Thanks to an epic December full of dumpage Island Lake is seeing one of the best starts to their season, check out the following video for proof of this:
Check out the face shots and ride along in this new point of view vid from Island Lake Catskiing. watch?v=BXBsHcbkKAM
Great Northern Cat Skiing is proud to be the second oldest Cat skiing operation in BC and one with particular notions about what makes a great operation. The CatSkiingDirectory.com Crew was invited up to enjoy some of BC’s finest powder at a time when other operations were cancelling cats due to sparse conditions and dwindling fresh terrain. It had been a couple weeks without snow here in the West Kootenays and I was a little apprehensive about hitting Great Northern with a paucity of fresh snow. What had turned to schmoo, crust and ghost tracks elsewhere was well preserved and boot top fresh at Great Northern.
Owner/Operator/Founder/Lead Guide and Cat Driver Brent McCorquodale first came to this area in the late 70’s. He was looking for the perfect terrain to set up an operation that would allow skiers to enjoy nothing but backcountry powder lines all day long—a pretty new concept at the time. Actually, as he described it, he was looking for a great place to ski and had to build the Snowcat operation to finance his ability to ski every day. Located near the top end of Upper Arrow Lakes off the Balfour-Kaslo-Galena Bay Hwy, he found what other operators everywhere have been looking for: massive amounts of fresh pow. It may not always be the easiest location to access, but the extra effort is paid off in the available terrain.
I was chatting to one of the guests Dr. John, from Toronto who was there with his wife and daughter. He recalled first meeting Brent randomly in Rogers Pass in the seventies while he was interning in Calgary. They toured together and a friendship and bond was created that remains strong to this day. John recalled first coming to the Great Northern Terrain in the late 70’s. “There was 20 feet of snow piled up along the side of the highway”. Located near an old mining community, there were snow records leading back a hundred years and Brent was able to confirm that he was standing in the midst of a new natural resource that needed to be powder mined.
Dr. John is typical of many of Great Northern’s guests; they having been coming for 20+ years and are devoted and loyal patrons of operation. Pictures of guests throughout the years line the hallways and it feels like portraits of family.
A man of few words, with a dry and sharp sense of humour, I asked Brent what first drew him to this remote area of BC. “Snow” he said, and snow they have—in Spades.
Brent and Head Guide Dan Nelson switch off as either Lead Guide or cat driver. It was comforting to know that the driver knew the terrain as well as the guides (because he is one) and that there was an extra guide to back up and assist if an emergency arose. After about a 45 minutes ride up from the lodge in the velour interior cat cabin, we reached our starting point at about 2200m. The guides, including tail guide Brett, helped the guests with their skis off the cat and everybody got strapped in and buckled down for the first run. “What’s this one called?” I asked Brent. “It’s called OK follow me” he said drolly and skied away.
Woody and Sarah from Texas, rookies for only coming to Great Northern for the last 15 years in a row, informed me that Brent was a Guide of few words, but when he did give terrain instructions you needed to pay attention. I soon learnt that I should have paid attention when Brent said, “there’s a couple compressions” in this run.
We got some good video of what it looks like when a tele skier comes in contact with an unexpected compression. In tele speak it’s an atomic door hinge; everything is going along great and then in an instant it’s all tail over tea kettle and the door slams shut. Good thing the pow was deep and the only thing that got injured was my ego. It provided good entertainment to the rest of the crew and at the end of the day what’s telemark skiing if not good wholesome entertainment for the whole family?
The One Cat Philosophy
Family entertainment is what Great Northern is all about. Brent has developed an interesting and relatively unique philosophy regarding cat skiing not shared by many operations that I’m aware of. He’s committed to running only one cat.
In an era of expanding operations and maximizing profits and guest days, Great Northern restricts the number of guests that can come to their operation. They have a large lodge that could easily handle two cats worth of guests, and they certainly have enough terrain to be able to support multiple cats, but being bigger and going faster would take away from the camaraderie and sense of family that is engendered among the guests in a smaller operation.
Guests generally come for the week at great Northern and often bring their ski age children. Everyone (guides and staff included) all sit down together to enjoy the excellent food at one table; family style. You get to know all the people that are on your cat and develop much more of a bond than you normally would in a larger operation.
The philosophy extends to more than just one cat; there is a different speed at Great Northern. They actually break for lunch and hot tea and take a minute chat and relax as a group versus wolfing down a half frozen sandwich in the cat between runs. The lodge is well appointed and has a pool table, dart board and shuffleboard table (which was actually a lot of fun), but most people chose to just relax on the comfy couches in front of the fire and read a good book, or powder magazine. There’s no cell service and a sequestered TV room with movies. It is the perfect location to just get away from the digital world and truly relax in the midst of some of BC’s most beautiful mountains.
