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Celebrating the life of a powder mining legend

This week as we are conducting our annual training in preparation for another epic season – we are celebrating the life of a powder mining legend – Peter Leontowicz. Put simply – we owe our existence, and some of the best days of our lives, to Pete and his son John, the original founders of Retallack.

It is difficult to describe such a legend in words, however, we have troved the archives and feel that Powder Magazine said it best back in December 2000. Pete, this blast from the past is for you. Thank you for your vision, tenacity, and the good times that you have inspired for us and our guests. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and your friends. As you and John look down upon us frolicking in your powder mining playground – know that your spirits will always be with us.

Powder Magazine – November 2000

RETALLACKA – Heavy Metal Miners Trade Picks for Planks

by Porter Fox | Photos by Doug Lepage | Skiers: Jason Prigge; Moss Patterson

Peter Leontowicz doesn’t ski. In fact, the cofounder of Retallack seems annoyed that skiers use his vintage mining cabin, constructed on two city blocks of the ghost town of Retallack, as a base lodge – all the more ironic the old salt helped start one of the top cat skiing operations in British Columbia.

Leontowicz is a miner. He is 77 years old. He doesn’t have time for skiers and their fancy figure eights. He is on a mission. He can’t imagine why people waste their time frolicking in the snow and ignore what lies beneath it. According to him, the hills surrounding Retallack hold the riches of a thousand kingdoms: enough silver to retire the entire Slocan Valley, enough to fund the U.N. for a year, enough to line every B.C. highway…with Kokanee Gold.

“You see that hill over there?!” the hard hat yelled at a group of guests a week before we arrived. “I want to drill a hole right through the middle of it! And another straight to the top! Then I can mine it…and you all can use the elevator to get to the top and ski!”

So he’s a little crazy. But his claims are not unsubstantiated. Prospectors discovered massive silver deposits around Retallack in the 1890s. The nearby Slocan Valley camp was the most prolific silver mine in the British Empire through-out World War I. But the cache ran out in ’90. That’s when Leontowicz – and, incidentally, several other entrepreneurs in the area – turned to skiing.

B.C. miners fell into ownership of large tracks of land when the Canadian government ruled that ownership of surface and under-surface mining claims translated into outright ownership of mining plots. That ruling allowed Leontowicz, and his son John, and a group of shareholders to begin building Retallack in ’96. As cat ski lodges popped up on mining claims throughout B.C., it was obvious the rush for white gold was officially on.

Leontowicz may not have found silver on his mining claims – yet – but he can’t deny he and the Retallack shareholders stumbled across a gold mine. Featuring some of the steepest tree skiing in B.C.’s southern interior, the peaks, ridges, and bowls around Retallack draw drool from skiers on the cat ride up – and make them downright giddy on the ski down. The combination of light, deep B.C. snow and incredibly varied intermediate to expert terrain – plus five-star meals and accommodations – make Retallack one of the most eclectic ski destinations in the Canadian Rockies.

As we slide to a stop near the top of our third run, our guide points out a massive area across the valley – aptly named Gold Creek North – that Retallack plans to incorporate into its ski terrain next year. Two-thousand-foot ridgeline sluices lie like lace in a dense forest, and wide-open peaks and powder sit untouched, waiting for skiers. Looking at this virtually unlimited terrain, it is obvious Retallack is in the ski business for the long run. And it is clear the resort will soon be one of the premier ski destinations of the southern interior.

And that really pisses Pete Leontowicz off.