The call for a photographer needed on a cat skiing skiing trip came in a couple of weeks ago. Most people in my circle would think I was crazy to have to take a few days to consider if I should take the job. I had to decide between a trip to Lego Land with my wife and kid or to ski Pow for a week. But, with the lack of snow in the Sierras and the fact that I have basically not made a single powder turn all season, the decision did seam obvious.
So, here I am. Like many photo assignments, I sit in the airport (today it is Spokane, WA) waiting for my ride north. I am surrounded by bags, lapsing between people watching and day dreaming about the fresh blanket of snow that just covered all of the old tracks up at Red Mountain. I have a 3 hour drive with another photographer I have not met, but confident we’ll have a fun drive.
As a start to the trip, I thought I would post a video from my day packing.
Fast forward a day. Matt Small picked me up from the Spokane airport and we headed north to the Canadian Border. Although the woman at the border was not as friendly as we had hoped, we made it into Canada without any issues. We arrived at Red Mountain resort just in time to have a cocktail with our host and hostess Jeff and Monica. We then headed out for an amazing dinner at one of the local restaurants called Gypsy Red. Monica actually took some amazing photos of our dinner, Check out her blog!
Before we jumped into the Cat skiing, we headed up to Red Mountain, the local ski hill. Red is actually an amazing ski area with 6 lifts serving almost 2000 acres and 2500 ft. vertical. 45% of the kill is considered Advanced and the tree skiing is as good as anything I have skied, anywhere. On top of great tree skiing, the fall line is perfect! No need to traverse, no pitch and run, etc…. Top to bottom turns are real leg burners.
So, we checked off a full day of skiing fresh lines at Red Mountain and had a great time posing for each other since we did not have any models. But, the real reason we came north was to join Big Red Cats for 4 days of Cat skiing.
The process at Big Red Cats is simple. You show up at 7:45 to sign waivers or rent skis if needed and meet your guide on the assigned bus. Once on the bus it takes about a half hour to get to the base of cat skiing operation. On the bus ride, one of the guides will go over safety procedures and pass out the beacons. That is between jokes of course! Once at the staging area, the guides will give an instructional session on using the beacons before loading into the cats.
The snow cats fit 14 in the cabin. I believe the typical group is 12 guests and 2 guides. That is how it was for just about all 4 days out for us. Although one day had 4 guides for 12 of us so the groups could be a bit more evenly divided by skill.
Once rolling in the cats, it took about 30-45 minutes to get to the top of the first peak. The stoke is pretty high when everyone gets out of the cat. We all all gather our skis and poles and are clicked in and ready to roll in a mater of seconds. Our guide gives a brief idea of what to expect and pushes off toward the edge of the ridge. For safety, he cuts sideways into the steeper terrain to asses the snow stability for the slope. For this first run, it is some moderately steep trees. Once the lead guide gives the go ahead, we all drop in one at a time. Hoots and hollers are heard, but each skier quickly disappears into the trees.
We averaged about 10 runs a day. The terrain ranged from steep trees to gentle glades and a few open bowls. With a stable snow pack there looked to be great advanced terrain with cliffs and tons of pillow drops.
There are no lunch breaks. Big Red Cats does supply a bin full of sandwiches, bars and apples to be eaten while riding in the cat between runs. Oh, and I can;t forget to mention the bin of fresh baked cookies that disappear pretty quick.
The skiing conditions on this trip? Well, I think photos tell the story best. Here is a slideshow for your drooling pleasure.
Are you in need of a Powder fix? You should really contact Big Red Cats in Rossland, British Columbia, Canada. I highly suggest BRC after experiencing their great customer service, quality guides and deep snow.
About Big Red Cats
Located in Rossland, BC
The Owners are Kieren or Paula Gaul
PO BOX 742
Rossland BC CANADA
Getting to Big Red Cats (Rossland) from the US:
Fly into Spokane, WA.
Rent a Car and drive north 2.5 hours to the Canadian Boarder.
After crossing the boarder, drive 15 minutes to Red Mountain. The BRC office is located in the base village at Red Mountain Resort.
- 8 main mountains – numerous ridges and sub-peaks
- 420 named runs – 40% expert, 40% advanced, and 20% intermediate
- 155km of snowcat roads – 2nd largest snowcat road network in the world (you can’t ski it unless you have a snowcat road!)
- 45 drainages – in each drainage there are 5-15 runs
- Altitude range 7300 ft – 4,000ft
- Average run length 1,400 vertical ft
- 19,300 acres of terrain
- Longest run 3,400 vert ft (but practically most days we ski up to 2,600 vert ft as the longest to manage turn-around times).