JEFF & LEANNE | BOARDING THEIR BACKYARD
Really good snow in the valley bottom around Whistler isn’t very common. The amount of snow and the quality that we were...
In terms of emissions, Canadians drive the dirtiest vehicles in the world. On average, Canadians burn 8.7 litres of gasoline per 100 kilometres that we drive. In terms of C02, that works out to about 206 grams of greenhouse gas emissions per kilometre, or as Barry Saxifrage from the National Observer puts it, “Picture throwing 400 plastic straws out the window every kilometre”. That’s pretty fucked up no matter what you think. And when you consider that 25 per cent of all of Canada’s C02 emissions come from the transportation industry, you start to see how as individuals, the single most significant impact we could have on our carbon footprint is changing how much and what we drive. With this in mind and the guilt of my own car dependency on my conscience, I convinced Jon Chew and Jackie Sakaguchi to set out and explore some zero-emissions roadside snowboarding.
The plan was to take a Hyundai Kona EV (care of the good people at the Kootenay Car Share Cooperative) and drive it all over, seeing what kind of snowboarding we could get done along the way. We would cover roughly 3,000 kilometres over 10 days, and this route would include going from Revelstoke south to Kootenay Pass, north up to Jasper, heading east to Banff and making our way west to Whistler. We would stick to high elevation secondary routes through mountain passes, and with any luck the weather would cooperate.
Words and Photos by Nick Khattar
Leg 1 • Revelstoke to Trout Lake to Kaslo • 198 kilometres
The trip began as all good trips do: with your filmer dropping out at the last minute only to discover that you wouldn’t have been able to fit him into the car anyway. Turns out an SUV “crossover” is less of an SUV and more of a slightly bigger hatchback. Our first day in the Kona was a real reality check. An icy, cold, stressful reality check. When we picked up the car we discovered it wasn’t fully charged. No fear, there is a BC Hydro fast charge station in downtown Revelstoke. It took 45 minutes and $35 to charge the battery from just under 50 per cent to “full”.
As we left Revelstoke, it was -21°C outside. The first thing that caught our attention was that our fully charged battery only showed a range of just over 200 kilometres or half of the stated full range of the electric Hyundai Kona. This was a bit distressing since we were about to drive about 150 kilometres of back roads with no services or cell phone reception. A quick read through the operating manual for the Kona revealed that to optimize the car’s battery life you should avoid overloading the vehicle (say with hundreds of pounds of snowboard gear and camera equipment?). Causing extra drag on the vehicle (like the giant Thule box on the roof?). And avoid driving in frigid temperatures. The other issue we ascertained fairly quickly was that running the heat would reduce the cars’ battery life substantially. By the time we got to Trout Lake, my fingers and toes were numb, and the water in all of our water bottles had frozen. It wasn’t even dark yet. It was going to be a long road. We set out on a mission to snowboard via electric car, though, and by Zeus that’s what we were going to do. So with some beta from the guy at the Trout Lake gas station and a short drone recon mission, we managed to find Al Clark’s quarter pipe. And as the sun went down over Trout Mountain we almost forgot that we would soon have to cram back in the Kona and face whatever lay ahead in the cold darkness of the road.
That night we coasted into Kaslo on a handful of electrons. This would become a common theme of the trip. But in an electric vehicle your day isn’t done when you have reached your destination. You still have to go find a place to put your car on charge, assuming that wherever you are has a charging station. So, in the blistering cold, and after a very long cold drive, we parked the car, plugged it in, and walked several blocks back to the Kaslo Hotel.
Leg 2 • Kaslo to Sandon to New Denver to Nelson • 236 kilometres
We drove highway 31A to the once-abandoned town of Sandon, where we spent the day riding pillows and dilapidated buildings. At the same time, Jackie met the caretaker of BC’s oldest continuously operating hydro station. We couldn’t make it from Sandon to Nelson, so we had to stop in New Denver to charge the car. TIP: in the Kootenays, we have two charging station entities, BC Hydro and Fortis (or Flo). At the time of the trip both of these entities charged you to use their charging stations, but Flo stations tended to charge more. Neither of them tended to be very consistent with their output capacities, and neither of them ever outputted their stated maximum wattage charging capacity. In fact, at no point throughout the trip did we witness any charging station output its max wattage. In New Denver, while chugging beers at Odin’s Pub, we would have to go back to the charging station twice because it stopped charging randomly. This issue became a fairly common occurrence. It was in New Denver that we began to hypothesize that the cold not only had detrimental effects on the car battery but also on the charging stations.
