Cat-Skiing has an advantage over heli-skiing in that snowcats don’t have to wait for a sunny day as helicopters do, so the snowy days are spent skiing instead of wishing you were skiing or riding untracked powder. Enjoy all that the backcountry has to offer, spectacular views, pristine slopes and your own private mountain.
Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain
Whistler Blackcomb in Whistler offers five mountain peaks and 4,300 acres for cat-skiing with a minimum of 7,000 vertical feet, where you never run out of fresh, backcountry powder. Catskiing is for everyone – if you can ski or snowboard the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, you can catski or catboard as well. Runs at Whistler Blackcomb vary from green circles to black and double black diamond runs, and regardless of where you ski, there is always an easy route down – without the normal crowds, the hard-packed snow, and the lift lineups.
The Lead Guide sets the line down the mountain to the meeting point. The Tail Guide ensures that everyone in the group knows what’s going on, and points out the sweetest lines, which is invaluable if you are learning to ride powder, as they can give you tips that will ease the learning curve. The Tail Guide skis down last, making sure that everyone goes in the right direction and returns safely to the snowcat.
On the first run of the day, the comfortable and heated snowcat takes about 25 to 40 minutes to reach the peak from the base lodge, depending on which peak is being skied. This is about the same length of time it takes to ride the ski lift from Whistler Village to the top of 7th Heaven on Blackcomb Mountain. After the initial run to the peak, subsequent trips average 10 to 15 minutes per run. The daily catskiing average is around 10 runs per day.
Hurley Pass, just north of Pemberton in the South Chilcotin Mountains, offers exciting cat skiing and snowboarding. The base lodge in the Hope Creek valley at 1,430 metre elevation (5,000 feet) is ideally located in the sub-alpine of the expansive area, accessible only by snowmobile or snowcat in the winter months. A 35-minute cat ride from the lodge takes you to the top of the 15,000-acre terrain. The summit of Grouty Ridge is 2,340 metres (7,675 feet).
It snows on average 10 metres (32 feet) of cold dry snow per season accumulating a base of up to 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) in March, making the terrain prime for skiing and riding. The annual snowfall is similar to the Whistler area but with drier snow to play with. The tarrain zones below are accessible by snowcat.
Lone Tree: The vast, powdery alpine bowls in the Lone Tree area boasts over 2,000 acres and 5 bowls to have your way with on a powder day, and the stash is replenished regularly. Either trees or alpine areas will be favoured depending on the weather.
Detonator Ridge: Detonator Ridge, and the forest within it, shelters a hefty collection of epic tree runs, yielding amazing skiing conditions even when Father Winter is storming. You’ll find gladed runs, gulleys, chutes, drops and pillows, all begging to be shredded.
Black Forest: Skiing and snowboarding terrain doesn’t get any more unique than this. The 500 acres of loosely spaced dead trees in the Black Forest or ‘Badlands’ make for a surreal powder riding experience. Forest fires are a natural phenomenon, and this one just happened to work out in favour of cat-skiers. Especially good on stormy powder days, weaving through the jagged trees, gulleys, and pillows of the Black Forest on a powder day is unlike anything else.
Sunset Shoulder: Sunset Shoulder plays host to endless natural glades, rolling ridges and unreal lines for some of the best runs of your day. Take full advantage of it on sunny winter and spring afternoons, when the light is epic and the snow unforgettable.
Skiers should be at intermediate or level or higher. The guide will choose the appropriate runs for the combined ability of the group. Lead guides are professional mountain guides and members of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides with Level 2 Avalanche certification and training in avalanche rescue. Although their first priority is safety, they believe in deep powder and fun times too. Cat-skiing guests receive instruction in transceiver use, basic avalanche rescue, safety procedures in snowcat and snowmobile operation, and general backcountry safety.
Powder skis and powder boards – which require half the effort and provide double the fun – are available for rent in Whistler and in Pemberton, which is 1 hour from Whistler and 3-1/2 hours from Vancouver on Sea to Sky Highway 99.