Snowline leverages Yukon roots in search for district gold

Craig Hart, independent chair of Snowline Gold with CEO Scott Berdahl and chief geologist Sergio Gamonal. Credit: Snowline Gold

Scott Berdahl grew up prospecting in the Yukon wilderness with his brother and his dad Ron, who’s been a prospector in the territory since the 1980s.  

But the 37-year-old Whitehorse-based CEO and cofounder of Yukon-focused explorer Snowline Gold (CSE: SGD; US-OTC: SNWGF) took a roundabout route to where he is now. Berdahl studied writing, aerospace engineering, geology, and business at three different universities in four countries (MIT in Cambridge, Mass.; King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia; and business school INSEAD in France and Singapore), earning a master’s degree in science writing, a B.Sc. in geology, an M.Sc. in earth science and engineering and an MBA before returning home and putting together Snowline, which was listed in March 2021. 

“I guess it’s kind of like The Alchemist where the guy goes all around the world and then at the end finds the treasure is back at home where he started,” Berdahl told The Northern Miner in an early February interview, referring to the 1980s bestseller describing a young Andalusian man’s journey to Egypt in search of riches. “Except in my case, it’s a literal treasure in addition to the metaphorical.” 

The “literal treasure” is Snowline’s land package in east-central Yukon, where the company’s Valley zone at its 524-sq.-km Rogue project has commanded investor attention since its discovery two years ago.  

Much of Snowline’s land package — 17 projects covering 2,800 sq. km – was spun out of the Berdahl family’s prospecting business. Recognizing the broader geology of the area is reminiscent of some of the world’s prolific gold camps, including Nevada’s Great Basin, the projects were selected based on their potential for multi-million-ounce gold deposits and district-scale potential. 

The Berdahl family had some success in optioning out Rogue and Einarson, both located in the Selwyn Basin, ending up with an extensive geochemical soil and silt sampling database that identified “huge anomalies” that validated their thinking. But Berdahl, who worked for the family company before, after, and in between his educational stints in the U.S. and abroad, says it was always a slog to move them forward. 

“We’ve spent up the better part of the last decade trying to sell these projects or even at times give them away just to keep them advancing, and that’s proven tough,” he said. “Snowline came out of that where I put together a slide deck really for an imaginary junior and instead of selling the company, we ended up with investors.” 

One of those investors was First Majestic Silver (TSX: FR) president, CEO and founder Keith Neumeyer, who happened to contact Berdahl around that time and was intrigued by the portfolio and discovery thesis. Neumeyer, who’s still a major shareholder at 6.4%, provided the shell company for the public listing and brought in Eric Sprott. Snowline now also has the backing of Crescat Capital as well. (After raising over $25 million in its last private placement financing last summer, the company started out 2023 with over $22 million in the treasury). 

SSince it started drilling in 2021, Snowline has made two discoveries Valley (2021) at Rogue and Jupiter (2021) at Einarson. The Gracie target, which lies along the same prospective 9-km trend as Valley, could be a third. 

“That makes it three for three on drilling brand new targets and hitting visible gold, which as a prospector I can tell you is hard to do, so it’s another nice proof of concept for the district-scale idea,” Berdahl says. 

‘Mini-gold rush’  

The Valley zone is one of multiple targets Snowline has identified at its Rogue project, which is located near the border with the Northwest Territories, and about 223 km east of Mayo. Valley is a reduced intrusion related gold deposit that has demonstrated potential for the same continuity as similar deposits in the region, such as Kinross Gold’s (TSX: K; NYSE: KGC) Fort Knox mine in Alaska and Victoria Gold’s (TSX: VGCX) Eagle mine to the west. What’s different about Valley, and what has the company and investors excited, is the unusually high grades it has demonstrated. 

Berdahl points to hole V22-10 released last October as the company’s best yet, returning 318.8 metres at 2.55 grams gold per tonne, including 108 metres at 4.14 grams gold, from the bedrock surface starting at only 3 metres down-hole.  

“These are really consistent grades,” he said, noting that in the 108-metre high-grade section, 72% of the assays were above 2 grams, with only five samples below a gram. “It’s really consistent normalization, which we really like to see near surface and really just atypical of this type of gold system in terms of being that high grade.” 

Berdahl believes the unexpectedly high grades associated with Valley could spark a “mini gold rush” in terms of re-evaluating reduced intrusion related gold systems. Fort Knox, which began production with a head grade of under 1 gram gold per tonne, has been considered the defining deposit of this type. 

