When I told friends I was going cat skiing, they replied "I thought you hated cats" and "Cats hate the cold, how do you ski with cats?" Here's the scoop for my non-skiing friends, cat skiing has nothing to do with furry kittens, just fresh snow.
Our adventure starts with a meet and greet over cheeseburgers and beer at the Cherryville Roadhouse, ok – middle of snow-where Canada. Next, we pile our gear into an old school bus, over an hour later into a snow cat for another hour – deeper into the remote snowy wilderness. "Are you in my cat?" is the quick question posed. So it begins, like Survivor Episode 1 as castaways size me up, most know each other – the majority of Monashee guests are repeaters, that's no transceiver jokes.
We arrive at the Monashee Lodge to be welcomed by the super friendly crew, and Carolyn – the owner and momma bear. Luggage and skis are swiftly stowed, we are briefed on the daily cat ski schedule, and a delicious dinner is served in the homey lodge. Our cosy rooms are en suite, nothing fancy – we're here to ski, a central ski boot room provides boot dryers, and our safety packs for the week.
I dream of skiing powder until a knock at the door at 7:00 am says breakfast in 20, be dressed to ski. Our snow cat of 12 includes a bunch of Sugarloafers – so we are the Maine tribe. I follow their lead packing my lunch from the sandwich buffet spread – before enjoying Chef's hearty breakfast. Guide Joe describes the weather, "snow integrity" and safety protocol (yes avalanches can happen- we must be prepared and ever alert). We simulate a search and rescue drill in the snow before boarding the cat, skis loaded, chugging up the mountain path in our tank of a ski limo.
Sunrise is the apt name of our first brilliant run from high alpine, surrounded by the fiery morning light cresting over the snow covered Monashee Mountains. Guide Joe assesses the snow then carves perfect S's down the snowy face, we're instructed to spoon his tracks to the left. It's soon my turn, and I tip my skis over the edge and feel the rush of billowy powder under me as I float from one turn to the next. It's heaven, then it's over as we regroup at the bottom of the 900' descent, admire our signature tracks, then load up our skis, poles and packs into the cat, back up the mountain we go. This is the rhythm of cat skiing, unload, ski, load, ride, grab a snack from your pack, laugh about the big wipe out last run, repeat.
Cat skiing is less expensive and far less weather-dependent as heli-skiing (choppers are grounded in fog and heavy snow). Monashee Powder Snowcats is one of the best values in BC Canada. Cats can run in all weather even if visibility is poor due to dumping snow or BC fog, guides have you ski the trees. In fact, much of our four day ski trip was laps in the glades, some wide open well-spaced with protected snow between towering pines, while others were tight, steep and deep forests soaked with weighty white snow – which made for tricky skiing for much of our crew, myself included when my ski caught and trenched deep in the snow. Here's where cat skiing is unlike Survivor – it's not a competition, skiers take turns, share the snow, and work together when a ski is buried or you've literally fallen and you can't get up in the seemingly bottomless snow. Props to Pete and John for digging out my ski four feet under, and ten feet above where I thought I'd released.
My favourite runs, a few of which required a short hike beyond the cat tracks, were Old Glory and Southern Cross, splendid snow bowls high above tree line where we tracked side by side one by one, in the magical snow. As good as heli skiing gets. Here's where I'll interject you should be very physically fit, able to ski all black diamond ski resort terrain in order to best enjoy and appreciate cat skiing. Conditions vary, as does the terrain and snow from windblown to wet, deep to dust on crust. You might hike, traverse, huck off an unforeseen pillow top or have to keep skiing when you're out of breathe half way down a beautiful 30 turn face.
Rumbling back to the lodge as the sun sinks low late afternoon, everyone is rosy, ready for a hot tub and cold beer. Monashee Lodge has two outdoor tubs with spectacular settings for admiring the Alpen glow. Order a Kokonaee from the lodge bar, don't worry it will be added to your tab, along with the massage you scheduled, and the Monashee Powder Snowcat swag hoodie if you indulge. Wi-Fi is wired up for those needing to check in with the world or post face shots on Facebook.
Dinner is candlelight in the lodge at precisely 7, skiers are in slippers. Mama Bear Carolyn runs a tight ship with her staff, most of whom wear several hats – masseuse/housekeeper, server/tail guide, but there's a casual homey vibe. After dinner, we gather in the Treewell Bar, lol, downstairs for drinks, games, billiards, and a slide show of today's skiing, a pro photographer accompanies you one day and the photos are for purchase after the fun review. Quiet time is 10:00 pm, because next morning you do it all over again.
Cat skiing is a sure thing, you're sure to make friends with your dozen cat mates, and get 10-12 ski runs a day in trees and big bowls with a few steep descents if your group is game. Unlikely you'll get voted off at Tribal Council, more likely you will be booking for next year here. Bottom line, it's fun to ski with a like-minded tribe of 12, in the safe company of competent snow seeking guides, in your semi-private snow cat for the week.
Monashee Powder Snowcats is owned by Tom and Carolyn Morgan, located in the magnificent Monashee Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, near Revelstoke and Big White Ski Resort, the nearest airport is Kelowna.