Brent is very committed to the service philosophy, and it’s the little things that make the difference. Things like personalized water bottles for the all the guests and cleaning the snow off the windshields of the cars before they leave. The kitchen is also very accommodating of dietary needs and is happy to substitute meals for guests with dietary restrictions. He is looking to create a great family like experience for his guests, and his guests ultimately become his friends and family. He even traveled to the wedding of the son of one of his guests (in the summer of course) that had been coming since he was a teenager.
The philosophy also extends to Guides. In an era where many Guides do a week at one operation and a week at another, traveling and putting together a patchwork quilt of work at different operations, Brent hires his Guides for the entire season. Besides himself Brent hires only one other Lead Guide, Dan (who’s been there 8 years and met his wife working at the lodge), as well as two tail guides that switch off. They stay at the lodge all winter working, as Dan put it, 6 and-a-half days a week. The lodge staff are also there for the season.
The result is that the guides really know the terrain and the snowpack on an intimate level that’s not possible even for the best guides bouncing around from operation to operation. The guides and staff also get to know the guests really well, their abilities and strengths, and are better able to tailor the terrain choice based upon the crew on board, because they see them every year.
The end result was a truly enjoyable experience with a great crew of people. We really enjoyed our time there and thank Brent, Dan, Brett, Chelsea and Leila all the guests for their hospitality and good times.
Give Great Northern a call today toll-free 1-800-889-0765 or 1- 403-239-4133
If you are wanting to ski powder, you should cat-ski in the Monashee Mountains, the first high range to greet moisture-laden clouds from the Pacific Ocean as they pass over the interior of British Columbia. There is always powder snow in the Monashees.
Once you’re finally up there, snow and terrain abound. The lodge and separate sleeping quarters are full of pleasures: hot tubs (two, both outdoors, covered and uncovered), massage therapists, dining room, staff of 15, pool table, gear store, two bars, excellent wine list, on-slope photographer, en-suite bathrooms and showers in every room, in-house chef (Dave, a mad snowmobiler) and baker (Fiona, a rock climber with Haida tattoos on her precision-cut triceps, who I meet as she returns to the kitchen from the hot tub in her bikini top to make a rhubarb compote and pistachio crème anglaise for her caramel meringue – oh, and, where was I?, a large screen TV on which to view the day’s crop of video ski-porn, which is what everyone does before and after dinner each evening, all the while oohing and mmming and saying things such as “when you land that fakey, then we’ll talk.” This is a ski vacation. It’s total immersion. You would be surprised how engaging a conversation about refurbishing a set of snowcat treads can be.
One of the things people talk about in the back of a snowcat as they trundle their way to the top of a mountain 10 and 12 times a day is whether helicopter skiing is better than cat-skiing. It’s certainly more expensive: a minimum of $6,700 for four days of bare-bones heli-skiing vs. a bargain of between $2,000 and $3,200 for the same stretch in a cat (January is cat-skiing high season, but it snows until April). Helicopters get higher faster, but they can’t fly when it’s foggy or snowing heavily, whereas a cat can roll in any weather. There is some (debatable) thinking that cat-skiing is safer. Helicopter guides frequently have to make quick decisions about whether a slope is safe to ski, within a vast flyable territory, whereas a cat guide has more time to assess conditions in a smaller territory that he moves through every day. Cat guides certainly seem calmer, and they last longer in the job.
Karl Klassen, the chief guide at Monashee Powder, spends half his time as the Canadian Avalanche Association’s public warnings manager in Revelstoke. He has been in the guiding game 30 years, and sees his delicate and difficult job as “putting together a well-thought-out risk management plan” that will keep his clients both safe and happy. He also brings his 10-year-old son up to the Monashees. Having observed him in sober action and meticulous daily guide meetings, I would let him guide mine as well.
What I remember best about the Monashees were the last runs we took. We’d been skiing for two days under cloudless skies – at least 23 runs, some 6,400 metres of vertical, through trees thick and thin, down wide bowls, even off half a dozen peaks that normally don’t get skied more than twice in two years. But on the third and last morning the lodge was solidly fogged in.
We climbed into the cat and made our way up the ghostly mountain. You could just see tracks from the previous day in the woods, artifacts proving we had been there.
Then the cat poked through the cloud cover, and we climbed onto a bright peak to ski a slope called Epiphany. Karl Klassen told a joke. “What’s the difference between God and a mountain guide?” he asked. “God doesn’t think of himself as a mountain guide.” We laughed anyway. Then Karl showed us what we were going to ski, hazards to watch for, and where to head so that we all got fresh snow but still ended up together at the bottom. He did not mean it as a metaphor, but maybe it was. Maybe the metaphor is one reason people like to ski.
Below us, the valley was filled with boiling cloud. But up above we could see for miles. For a few moments it was all ours, and it skied that way, too.
