A little over a year ago, my roommate Carmen, for their wedding present, had given her friends Liz and Dave tickets to go to catskiing at Valhalla Powdercats, which is located near Nelson BC, on January 9 and 10. They in turn decided that it would be a more enjoyable vacation to ski with similar-ability skier friends and fill the 12-person cat. This is how I was recruited to go catskiing for the first time.
The original plan was for everyone to meet up and ski at Whitewater on the 8th, I would go catskiing on the 9th and Carmen’s brother, Fraser, would go on the 10th.
Whitewater - January 8, 2015
Skiing at Whitewater was a lot of fun. I consider it one of my top 3 favourite places to ski out West (along with Fernie Alpine Resort and Revelstoke) and today didn’t disappoint. While the conditions wouldn’t be considered “epic”, it was great to get out, enjoy the blue bird sky, bash through some tough terrain with great skiers, and later indulge in some of Nelson’s local brew, “Faceplant”, and eat a delicious meal at the Lodge. It was tough going with my big backcountry K2 Kung Fuja skies that I brought, but for the most part the snow was soft enough to make some nice turns.
Valhalla - January 9, 2015
The next day we got up nice and early and drove 30 minutes to Valhalla Powdercats. After going through the rules and regulations, we hopped on a bus for another 45 minutes to get to the cat, which brought us up the mountain. Tyler and Elliott were our guides for the day. We first reviewed all the necessary avalanche prevention rules and the tools in the packs (beacon, probe, and shovel) that we wore, before they took us up the mountain to start skiing.
It was really exciting to be out in such a large vast mountain range; however, to be honest, it wasn’t an amazing day, which was no fault of Tyler or Elliott. The skies were overcast, it hadn’t snowed in a while, and a thick crusty layer had formed. Not a good combination. What was fortunate was the weather was around 0 and the guides were really good. Their knowledge of the mountain really salvaged what could have been a miserable day, plus the group consisted of great people that already knew each other (for the most part), really helped keep everyone’s spirits up.
Tyler tried really hard to take us down areas that would be enjoyable; however, that crust layer was extremely difficult to avoid. He would instruct us to ski in groups of 2, ski within a certain area of his tracks and regroup after a certain distance, trying to find un-tracked snow and be safe about it. Unfortunately, since I was using my backcountry skis (that I admit are too big for me), it took a lot of energy to get down the mountain and try to make decent turns. By lunch time, I was really starting to feel it, but I persevered because the view was breath taking and I wanted to make the most out of this amazing opportunity.
Valhalla - January 10, 2015
The next morning we awoke to a small dusting of snow that had fallen overnight. Carmen’s brother, Fraser, couldn’t make the trip down and I took his place, so I decided to improve my chances of a better day by renting a pair Rossignol Super 7s, which I was told would be a little more suitable for the snow conditions. While I would say I had mixed results with the Rossignol’s, they were WAY better than my K2s; however, the bindings DIN settings were set little soft and I popped out 4 times! (On a side note: while it’s never fun to fall, when you’re skiing with a dozen really good skiers and half of them are wearing some sort of digital recording device, it makes for some hilarious footage!)
It was amazing how even 5 cm can make a profound difference. Tyler guided us again and Simon replaced Elliott (who went with the other group). Another friend of the group and Nelson local, Ken, also joined us. (Ken had recently injured his back, but thanks to modern medicine and a good chiropractor, was able to ski with us.)
With that little bit of new snow, Tyler was able to find a lot more softer snow and EVERYONE had a better day. The skies were still pretty overcast for most of the day, but I had my trusty Canon camera with me, and had a great time capturing the day.
The only potential disaster came when Liz managed to lose her ski on the last run of the day, on a very innocent fall. When the ski popped off, it got buried in a pile of snow and took half the group about half an hour to retrieve it. Tyler found it, and was the hero of the day, as we skied down to the cat to head back to town.
Valhalla Powdercats has a great setup. The terrain that they control and the knowledge of their guides of knowing where to go (and which areas to avoid) was really impressive. While we didn’t get the knee-deep powder that everyone hopes for, it was still an amazing trip spent in the mountains. I would go again.