For the first time in nearly 17 months, the Kees and Claire (KC) Hut in the spearhead range is open for business.
But it wasn’t an easy path to re-opening for the first of three huts that will one day be spread across the Spearhead Traverse, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down operations just a few months after it opened for the first time in the winter of 2019.
“We opened up for the winter and it started out as being the most extreme avalanche hazard we’ve seen in a generation, at least, which made it pretty scary for anybody in the backcountry,” said Jayson Faulkner, director of the Spearhead Huts Society.
“So there was very little backcountry travel happening at all and then when we finally did open we were only open for a matter of a few months … and then COVID hit in March and that was that.
“We haven’t had a full year of operation since we were technically opened and that’s really put a lot of strain on the organization because we are all volunteers here.”
Adding to that strain is the fact that, as a non-profit, the KC Hut didn’t qualify for any federal or provincial funding. Because of this, Faulkner said its insurance went up 700 per cent at a time where they had “zero revenue.”
“Luckily we are pretty frugal and we had some savings that we had to cut in to, but we really had to start cutting costs left, right and centre to try and keep the lights on,” said Faulkner.
“And the worst part is we were 90-plus per cent booked before COVID hit so we were in really good shape. The model works and it will be a popular destination, but it was just a really tough, brutal situation to have to try and operate without any support at all.”
But now that the hut is finally re-opened and taking bookings, the Spearhead Hut Society can, hopefully, put the pandemic struggles in the past and get back to being able to give people a warm, comfortable place to sleep and cook while they are exploring what Faulkner describes as the “spectacular” hiking and alpine meadows in the summer and “arguably some of the best ski-touring terrain” in North America, in the winter.
Members of the Whistler chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), like Colin Knudsen are also extremely excited for the hut to be opened again, calling it “one of a kind” and comparing the new feature of the Spearhead Traverse to the world famous Haute Route in the Swiss Alps.
“I have been to the hut this year in March, May and July and each time has been fantastic,” said Knudsen. “The Kees and Claire Hut and the additional two huts at MacBeth and Pattison is a project that has been a long time coming and is integral to the Alpine Club.
“And as a community, Whistler has backed the development of the huts and we are grateful for all those in the community who have supported it. Already a world-class destination, this just adds to Whistler’s reputation.”
The hut, which Faulkner describes as “spectacular passive house technology,” sleeps 38, and includes multiple kitchen facilities stocked with everything you might need, including a Bialetti Espresso maker. “So you just have to bring your food and your sleeping bag and you are good to go,” he said.
If there are no more major COVID-19 related setbacks, Faulkner believes site work on the second of three huts could begin as early as next summer with the actual hut being built the following year.
The Spearhead Huts Society is launching their final fundraising campaign to build a few last improvements on the KC Hut including adding a water system by drilling a well and installing a line to the internal plumbing system, and installing solar panels, which will reduce the hut’s propane use.
Currently, in the winter, the hut’s water comes from melting snow, which burns a lot of propane that then has to be flown in by helicopter more regularly. This means that there is a huge financial and environmental benefit to installing these systems, according to Spearhead Huts Society president Andre Charland.
The total costs of these two projects is estimated at $250,000.
For more information on the KC Hut, how to donate, or to book your stay, visit spearheadhuts.org.