourist. But I was, in fact, doing “research” for an article, and was prepared to defend myself and the budding festival with the praise it deserved. The Kootenay Cold Smoke Powder Festival, I explained, is a celebration of the soul and culture of backcountry pursuits. It’s a chance for new and veteran backcountry enthusiasts to get together and build on their skills. Dreadlocked, lip-ringed snowboarder chick needed more convincing than that.

“So like what the BLEEP do people actually do at this BLEEPING thing?”

Great question, I conceded. I then proceeded to tell her about the awesome time I’d had over the weekend. I told her about the inspiring slideshows and speakers on Friday night in downtown Nelson that were enjoyed by hordes of stoked local beer toasting skiers-and even a few snowboarders. Then there was Saturday night’s buffet dinner and party with live music, dancing, and giveaways. I told her about all of the amazing ski and snowboard clinics, the fries and gravy of the festival, for everyone from beginners to experts, including diverse themes from ski skill instruction to avalanche awareness, backcountry safety, and navigation and route finding clinics. And I kind of bragged how my friends and I had been skiing all weekend with some of our ski heroes and clinic instructors, including Nils Larsen, Dave Waag, and Naheed Henderson, getting ski-life changing tips on telemark techniques on both groomed and off-piste terrain. Finally I told her about all the amazingly friendly and fun locals and tourists I’d met over the weekend, at least up until that point. She looked at me in disgust before the lift pitched us both off, and we went our separate ways.

Apparently the Cold Smoke Powder Festival isn’t for everybody, at least not people like dreadlocked, lip-ringed, snowboarder chick. But if you’ve ever longed to be initiated into the cult of backcountry winter sports in a low attitude environment; wanted to expand your backcountry ski or snowboard horizons with new skills, knowledge, and techniques; or aspired to slide down the steeps with renowned athletes, there’s a good chance it just might be one of the best weekends of your winter.

WHEN AND WHAT
The 2008 Kootenay Cold Smoke Powder Festival at Whitewater Winter Resort in Nelson, B.C. is on Friday February 22 through Monday February 25. Whitewater is touted as one of the most renowned backcountry destinations in Western Canada and is locally known for its chill, simple mom n’ pop style and deep, dependable snow.

Clinics and Demos: Dozens of inbounds and backcountry educational clinics are being offered this year for all levels of telemark and randonee skiers and snowboarders, as well as on avalanche awareness and a variety of backcountry topics. Safety gear is required on all out of bounds tours and clinics, including an avalanche beacon, shovel, probe, climbing skins and touring gear (pack, water, food, etc). Demo gear, including all the new skis you wish you could afford, will be up for grabs for short stints throughout the weekend. View the full listing of clinics and register at: http://www.mountaingear.com/coldsmoke/ClinicList.aspx

FOOD, MUSIC, FILMS, AND BREWS:
It’s worth calling in sick to work to make it up for the Cold Smoke Opener Friday night at 7 at the Nelson Rod and Gun Club (801 Railway Street). Get psyched for the rest of the festival with ski and snowboard films, prize giveaways, and Nelson Brewing Company beverages. The highlight of this year’s opening night for many will be the showing of Nils Larsen’s new film Skiing in the Shadow of Genghis Khan-Timeless Skiers of the Altai, which tells the story of Larsen’s explorations of the ancient roots of skiing in China over the past several years. Saturday night is the big party night, with the Cold Smoke Buff-EH dinner, more local brews, and music by Arthur Funkarelli, also at the Nelson Rod and Gun Club at 7PM. Get your tickets in advance for both nights if they don’t come with any festival package you buy.

WHAT TO BRING, WHERE TO STAY:
Cold Smoke is a festival, not a luxury guided vacation, so bring your own ski or boarding gear, a passport or driver’s license and birth certificate, and if you sign up for any backcountry clinics, your own avalanche beacon and other backcountry safety gear. Lodging options are plentiful in Nelson, ranging from high-end hotels to cheap and social hostel bunks.

Navigate your overnight options at:
http://mountaingear.com/coldsmoke/Travel_And_Lodging.aspx

When You Go:
GETTING THERE
Nelson and Whitewater Resort are about 3.5-4 hours north of Spokane (about 160 miles). Head north on Highway 2 and take the 211 cut-off, then continue north at the Usk junction to the border a few miles north of Metaline Falls at the Nelway crossing. Continue north to Highway 3 and Salmo, then onward north on Highway 3A to Whitewater and Nelson.

Festival clinics and social events are filling up faster than dreadlocked, lip-ringed snowboarder chick could get away from me at the top of that lift, so register now at:
http://www.mountaingear.com/coldsmoke/