There comes a time in everyone’s skiing or boarding career that powder days on the resort just don’t cut it anymore. You see ski movie after ski movie of guys and gals catching face-shots and cutting fresh lines and you think to yourself, I want to do that, but how!? Ski touring, as physically demanding as it is, isn’t for everyone and unfortunately heli-skiing is beyond most of our snack brackets. Actually, most cat-skiing operations that involve a fancy lodge with catered meals are too! Well folks, I think I’ve found the cushy middle ground; Cariboo Snowcat skiing in Valmount, British Columbia. Just over an hour west of Jasper, sledders and skiers have been coming to this area for years for its renowned snow conditions.
This was my second year out with Cariboo and this year my sister, my dad and I joined some folks from the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing (CADS) organization, on their annual ski trip. As a prime example of how the passion for skiing penetrates the core of a person, these guys volunteer to teach disabled individuals how to ski. Some of them have been skiing with Cariboo since it’s conception, making them the original powder hounds. They are probably some of the most graceful powder skiers I’ve ever seen. Oh and did I mention that they are my grandfather’s age or more! I only hope to ski like them when I’m 80. So it was a pleasure to share this catskiing experience with them.
Cariboo is a family run operation out in Valemount, BC, that’s been satisfying powder hounds for over a decade. With a single cat, you’re guaranteed to be the only ones on the mountain. From steep bowls to beautifully gladded lines, whatever your interest, the terrain is huge and you’re pretty much guaranteed fresh lines every time. When you’re skiing nearly 15,000 vertical feet a day, you can expect your legs to be screaming at you.
Terry, the owner and operator, has a pretty simple but sweet set up that makes it a more affordable option. With no lodge on the mountain, the nearest accommodation is in Valemount where options range from the Super 8 to the Best Western. Riders are expected to bring their own lunch and snacks (the snacks are the best part!). If you put together a group of 10 people or more, your price per person drops down to $385 per day. My favourite thing about Cariboo, besides the powder, is the adorable Bavarian style hut mid mountain with a commercial pizza oven. Terry cooks an array of flatbread pizzas that must have a secret ingredient that kicks some energy back into your legs.
Not forgetting that this is a wild, unpatrolled mountain, safety is always the number one priority with Terry and his crew. Every rider is supplied with an avalanche transceiver and a pack with a probe and shovel. A good portion of the first morning is spent going over an emergency response plan, how to use the avalanche equipment and practicing finding buried beacons. In the group there are 12 riders with 2-4 guides. Of the guides, there is a lead guide, with the remaining acting as tail guides, this ensures that no one goes where they shouldn’t go, and that no one gets left behind. Terry’s guides are some of the best; they do an excellent job at instilling confidence and keep things upbeat and fun when the conditions start to get a little challenging. Considering the avalanche hazard was high when we were out there, they exceeded expectations by picking safe terrain while educating us on avalanche awareness.
So if you’re looking to get some deep powder at an affordable price, check out Cariboo Snowcat Skiing. It’s a bit more of a cowboy operation, but when you’re going for the skiing, then you don’t need the five star lodge. I think you’ll be surprised with the dining in Valemount; I recommend the mussels at The Moose Neighborhood Pub. Affordable catskiing isn’t a thing of dreams anymore!