VERNON, B.C.— From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Published Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012
Now that’s way better than chocolates! We were skiing with the crew from The North Face and it was all about sunshine and powder. Fernie Wilderness Adventures had pro photog Leslie Prentice in the cat with us so she was kind enough to supply us with some great shots of the day. Thanks to the North Face for making this happen and Fernie Wilderness Adventures for coming through with the goods.
Residents of a small B.C. town were abuzz this weekend over sightings of pop star Justin Timberlake, rumoured to have celebrated his birthday in the snow-laden ski community of Fernie.
The former boy-band babe and regular Saturday Night Live guest celebrated his 31st birthday at a backcountry resort specializing in high alpine skiing accessible only by snowmobile, about 300 kilometres southwest of Calgary just across the B.C. border.
Employees of the resort were tight-lipped Sunday, offering few details about their high-profile guest, but one snowboard shop owner confirmed that Timberlake had made an impression on shop staff when he came in to buy some ski gear.
“One of our employees had quite the interesting experience,” said Commit Snow & Skate owner Adam Laurin. “It was one of those ‘no way, no way, that’s not him’ moments.”
But staff were a little less than blown away by the Grammy Award winning artist credited with having “brought sexy back.”
“He was smaller than (we) thought. And he was going around with a bit of a beard,” Laurin said.
No word whether Timberlake had any starlets on his arm to help celebrate his birthday, but chefs at the resort where he stayed did prepare a custom birthday cake.
Rumoured to be an avid snowboarder, Timberlake may have sought the mountain town for the plentiful powder, including more than 50 centimetres of fresh snow that fell in the past week.
“He was cat-skiing,” confirmed another Fernie resident and ski shop employee. “They take you up into different areas and drop you off, no chairlift, no tracks, and you get to make clean lines.”
But if Timberlake had hoped to lay low for a few days in the picturesque mountain town, he may not have quite succeeded.
“There was a lot of talk in town. Lots of word of mouth. A lot of people had heard about it or knew about it,” she said.
By Mike McPhee and Darryn Schewchuck
CALGARY — Joey O’Brien credits a major Hollywood star for some of the progress he’s been able to make toward bringing skiing back to the Fortress Mountain ski resort.
“Thank you, Mr. DiCaprio,” said O’Brien of Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in Inception, a major movie filmed in part at Fortress, about 120 kilometres west of Calgary.
In shooting a climactic scene of the $160-million thriller there in 2009, the Warner Bros. movie studio spent $250,000 replacing a deteriorating bridge on the only access road.
“We’re bringing a dead resort back to life,” said O’Brien. “That gave us a kick-start. They also worked on the road and did a bunch of other stuff.
“And when they did their cleanup the following July, the place was cleaner than when they arrived. That helped us as well.”
Now, for the first time since Fortress was forced to close in 2007 under a previous owner, a group of paid skiers will take to the mountain in a new snow cat operation called KPOW.
It’s a modest first step toward the eventual relaunch of the resort, with a maximum of 14 participants who can be accommodated per day.
Skiers and snowboarders can each pay $350 to be taken up the mountain in a snow cat and then carve out their own runs in fresh powder.
O’Brien said the limited cat skiing will give his operation and safety team a better chance to get to know the snowpack.
O’Brien has hired Chris Chevalier as director of mountain operations and maintenance, Chris Mueller as snow services manager and Rowan Harper as snow safety director.
All three are seasoned ski resort professionals who previously worked for Sunshine Village. Chevalier and Harper, along with two other employees, have filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Sunshine owner Ralph Scurfield.
“I hired them because they’re fabulous people and they’re industry leaders,” said O’Brien. “They’re good people I’ve enjoyed spending time with and will need to enjoy spending time with them over the next decade or so.”
In 2007, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development pulled five leases from the resort when it was owned by Banff Rail Co., run by Zrinko Amerl.
The province said Banff Rail Co. failed to fix an unsafe bridge on the sole access route to the site and had missed several lease payments.
The province reinstated the leases in 2010 after O’Brien’s company, Fortress Mountain Holdings, took over.
O’Brien had been named Alpine Canada’s first chief operating officer in 2004. Prior to that, he owned the Ski Martock resort in Windsor, N.S., for 27 years.
In the two years since he took over, old buildings have been demolished, 18 truckloads of scrap metal have been removed and three old chairlifts have been dismantled and hauled off.
Three more lifts still need to be taken out.
Planning, surveying and engineering for utilities, new buildings, roads and parking lots will need to be completed and permits issued before construction on the new resort can begin. It could be more than two years before shovels go in the ground, said O’Brien.
He won’t comment yet on his plans for the resort, but said former fans of the ski runs should be pleased.
“In terms of runs, the mountain will remain essentially the same as before with what I’ll call expanded ski terrain,” he said.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
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