Our hotel in Nelson was about two kilometres from the nearest charging station, so we ended that day sitting in Mike’s Pub until well after midnight, waiting for the car to charge. I can’t explain to you the torture that is being cold and exhausted and just wanting to sleep but having to sit around a shitty pub drinking shitty draft beer because your shitty zero emissions car is higher maintenance than your girlfriend’s shitty hairless cat. All in the name of your shitty conscience because the human species is shitting all over the world and you just want to not be shitty.
The next day we rode cold, dry pow in the Kootenay Pass. It was amazing to get the splitboards on and get the fuck out of that horrible little car and get some cold smoke under our feet. And for a brief moment, on top of Baldy Rocks with the sun in our face and the needle piercing cold on our eyeballs, we forgot about our pain and suffering at the hands of the Kona.
By that point in the trip we calculated that it had cost us $75 to travel 290 kilometres. That is some lousy mileage. I had a ‘95 Ford F-350 with a 5.8L Windsor engine. I’d get better gas mileage than our Kona did on that leg of the trip. However, it turns out that the Kootenays are a rip off for EV owners because all the BC Hydro charging stations on the coast were actually free. And the charging stations in Banff and Jasper, while not fast-charging stations, were also free.
Leg 3 • Nelson to Coquihalla Summit to Britton Creek to Whistler to Cayoosh Creek • 994 kilometres
Leaving Nelson, we were all now used to driving in our snowboard outerwear. We were only using the heat to defrost the windows. But we had discovered that while the heating core ran off the car’s main battery, the other electronic systems ran off an auxiliary battery. So we could run the steering wheel heat and seat heaters without losing driving range. Unfortunately, there is no seat heat in the back. The person in the back was constantly hovering in suspended animation, while the two people in the front were in relative comfort. If ever there was a metaphor for modern society, this was it. But we had now figured out the system and knew the routine: drive, stop, charge, wait, wait, drive, stop, charge, wait, drive, stop, hopefully find a charging station within close proximity to the hotel, charge over night, and hope it doesn’t randomly stop charging. And repeat. Fortunately, the weather was warming and as it did the charges were getting faster and the range of our battery was extending. With an overnight charging stop in Kamloops, we had over 250 kilometres on the battery, our best yet. We still couldn’t use the heat but there was hope that in the future we may be able to travel in relative comfort.
After a brief stop near the summit of the Coquihalla to get a quick Method out of Chew, we made it to the Britton Creek rest area. We put the Kona on charge, and pointed it not-so-straight for a pillow zone we could see from the charging station. It was pretty fortunate that we got lost for a few hours because by the time we bagged some decent turns and returned to the car, the Kona was fully charged.
That night in Whistler, after another miserable adventure finding a charging station and trying to figure out how to turn the thing on, we all fell asleep on Jackie’s floor watching the original Ninja Turtles movie, all silently praying that either the Kona would be gone in the morning or we just wouldn’t wake up.
Unfortunately, we did wake up, and it hadn’t all been a cold zero-emissions nightmare. Like soldiers who had already resigned themselves to death on the battlefield well before the war was over, we grudgingly piled back into our electric clown car from hell and went snowboarding. By this point, a few things had begun to turn in our favour: the temperature and the cost of charging the car. The BC Hydro charging stations at Britton Creek, Squamish and in Creekside Whistler were all free. And it had warmed up substantially. This was great news for battery life and comfort on the road but terrible for snowboarding. Nonetheless, when it feels like you are on a one-way street to Shitsville any silver lining is good.
Leg 4 • Whistler to Banff to Jasper to Banff to Revelstoke • 1,652 kilometres
After a great day of boarding up Cayoosh Creek and one helluva piss-up at Sushi Village, we woke to shockingly warm temps. We decided to put the Coast Mountains in the rear-view mirror and head for the Rockies, where temps were still holding. Fortunately, the warm temps meant the Kona’s range was increasing and driving without heat wasn’t so much of an issue.
At this point in the trip, we thought we had been running the battery down to within 15-20 per cent before charging it. This usually meant we had anywhere between 20-4 0kilometres of driving left. With a combustion engine you will get the full power of the engine just about until the point when it dies. With the Kona, however, when you get below 15% of battery life, not only does the computer stop indicating how much range you have left, it also starts reducing the power output of the engine. This is a real problem when you’re coming into Kamloops trying to cross two lanes of heavy traffic to make it to a charging station before your car fully dies in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway. Oh, the irony of screaming at your dying EV as it slow-rolls past the Trans Mountain Oil Substation. We just barely managed to limp into a Petro-Canada that by the grace of God had a fast-charging station.
