It’s sweltering in the valley bottom, but the wind cuts like diamonds up high, where a tin roof glimmers unnaturally off the pointed peak of Revelstoke, British Columbia’s Mount Cartier. The fire lookout is 100 years old, but still sits unnaturally perched in rock above the surrounding peaks, and the bright green estuary of the Columbia Valley flats 7,000 feet below. From the scrappy gravel landing pad on the ridge, a cornice still guards the back of the sheer mountain, leftover from wintertime. There are no roads to get here, just an unrelenting, 10-mile trail you turn around and go right back down. It drops off the peak in broad switchbacks tracing a massive slide path—which some springs produces size-four avalanches (big enough to bury a train)—then transitions from high-consequence bench-cut to brain-rattling roots for the last seven miles.
“It’s just sick,” says Matt Yaki, co-owner of Wandering Wheels, a company that offers guided heli-biking on Mount Cartier—one of only two guided heli-biking experiences available in all of B.C. “It’s entirely singletrack, it’s entirely technical, and there’s nowhere that you can just relax and turn your mind off. There aren’t that many trails outside of maybe the Alps and the Himalayas where you have that kind of wide-open, steep sidehill and that exposure.”
But with half-a-dozen commercial operators and the public now fighting over using helicopters to ride this trail, Cartier is more than just one of the longest and rowdiest descents in North America. It’s also a cautionary tale about the conflicts that arise from overly permissive land-use policies and an absent government. Beyond the question of who should profit from public land, is now the problem of who should profit from public infrastructure.