Written by: Nat Segal
Grania Devine, the owner and operator of Selkirk Backcountry Lodge, is the real deal ski bum. And yet she’s not what you would expect. She doesn’t couch-surf, there is no Subaru in sight, and she knows exactly when she last took a shower. With a beautiful long white braid hanging down her back and smooth, tanned features, even her physical appearance is far from the weathered old ruffian that would usually constitute a mountain woman. In fact, the only thing that really likens her to any ski bums I’ve ever known, is that despite acres of snow and glacial ice in her backyard, she prefers her cocktails sans ice.
As we piled gear onto the heli pad in Albert Canyon, just east of Revelstoke, we could feel Grania and her sister, Reinet Shaw, staring at the pogo sticks and hula hoops hanging from outside of Hannah’s (silver) Subaru. Claire, the organizer of the trip, said she felt embarrassed because a few of the girl’s bags were big enough for a smuggled cabana boy. Being the first all-female group that the lodge had hosted since its foundation, the experience was obviously going to be unique not only for us but also for Grania and Reinet.
It was clear when Grania was first surrounded by us skittle-clad, loud ladies at the heli drop that she was uncertain about the week ahead. However, by end of the week these first impressions had floated far down the valley with the pestering clouds that left us in white-outs for the first two days. We felt uneasy in front of these women who had graciously invited us, a group of 9 female skiers, to the Selkirk lodge for a course on ski-mountaineering because we felt they were, in a few words, more hardcore than us. Well, yes they were.
Born and raised in Alberta, Canada, Grania put her time in behind the bar in Jasper for several years in an attempt to keep the elusive ski bum dream alive. “I basically wanted to be a ski bum forever,” recalls Grania. As the ski town wheel turns, Grania met a man and in 1986 and hatched a dream. The young couple, her sister Reinet, and a band of loyal friends turned a pipe dream into a reality. A permit was obtained for a non-mechanized ski tenure only seven minutes away via helicopter in Albert Canyon.
Not unlike the weather patterns in BC, Grania experienced the turn for the worse when her husband died in an avalanche in 1988. Just as the lodge was starting its inaugural season of winter operations, she found herself with a young daughter and the honest desire to see her and her husband’s shared goal come to fruition. Rather than throwing away their shared goal, however painful, she continued on and raised the lodge from its infancy into the success it is today. “I had no clue” of what would come from creating the lodge, recalls Grania. As only a true ski bum could so optimistically philosophize, “my expectations were that I’d go powder skiing and somehow pay the bills.”
Whether she created it or someone bewitched her with the name, Grania’s royal silver braid and warm cocktails have earned her the title “Queen of the Selkirks.” Grania runs a tight lodge with the help of her sister and daughter, Kate. As a 24-year old who just passed her ACMG assistant ski guide certification, Kate grew up in the lodge witness to the early rise for breakfast and kick-your-ass-in-the-skin-track philosophy that isn’t governed by anything more than the task at hand to enjoy every day in, as Grania puts it, the “powder skiing center of the universe.” Her mother’s tone and attitude can seem a bit “direct” for some people’s taste, but her efficient nature translates to more ski time for everyone and, in the words of the Queen herself, “less futzing around!”
The Selkirk Lodge is founded on the belief that it is the center of the powder skiing universe. It has, arguably, the best ski touring on the planet. Jump in a helicopter, fly 7 minutes up a canyon, and you find yourself in the hands of the Queen, or as Grania puts it, “purveyors of happiness.” And there is more than one ski-bum-for-life besides Grania who has become addicted to the powder skiing, terrain and atmosphere of the Selkirk Lodge.
One of Grania’s many loyal subjects is Anne Keller. Anne is both a fully accredited AMGA and ACMG ski guide. Only a handful of women possess these certifications and it is not an achievement that should be taken lightly. Legend has it that it took only one week at the Selkirk Lodge for Anne to threaten barricading herself in the outhouse to avoid leaving. Lucky for Anne, the sous-chef for the next group never showed and she relished the care of Queen Grania for another week. Accordingly, her initial trip was succeeded by frequent visits to guide groups, a realization of her own ski bum dream.
In spite of her down to earth and practical nature (hence the brilliance of being locked in an outhouse), Anne mused that to some her job “could be construed as innately superfluous and shallow.” However, after reflecting on the joy and exhilaration she sees in the groups she guides from the Lodge, she found that in its own way, ski guiding has a valued role within the community. “I got to thinking about how much a skiing trip means to some people. A week at Selkirk Lodge goes a long way towards recharging people so they can go back to saving the world.”
Anne has climbed Rainier more times than she can count and even completed (each in a single day) the Spearhead and Forbidden Traverses to name only several of her awe-inspiring accomplishments. When she talks about people changing the world, she can be held more accountable than most guides. She came up with a way to link the powder Queen and her castle with the women of SheJumps.org, a nonprofit based on creating community for women of all backgrounds and ages in the outdoors. By bringing together phenomenal young women—a mixed bag of freeskiers and general adventure enthusiasts—associated with the organization, she created the Alpine Finishing School; an intensive ski mountaineering course, designed to provide females within the ski community an opportunity to expand their skills and confidence in the backcountry.
From the group’s perspective, being exposed to women such as Anne, Grania, Reinet, Kate, and Michelle (our third, but equally incredible female guide) was inspirational. Watching them work, kick ours asses up the skin track, discuss rope techniques, gab about weather models, recreate hair-raising adventures they experienced—let alone observing their daily routine (which on most days involved a light 3,000-6,000ft ski tour while concurrently running the lodge, as in the case of Grania and Reinet), left us all stunned by their energy. The hard work and persistence that these women show every day is beyond encouraging. It exemplifies what passion can do and what it can help you to achieve. As Claire Smallwood, Executive Director of SheJumps put it, Grania and Anne are “living our dream” — the dream of being able to ski all of your life, whether it is as a career, a side project, or just a way of making a livelihood in the mountains. To see it made into a plausible reality makes our goals as young ski bums seem all the more real and possible sans Subaru but perhaps via helicopter and replacing permanent couch sleeping posture with a bed nestled high in the glacial peaks of British Columbia.
The Finishing School, as expected, was insanely influential for everyone. A dozen or so women conquering miles of powdery terrain was a sight to behold; an amazing trip to have shared. Having the opportunity to be involved in a program such as this, while still in the adolescence of my ski “bum” career is something that I don’t think I will completely appreciate until I can look back on it. I felt even more fortunate to be involved with the program after speaking with Grania, who pondered, “Who knows what would have happened to me if I was exposed to people like you when I was younger.”