Almost 500 kilometres later, like Kramer and the Car Salesman in episode 167 of Seinfeld, Jackie blew by the exit for Banff and we were running dangerously low on battery power. I felt a rush of adrenaline as we sped precariously towards the unknown. But after our experience outside Kamloops we had all learned our lesson about pushing the Kona past its comfort zone, and Jackie made the second exit to Banff. We let the Kona charge up for a couple of hours and then decided to check out Lake Minnewanka to hit some classic Banff urban spots. Usually this area is deserted in the winter. However, it being the middle of a global pandemic, Lake Minnewanka was swarming with people. While we couldn’t hit any of the classic Minnewanka features, we managed to have a fun little session on some plastic barrier hydro booms frozen in the ice. It seemed fitting to be jibbing a feature attached to a hydro dam that we accessed with our zero-emissions vehicle. The whole thing felt very ecologically woke.
Back in Banff, with the Kona safely on charge, we did what you do when you have 11 hours to kill waiting for your EV and got piled up on cheap sake causing a scene at the new hip sushi joint.
At 6 a.m., still reeking of sake, I found myself in the cold Kona having a full-on come-apart trying to get the car into gear. Because an EV makes no discernible noise when it’s started you never have any idea if the car is actually on or not, which is kind of dangerous. So much so that the car is actually equipped with a digital running noise you can turn on and off. But it doesn’t sound like an average car. Instead, it sounds like the Kona is possessed by an angelic flock of spooky ghost pigeons. It took me 10 days to finally figure out you have to hold the start button down before it will let you put it into drive.
With one of our strongest battery charges to date we headed north up Highway 93 to meet up with Mark Whittington and finally get up into the alpine. We settled on going up Crystal Ridge as Mark had been there recently and knew the snow quality was good. It was – 8°C when we left the cars that morning. On our way back up the ridge after our first runs it was 7°C in the sun. It had warmed up 15 degrees in five hours and things were starting to wet slide, so we decided to call it. Our first runs were amazing with great Rocky Mountain Champow through monolithic chutes but there is nigh a place more dangerous to be than the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains when snow stability gets sketchy. With temps in the Bow Valley spiking, we decided to push north and hope things would be colder in Jasper. It is 194 kilometres from the parking lot at Crystal Ridge to Jasper. We had 204 kilometres of range left in our battery. The only options were to go for it, or turn around and go 57 kilometres back to Field to the nearest fast charger. We hadn’t made it this far by playing it safe. Bundled in our full snowboard gear we rolled the dice yet again and pointed the Kona north.
Bless the Icefields Parkway, formerly known as The Glacier Trail, formerly known as The Wonder Trail, and its 2,058 metres of vertical relief. And bless the souls of the 600 men who, in the 1930’s, built that road mostly by hand. And bless Louis Antoine Krieger for using regenerative braking on his electric car design in 1894. If it wasn’t for all of these things, the three of us would probably be living somewhere in the Columbia Icefields. But, as it stands, with regenerative braking every hill we descended on the way to Jasper it charged our battery ever so slightly. Just enough to roll into town.
After a night in the Athabasca Hotel spent drinking PBR and staring at all the weird taxidermy waiting for one of the stuffed Elk heads to start talking to me like The Gump from Return to Oz, we were disappointed to wake up to a Jasper that was much warmer and much drier than what we were hoping for. It was 15°C, and there was no snow anywhere below the alpine. Everywhere we went, we felt like we arrived a day late for winter, like it was running from us and always just one step ahead. Having spent less than 24 hours jibbing in Jasper, we finally packed up the Kona and went home. Winter had officially given us the shake.
A day later we were all home: Chew in Banff, Jackie in Whistler and the Kona and I in Revelstoke. We had driven well over 3,000 kilometres and spent over 170 hours in an electric vehicle and snowboarded along the way. Mission accomplished. And for those of us thinking about scrapping their car and truck, my advice for you is this: when it comes to EVs—it’s not all Skittles and rainbows. The trade-off is this: it’s going to be a lot cheaper to run your vehicle, but it’s going to take a lot more pre-planning and it’s going to cost you time. But that’s only because of our current lack in fast-charging infrastructure. But in a country as vast and as cold as Canada, unless battery technology takes a massive leap forward, to drive EVs the way we push our combustion engines, we will likely need fast chargers every 200 kilometres in every direction all across the country. We don’t even have cell service everywhere along the Trans-Canada. But in our current five-second-attention-span world, is slowing your life down such a bad idea? And the time you lose having to charge the battery, you can actually make up on the highway driving like a lunatic because EVs are fucking fast.
At the time I’m writing this, there are over 300 forest fires burning in British Columbia, it hasn’t rained in over a month in Revelstoke, a temperate rainforest, and the sun looks like something out of a Frank Herbert novel. Global warming is here, and if we want to keep shredding until we’re too old to strap ourselves in, we all better start plugging in our cars before winter shakes us for good.