Beyond the Avalanche Zone – Winter Break in British Columbia

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My home away from MSU is in the Pend’Oreille Valley in British Columbia, about fifteen miles from the small city of Trail. We’re close to the United States border, near the Waneta Dam where the Pend’Oreille and Columbia rivers converge. My dad lived there before he met my mom, and I have spent every summer there since I was little. When I was 12, we moved from Michigan to live in Canada full-time, and built our house little by little with family and friends.

We live about halfway up Blizzard Mountain, several miles from our nearest neighbors, and are completely off-grid; our water comes from the creek (for the gardens) and a well, from which we pump water to a reservoir for use in the house. We use a solar panel on the roof to draw power to a battery bank, which we use inside the house for lights and appliances (even a solar-powered freezer!) We heat the house with a woodstove and use propane to heat water. Nearby we often see deer, elk and in the summer, bears.

The community is very close-knit, and a lot of the families in the valley have known my parents for more than 30 years. We spend a lot of time visiting friends and neighbors on both sides of the border. As long as we’ve been in Canada, we’ve had a tradition of staying overnight at a family friend’s house on Christmas Eve and exchanging stockings in the morning. Two of my good friends from high school also visited and we made pizza and decorated cookies. One of my favorite winter activities in high school was participating in shows with the Rossland Light Opera, a community musical theater company nearby.

I love spending time outdoors because of the absolute beauty of the place. It’s often very cold in winter, and when it’s under ten degrees the air seems to glitter with sharp little crystals. This winter break I practiced using the snowplow and the hydraulic wood splitter. My mom and I love to hike or cross-country ski on the old logging roads near our house. The sky can be overcast for days, but when sun breaks through, sometimes it’s warm enough that we ski in tank tops.

Transportation to and from town can be an unpredictable adventure; an overnight deep-freeze can turn the road into a skating rink. There have been times that we’ve had to strap cables the back of our Subaru to the front of the pickup truck as an anchor in order to make it down to the paved road. In the avalanche zone, understated signs sometimes crop up: a pile of boulders will be marked “Loose Gravel,” and “Area Closed” marks the sheer drop-off over the cliff.

It gets dark at about 4 p.m., but one of the nicest things about winter break is that there is plenty of time for reading. Two of my favorite books from this break were Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz, a story about Cuban cigar factory workers pursuing the American dream, and When I Was a Soldier by Valerie Zénatti, a memoir by a female soldier in the Israeli army.

We also watch quite a few movies and play dominoes or Scrabble. Sometimes I go on walks at night when the moon and stars light up the snow. Outside it’s quiet, and the ice-covered trees gleam like pathways to the sky. Returning home is like slipping into a different world.


Jenny Crakes is an arts and humanities and professional writing senior in the editing and publishing track. She’s an education coordinator with the RCAH Center for Poetry, and an intercultural aide with the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions. Her interests include creative writing, theatre, dance and the outdoors.


Tags: February