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Catskiing in Canada

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
I´m planning a trip to Canada next year for catskiing.  The idea is to fly to Calgary (from Sweden), rent a car and drive to one of the catski operators around Revelstoke and spend 3-4 days in powder. Then grab a few days in Lake Louise on the way back.  Is it realistic to achieve this in 7 days?  What are the roads like in March?  For strong-intermediate skiers like us without prior powder experience are there any specific catski operators recommended?  Thanks.  
post #2 of 8
I have flown to Calgary and done that drive several times.  You are on the Trans-Canadian Highway, which is the main road across the country and is usually in very good condition.  Depending on snow/road conditions it is probably about 3 hours to Golden (Kicking Horse Resort), and another 1.5-2 hours to Revelstoke. Between those two towns the highway goes over Rogers Pass, which can be closed or delayed when it snows big because of avalanche control work.  If you need to catch a plane home it is probably a good idea to stay on the east side of the Pass your last night.

The Lake Louise/Sunshine/Norquay ski areas tend to be a lot more crowded than Kicking Horse and Revelstoke because of their proximity to Calgary, especially on weekends.

It is very realistic to do your trip in 7 days.  We fly in, rent a car and stay near the airport, and the next day drive to Kicking Horse for a half day of skiing.  There is a time zone change going over Rogers Pass.  They have speed cameras on that highway so do not speed.   Your rental car company may charge your credit card for a $100 speeding ticket a week after you get home.

Having cat skied many times in Canada and the US, I would say that a "strong intermediate with no powder experience" has no business cat skiing.  It is not the venue to learn to powder ski.  You will most likely be with a group of experienced experts who have paid a lot of money and want to ski as much powder as possible, but will end up spending their day waiting for you to pick yourself up out of the deep snow.  I have been on trips like that, and powder skiers tend to be extremely intolerant.  If you plan on doing this I would strongly encourage you to contact the cat skiing operators, be honest about your abilities, and see what they say about accommodating you.
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the useful info Mudfoot.  Your last comment confused me a bit as it contradicts strongly with what most of the catski operators say on their websites, namely that previous powder experience is not neccessary, only the ability to handle most if not all black diamonds at larger resorts etc.  Light and deep powder is a rare commodity where I live (Sweden) but if neccessary I suppose I could hop over to Norway for "powder"training where the snow tends to be quite better than here.  I have powder skied a bit in Vail but would still be classified as a skier with zero powder experience.  Am I wasting my (and the experts') money?!
post #4 of 8

What mudfoot is saying is true! There's another side to that story too.  The Cat ops will gladly take your money but make sure they aren't taking you into the steep and deep right of of the gate as if the experience level on your cat is high, you aren't going to have much fun. Most cat ops will cater to the top or at least middle of the expericen level, not the bottom. When I went we had a couple folks who were not permitted to take some of the runs and had to sit on the cat. Also, you are going to be there with the othere skiers for a few days, you don't need people pissed at you.  Check the fine print...... 

post #5 of 8
Cat and heli skiing operators do not give refunds if you cannot handle the skiing.  I was on a trip with two intermediates who won a day of heli skiing in a raffle.  The fell down repeatedly the first run, after which they were flown back to the lodge, and not given a refund. The rest of us then had a great day of skiing.  If you are holding up a group of cat skiers the guide will make you ride up and down in the cat, or leave you at the pick up point in the snow to sit out runs.  If you have a full cat of your friends in one group they will let you dictate the pace, but if you are in with other paying customers the guide will not let you ruin their day.

Most of the cat skiing in Canada involves tree skiing, and variable deep snow conditions.  The cat will hold 8-12 customers. They usually take you on a easy open first run to assess everyone's abilities.  If the guides determine that you will be a liability to good skiing for the other customers they will treat you accordingly.  They usually have two guides per cat, and you may get lucky and have one guide take you down a slow run while the others all take two, but I would not count on it. They will try to accommodate you, but the situation limits their options.

In answer to your question, IMO someone with "zero powder experience" flying from Europe to cat ski in Canada is wasting their money, and maybe some of the experts as well.  On the other hand, if you just ski Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, and maybe Lake Louise on your vacation, you will probably find plenty of powder off the groomed runs.  Much of the Revelstoke Ski Area is former cat skiing terrain.
post #6 of 8
I realize you have to make your plans in advance, but...

You should be aware that Revelstoke, Kicking Horse and Lake Louise can all be mediocre if they're having a bad snow year. Lake Louise, in particular, has a fairly low average seasonal snowfall and is known more for scenery and hard, fast snow than it is for powder.

They all have stashes, but you may not find them in a short visit.

As noted, much of Revelstoke is former cat-skiing terrain. Many Canadian ski areas allow out-of-bounds skiing which can simulate the cat-skiing experience, but this should be approached cautiously with the right equipment, training and someone who really, really knows where they're going. There was a well-publicized case at Kicking Horse last year in which a lost out-of-bounds skier died.

For a more straight-up discussion of skiing ability required, you might want to visit the web site for Valhalla Powder Cats: Click on the "ability & safety" link at the top.
post #7 of 8
Thread Starter 
I appreciate the honest advice.  I would never book a catskiing trip and fly across the Atlantic without being absolutely sure I had the ability to handle such a trip, I may be enthusiastic but I´m not stupid!  If however the operators say one thing on their websites and then ground you when they "realize" you´re not an expert things look a bit different.  We´ll see.  Physical fitness should at least not be the major obstacle as I can manage marathons without killing myself and have decent muscle strength.  But I wonder, how much powder experience did you guys have before you ventured into catskiing and how good do you really have to be, during my thus far only powder encounter in Vail I did OK I guess, never fell and got down the mountain quite fast although I may not have looked like an elegant professional free rider. 
post #8 of 8
Why don't you just plan a trip to Revelstoke or Whistler (or Utah if you are not particular about skiing Canada only) for 7 days. The chances of your skiing powder at these resorts is very high. If you find yourself being able to ski very well - there are plenty of opportunities AT these resorts to take a day or two of Cat skiing. Most of these Cat Skiing places in Canada are really geared towards multi-day skiing for people who have been skiing resort powder for years.
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