About 8 years ago, I got a call from daughter an old friend. “It’s Dad’s 60th birthday soon and family wants to send him on a ski trip. We are hoping that you and Bill and Owen will keep him company”. “Sure”, I said, expecting a destination like Sun Peaks or Rossland. “Where are we going?” “Cat Skiing near Fernie.” “What skiing?” “Cat skiing!” “What’s Cat Skiing?” “Its backcountry skiing from snowcats, sort of a poor man’s heli-skiing.” “Can I afford it?” “You can’t afford to miss this!”
That four-day trip was start of seven years of superb skiing. On that first trip, we had a marvelous time and powder skiing, likes of which none of us could remember. Run after run in fresh, untracked snow. There were steep rollovers that put my heart in my throat, where deep snow seemed to support us like an invisible hand, letting us down fall line slowly and gently. Wow! Face shots galore! I thought, “Life is too short not to be doing this every year!”
On second day of that tour, I presented myself at lodge office and requested a booking for following year. “Sorry, full up”. “No!” “Yes!” “However, year after has an opening, and you could have a whole cat.” “Done”, I said, and thought, “You fool, what are you doing?”
After much effort, evening after evening of phone calls, hounding old friends and a very long wait, we were back two years later with twelve good men and women. Some were old ski friends of almost 50 years. We had another wonderful trip with great skiing, great snow and great company.
Now, years later, we are still at it. We’ve changed venue from near Fernie to a spot near Golden, B.C., where skiing is a little higher and snow seems to be a little more reliable. Our host is Chatter Creek Snowcat Skiing (www.chattercreekcatskiing.com), a partnership of four personable young men who run an excellent operation, about 20 minutes by helicopter north of Golden, on western flank of Rocky Mountains.
The 130 sq. km. tenure includes a large glacier at just under 10,000ft. elevation, huge open alpine slopes and bowls and a number of enormous ridges that offer superb tree skiing. After many trips to Chatter Creek, we have yet to ski entire area. Each summer, snowcat roads are extended to open up ever more terrain. An application has been made to increase terrain size by about 85%. See Cat Skiing Terrain (http://www.cat-skiing-terrain.blogspot.com) for a photographic tour of Chatter Creek tenure.
Skiing on Vertebrae glacier is “mellow” and views are spectacular. From highest point, view spreads to west, over nearby peaks and ridges to distant Adamant Range and Selkirk Mountains. To east, much nearer and in clear view, are countless peaks and snowfields of Continental Divide, including Clemenceau Icefield, Mt Columbia and Snow Dome. The latter is source of famous Columbia Icefield and contains hydrographic apex of North America. As skiers ski on glacier, unusual “squiggles” of Sullivan Fault fill view and forms backdrop of many a guest photograph. See Glacier Skiing at Chatter Creek (http://glacier-skiing.blogspot.com) for many photos from Vertebrae glacier.
On bluebird days, guides usually head to high alpine for a few runs on Vertebrae glacier, or in one of many large bowls or slopes such as Clamshell, upper Lodge Ridge, Super Spruce, South Park, Lakeview , and Oyster Bowl. After a few of runs, group will move on to nearby areas, skiing here and there on way, never staying long in any one spot. Every run in untracked snow!
Snowcat rides are rarely more than 15 to 20 minutes long, usually just long enough to enjoy half a sandwich and a drink, to rest legs and to share a couple of bad jokes with our companions. The Bombardier snowcats (http://www.bombardier-snowcats-at-chatter-creek.blogspot.com) are warm and comfortable. They accommodate 12 guests, two guides and a driver. The three cats move independently and are usually out of sight of one another all day.