Chatter Splatter – Tales from Chatter Creek Cat Skiing
Epic and consistent. Sitting on a train en-route to Austria for the British Telemark Ski Championships, reflecting. At last weeks London Total Heliski Info Show event, the crowd were blown away with the pictures I shared of epic and consistent skiing at Chatter Creek Cat over New Years. Here are a few shots that sum it up. Mmmm. Where to start?
From the moment we took off from Chatter Creek’s helicopter transfer base, near Golden BC, we were flying over some of Canada’s best back country. With each passing minute, I sensed increasing remoteness and anticipation building for skiing pure untouched powder snow.
On landing at the lodge, my initial thoughts were how epic must the construction feat have been for the massive log cabin style Vertebrae Lodge housing 36 guests. The atrium connecting the two annexes, towers over you like a gigantic cathedral….to the worship of powder I pondered?
Whilst exploring around the homely lodge and the facilities like the hot tubs, bar and the new sauna, I met many friendly warm Canadian people (staff and guests alike) who over the next few days, would share some of my life’s best experiences.
At dinner on the first night, we were welcomed by Dale one of the owners, and entertained to a sumptuous three course meal using local Canadian produce. This went down way too well with the Canadian Okanagan Valley pinot. Actually I found this to be true each day I was there.
We awoke the first day to ‘Bluebird’ conditions. This is Canadian for a deep blue sky accompanied by fresh, fluffy white powder for as far as the eye could see. Wow, was I in for it.
Like all mechanized ski operations, there were extensive avalanche search and rescue briefings and exercises that morning. Although I have done these exercises before, you can never practice these things enough, and you will do this each time you go heli or cat skiing no matter your experience. Chatter Creek have new Barryvox avalanche transceivers this season, which are more idiot proof than ever. This was followed by a snow cat safety briefing.
I was keen to see how cat skiing would stack up against heli skiing. I soon discovered the snow cats can access more and steeper terrain than I had thought, although they don’t move very fast, about 13 miles per hour.
I guess that’s the biggest delta between heli and cat skiing. But also, it enables you to have lots more social time between runs to make new friends with your group, and the social aspect of cat skiing is a clear bonus over heli skiing for many.
Then I learnt mainly from talking to the other guests, what were the keys to a successful snow cat skiing operation. Apart from the snowfall quality, (all other things being equal), it’s the skiable terrain amount, (of which Chatter has a massive 50,000 acres, 10 x many other operators), and accessibility via snow road building. I.e. lodging, food, guides, staff- are all important, but replicable anywhere, so what makes Chatter Creek special is the existence of the Vertebrae glacier in addition to the vast bowls and forest.
The next few days, she showed us her best attributes. We plundered up to the highest points of their terrain, skiing areas that aren’t normally accessed so early in the season and became the first groups of the year to ski the Vertebrae glacier.
The majestic scenery of mountainous wilderness rivaled any panorama I have seen in the alps- I couldn’t stop snapping photos of the geological formations of some of the peaks, and I am told that many hadn’t even been climbed yet. Remember, we were 20mins plus heli flight away from civilization. Yes, I must say, like my experiences in Alaska, I did get that mesmerizing ‘top of the world’ feeling again.
At dinner the next night, owners Dan and Dale regaled me with stories of the birth of Chatter Creek from their hobby amongst locals from Golden, to the building of the log cabin lodge and the annual build of the snow roads. Dale, drives the nightshift early in the season building the roads through the terrain with his snowcat, so we can relish in the new virgin lines by day. Actually so noteworthy was their collection of heavy machinery on site, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they ever grew up from playing with their Tonka Toys. We are talking about snow cats, snowmobiles, cranes, excavators, school buses even. Their vision is to one day hydro power the complex from Chatter Creek adjacent.
New Years Eve arrived. It not only brought in the birth of my company- Total Heliski, (I officially launched via my newsletter sent from the lodge), but was celebrated by all, around a communal bonfire in front of the lodge. What a way to end a year and launch into the next decade. New friends and an amazing ski experience.
As the days went on, more snow came, and we skied and boarded it -virgin line after virgin line. Every mechanized ski operation has its quirky run names, and Chatter Creek’s nomenclature is no different. It celebrates the American spoof film ‘Team America World Police’ by the Southpark crowd. Runs with names like ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’, Durka-Durka stan, and a personal fave, ‘Shag Nasty’. Trees, pillows, bowls, jumps…and did I mention the steepest, deepest tree line I’ve done since, well, heli skiing last year. You know the perfect condition where the run is so steep and snow so deep, that the waves of snow you encounter transform your skiing into a delightful rhythmic slow motion. There are face shots everywhere, creating everlasting memories. The swaying movement of the pole plant and powder skis turning, floating, sinking, turning, floating, sinking through the forest. Ah the memories. Captured in my cerebral photo album forever. Hang on, is that my train stop?