Well, I thought I'd troll the list some more with yet another cat skiing report from BC.........; -)
 
Seriously, though, if you are interested, keep reading, If not, no one's forcing you read any further. But, hopefully this post will be of interest to some of you, those with a heartbeat, that is..
 
Ranger Renson asked for some further details.  I'm a slow typist, so I probably woh't go into as much detail as he would like to read.  II'll let the photos do the talking here, and i am pleased to answert any one-offs after that.
 
If anyone has ever wanted to know what is involved in skiing in group of guided Cat skiers, hopefully this post will give you a frame of reference.  Before I go any fuerther, full disclaimer: This was a GOOD run.  They aren't all like this, but most runs are pretty darn close.
 
Preparation is super important.  All of our group this year was fully geared up with packs, probes, shovels and transceivers.  This may sound like a no-brainer to those with serious backcountry training, but it's likely only the case in about 1% of all cat and heli groups that those operations see in a season.  Conveying that your group takes safety seriously means a lot to the Guides (and the ownership).  If you have a good group of non-boneheads, the Guides will very quickly ascertain they can trust your group, and they almost immediately transition out of super-babysitting mode.  You'll ski far better terrain for the rest of your trip.
 
Most of the first morning is consumed with beacon practivce, signing waivers, and general season-to-date snow science from the guides.
 
So, finally, out on the hill.  After loading into the Cat and spending the requisite long initial first ride up into the alpine, you get to put your gear on while watching the Cat trundle back down for the second pickup, hopefuly in weather similar to something like we had (actually, all week long), shown below.  The cat road had just been cleared and packed the previous day.
 
 
 
 
Once you get geared up, the Guides will invariably assemble everyone to dicuss how to ski the run that they are contemplating skiing.  As condiitons change daily (even from run to run), there is no avoiding listening intently to this talk.  If you don't the Guides will address you and basically tell you, nicely, to shut up and listen, because things can go wrong really, really quickly if someone is not paying attention to the Guide's precise instructions.  During this trip, we had essentially two lead guides at both Cariboo and  Robson.  I think that my tree well incident scared the community a bit last year, and as a result, most operations are going one step above the "unpaid tailergunner mode".  In any event, Terry told me that they actually used my tree well video as a teaching aid this season (perhaps, for what NOT to do).
 
Here, our secondary lead Guide, Cam (in orange), stands by while Fred and Greg boot up near the peak.
 
 
   
 
 
 
As I said earlier, this was going to be one of the BIG runs of the day, off a cornice into some very serious avalanche terrain.  In fact, the cornice area was only skiable at all because it had been skied a lot that season and had quite a bit of skier compaction to break up what they were calling called the "Valentines Layer" as well as the "Leap Layer".  The former, nastier layer was now buried nearly two meters deep.  Even so, the Guides were spooked about the stability anywhere except where that skier compaction existed, and gave us strict instructions not to veer off the beaten track on the way to the big cornice entry.  Below, Briar follows up the rear of the procession. 
 
 
 
   
 
Being the designated photographer for the day, I hung back and snapped this photo as the group dropped off the first ledge and approached the cornice.  Lead Guide Matt, in red, (as well as Cam) are shown here inspectng the lip.  Matt was the designated avi-poodle for the run, which meant he was going to drop in and basically ski the entire upper run out and repostion himself before any of the group followed.  This was, of course, because approximately a meter of snow had fallen since the last time this cornice had been skied, and below that cornice was a blank canvas of approximatley 1500 vertical feet of high-risk, high-alpine terrain. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Cam watches intently on the lip as Brad drops in and begins arcing huge powder turns through the gut of the bowl, waiting for the all-clear signal after Matt gets stationed on the side of the bowl further down.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Although this is a bit of a risk, I ascertained before-hand with Cam that I could leap in, then skid to a stop part of the way into the steep entry pitch and station myself briefly under the cornice lip (about half-way down), to get a shot or two of the next skier making the leap.  Here, Rich gets ready to point 'em down and go.  You can see how wind-hammered the snow is on that cornice, even with all the fresh snowfall. 
 
 
  
 
 
 
Once the Guides get the group into and through the bowl (absolutely, not more than one at at time, about 45 seconds apart until they ski out of the centre of the bowl and mostly out of an imminent threat of being caught below a skier-triggered avalanche), it's time to ski.  Halfway down the 3000 vertical foot run, Greg let's em rip in a lightly treed section of the lower high alpine.
 
 
 
   
 
The trees get thicker and the terrain gets more convoluted as we approach the lower third of the run.  Some of the group decide to lauch a nice little boulder drop into a snowy pillowy runout.   I turned round at the bottom just in time to catch Cam in mid-launch.
 
 
 
 
 
About another 1000 vertical feet, and that's the run.  We'll climb into the waiting snawcat at the bottom, and make our way up the hill for the next run of bottomless powder. The total turnaround time on that run is about one full hour. 
 
 
 
As an added perk this year, Terry installed an on-hill, wood-fired pizza oven at the mid-point of the Cat return road.  Free pizza is a nice touch after a good run like that.  Below, Terry dishes out the last slice of pie to, who else, yours truly, while Eric, in the rear, is still thinking, "WTF?"
 
 
 
 
Oh, in case you are wondering, Terry told me he had a "surpise" for Rich this year.  This crazy get-up was the "surprise".  He drove the Cat all day in this outfit, moonboots and all.  Terry plays in a KISS cover band when he's not running the cat operation or his summer whitewater rafting business.  His meeting room for the Cat operation doubles as a band practice room.
 
Drums, guitars, guides teaching avi skills, and deep powder skiing, all in the same room, on the same day. 
 
What a head trip.  
 
Ok, now back to discussing The-Best-Mountain-In-The-East-World©

 

LEIGH DABOLL 

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