First Time Experience



Nick Billings, a correspondent for Powderhounds.com, provides an account of his first ever day of cat skiing when he went out to review Powder Mountain Cat Skiing.

Deep, Deep Powder - A Powder Hound Dream I’d never been cat boarding before and I’d heard that it was a version of poor man’s heli-skiing or heli boarding. However after my day out with Powder Mountain cat skiing I certainly didn’t feel poor or deprived. It was an awe inspiring experience, and I will forever remember that amazingly deep powder and great terrain that I got to revel in. It was incredible!

The day started out nice and early with a 7am meet-up at the Gone Bakery, just off the main square in Whistler – a really handy location considering its proximity to the main village and my accommodation.

I was a little nervous at the start as I was a cat-ski first-timer, and the avalanche risk in and around Whistler was high to extreme. So with an extra espresso and muffin for comfort, I signed the usual waivers and loaded up my gear into the waiting mini-bus to take us on the 20 minute drive to Powder Mountain.

On route I chatted with Simon, our tail guide for the day. He was extremely knowledgeable and put my fears to rest. He told me a little about the terrain on the mountain and the fabulous conditions that day. Powder Mountain claims to get around 60% more snow than Whistler in any given storm, something I had initially thought may have been a wild claim at best. However, today I was a believer. Whistler had received an overnight snowfall of just 10cm, whereas Powder Mountain had received at least 30-40cm and it was still snowing hard. I was impressed. We arrived at the day-lodge to see the two huge Piston Bullies warming up. These new machines looked pretty striking in the first light of day. Wasting no time, our group loaded up and walked up the steps into the cat, keen to get going and check out the deep pow!

After setting off we were introduced to Leanne, the lead guide, who took us through a safety briefing and avalanche transceiver training during our 35 minute journey to the first drop-off point. On arrival, Leanne took us through another practical transceiver training exercise. Safety is always a concern, and especially in these conditions our guides were taking no chances and made sure we all knew what we were doing before setting off.

The moment had finally arrived for the first run. Everyone was hugely excited to get going and check out the super deep powder. We set off one by one and followed our guide down a nicely pitched open slope towards old growth forest, then back through to fairly open terrain. The snow was awesome! There were massive smiles all round as we met the cat at the bottom, ready for the next run.

The snow was at least knee deep everywhere and in some cases, waist deep. I thought I had skied powder before, but it was nothing on this! It took me a few turns before I got the hang of things, despite being on a powder specific board. Believe me when I say that in snow this deep, the last thing I wanted to do was fall over. I had to summon all my effort just to get going initially, and I was laughing so much in these bottomless conditions that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get up if I fell.

By the start of the third run, I had the powder board technique down-pat and was racing through some of the runs. Skiing powder this deep is a memory that will stay with me for life – the face shots, the floating feeling, the powder stashes, and beautiful untracked snow everywhere!

A couple of my fellow cat skiers were possibly not having quite as much fun as me. They had limited powder experience and were struggling with the deep conditions. It was a good thing that they could opt to have a breather in the cat for a few runs and warm up. Luckily they weren’t heli-skiing! Whilst I understood their need for a rest, I was a bit suspicious that in our absence they might have been eating more than their quotient of chocolate on offer. It was great that we got lunch and water in the cat, but Swiss chocolate as well? This cat skiing was pure luxury.

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of skiing we did that day. I thought that we wouldn’t cover much vertical, but we had eight runs and by the end of the day I was exhausted, but elated. The snow had been superb, the runs fast and deep, and Powder Mountain itself was jaw-dropping – an “enchanted forest” of old growth trees. Given better visibility and less avalanche risk, ordinarily the runs could have been a little longer, but I had covered more than enough terrain to be satisfied – very satisfied. My learning from the day was that cat-skiing really is a genuinely great alternative to heli-skiing.

During my day at Powder Mountain I had a magnificent taste of cat skiing, and now I’m addicted. When can I go again?

Nick Billings – Powderhounds Correspondent