“That’s been kind of the model for these reduced intrusion related gold systems — they’re big, they’re continuous, but they have low grades. It’s that continuity and the size and the metallurgy that make them work,” he says. 

“The grades are far in excess of what we are expecting. So that really does change the equation for this deposit model.” 

While the grade is atypical, the company believes that since reduced intrusion related gold deposits tend to occur in clusters, the same could be true at Rogue. Lending credence to that theory, the company has identified multiple intrusions similar to Valley at Rogue, along with widespread anomalous gold in stream sediment, soil and rock sampling. 

“The structural preparation up in this particular part of the Selwyn basin looks very interesting, where you have this big regional fold, you have a shortening of units where they’re tightly folded, but still overall level with steep dipping structures,” Berdahl explained. “Then you have these intrusions — the Valley intrusion as one of the mid-Cretaceous intrusions belonging to the Mayo Series, part of the Tombstone Gold Belt. Those are known elsewhere to be very well mineralized,” he adds, noting the area has “all the ingredients of a major gold camp.” 

Even the low-grade holes haven’t been completely disappointing — hole V22-19 released in early February, for example. “It came back with 200 metres of 0.37 (gram gold) which doesn’t sound like much but again, this is a reduced intrusion related gold system and that’s above the average grade of Fort Knox at the moment,” Berdahl said.  

In late February, the company released another impressive hole — the longest mineralized interval to date at Valley. Hole V22-029 cut 558.7 metres of 1.26 grams gold from surface, including 202 metres of 2.04 grams gold in a 207-metre step-back from V22-10. 

So far, drilling has traced Valley over 720 metres of strike, at widths of up to 400 metres plus. Berdahl says the highest grades appear to drop off below 200 or 300 metres depth in some areas, but mineralization continues to at least 500-600 metres depth. Gold is hosted in sheeted, low-sulphide quartz veins, with a large central zone within the broader Valley intrusion carrying higher vein densities and grades. 

Last year Snowline drilled 13,320 metres at Rogue. This year it plans at least 15,000 metres with three drill rigs, which could include drilling outside of Rogue. 

The company also drilled Gracie, another reduced intrusion related gold target located 4 km east of Valley and along the same 9-km trend at Rogue, for the first time last year. Assays are pending, but four of five holes drilled (totalling 2,152 metres) returned visible gold.  

This year, Snowline plans to drill about half its metres at Valley, while also doing some follow up drilling at other targets. 

“We’re looking to strike a balance,” says Berdahl, who says the company wants to continue to prove up its district thesis while advancing Valley. (Snowline doubled its land package last year through a combination of staking and a deal with StrikePoint Gold [TSXV: SKP] that added another seven reduced intrusion related gold targets to its portfolio.) 

Meanwhile, the company’s 2021 Jupiter discovery at Einarson represents a different type of mineralization that is a “novel discovery for this region,” it says. 

Highlights of drilling at Jupiter, which hit mineralization in all 15 holes drilled, included 6 metres of 13.9 grams gold per tonne and 6.5 metres of 13.2 grams gold in hole J21-011. The mineralization, which Snowline describes as epizonal orogenic gold, is similar to Fosterville in Australia and Queensway in Newfoundland. 

Solar-powered camp 

An interesting feature of the project’s seasonal 50-person camp – it is almost completely powered by solar energy leased from Nacho Nyak Dun Development Corp. (NNDDC). Berdahl says even before Snowline launched, the company had been talking with members of the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation, on whose traditional territory Rogue is located, about how to run a company that fits within the framework of economic reconciliation and treaty rights. That’s when the CEO of NNDDC, Jani Djokic, had the idea of working with local Yukon company Solvest to install solar panels. 

It aligns with the principles-based approach Snowline has tried to build the company on: environmental respect, building community, going big, and doing it all with integrity and exceeding best practices. 

With Snowline as their first client, the NNDDC has been able to start a brand new renewable energy business. 

“I’ve heard that they have orders stacking up for this season,” Berdahl says. Solvest estimated the 27-kW solar generator will cut emissions from the camp’s generator by 90% and save 12,572 litres of diesel per season. 

“It also makes for a more pleasant working environment camp where you don’t have a generator on all the time, so that makes for pleasant evenings where you actually realize that you’re out in the land and you’re not in a strange little city somewhere.” 

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