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Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Thu Mar 01, 2018 11:51 pm

We arrived at Mustang on Feb. 16 with high expectations. It had snowed most of the day at Revelstoke and the outgoing skiers at Mustang had blower powder. We were surprised to get e-mail notification at noon that we could get in by heli, but we arrived at 3PM and were told 10 minutes later that wind had come up at the lodge and we would have to take the bus and snowcat instead.

The wind turned out to be quite severe in terms of affecting the snow. Above treeline on Saturday it was very much upside down, with dense snow on top of the lighter snow. If your skis got much under the surface it was hard to bring them back up. Once you got deep enough into the trees the snow was excellent powder. And there's a mile-wide south face of subalpine that must have been leeward to the wind, so we skied 4 runs there in the excellent snow of Super Bon Bon. Temps were in the 10-15F range, the last day before a severe cold spell was predicted. It snowed moderately all day with bad visibility if you were much above the trees, so I took no pictures.

I've experienced the upside down snow before, and usually it settles and mixes out overnight. But since it was due to wind it persisted into the second day. Sunday was clear as predicted but it was also around 0F all day. I wore extra clothing layers but my feet were getting cold after two runs. I put on neoprene boot gloves and they served me well for the next week. They are an effective low tech solution to cold feet, and I am personally skeptical of battery powered heat devices because we all know that battery life in subzero weather is not good.

On that same long south facing ridge is one of Mustang's favored long pitches, Showtime. It had some snow stability questions but they bombed the skier's right side of it Saturday and let us on that the next day a few times. Flyover at lower left on our first run there:

Flyover dropping in on the next run:

Tseeb in the middle of Showtime:


Lower down:

We did a couple of the steep "Roman runs" on the opposite NW facing side of that ridge. Janna dropping into the narrow chute entry to Hail Caesar:

Late in the day we skied Colosseum trees and at the pickup point got a good view of the entire length of Hail Caesar.

Next we headed into the alpine, where we discovered the upside down snow persisted up there. Kiwi Cruise is a mellow run that proved to be too flat to ski in the thick powder so we skied a cat road to its pickup. We then took a couple of runs in the Truffula trees near the northern boundary of Mustang's tenure. The top of these runs were wind affected but the steeper middle section was the deepest face shot powder of the trip.

After that I was somewhat surprised to see the cat drive up to Mustang's highest drop point a bit over 8,000 feet. The views were great. Looking east down Fifth Dimension:

This run under ideal conditions is skiable 6,000 feet to the valley floor but that's rare.

Looking SE down Love Me Longtimes, which goes on for 3,500 vertical:

I had 2 great runs here in 2010 and a more challenging one in 2015.

At left here is the backside of Cloud 9.

In 2015 we bootpacked partway up the ridge and traversed to the other side to maximize the alpine skiing as there was a rain crust just below tree line.

We are going to ski west here into Eldorado.

Unfortunately this year was the opposite of 2015 as it was the alpine that had the difficult snow. Eldorado was very slabby from the wind and we bailed to the cat road about 2/3 of the way down.

Here's the Sunday dinner menu.

It was multiple slightly smaller courses to go with the optional Okanagan wine pairing.

Monday it got even colder, probably not getting above -5F. Midday drop points in the sun felt warmer, but if you got into the shade or skied fast enough to generate wind chill it was evident how cold it was. Nonetheless Monday had the most consistently good skiing. The upside down snow was improving a little and the guides mostly stayed away from it in any case.

The day started on a high note with Carnival. Flyover's friend John from Seattle:

He is "keeping it tight" here, as with the good snow we did two more laps on Carnival. We needled the two snowboarders from Toronto a few times about "keeping it tight." Most of the time it is not necessary to farm snow at Mustang as there is plenty of terrain, but here we did due to the variable conditions higher up.

With the good snow in this sector we skied nearby runs Mardi Gras, White Rabbit, Grace Slick and Mon Dieu. John on Grace Slick:

Tseeb on steep lower clear cut of Mon Dieu:

As in 2012 the snowcat is the place to be in subzero temperatures. The next few days of lift service would be a bit more of a weather challenge.

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Fri Mar 02, 2018 10:20 am

Pix and dinner menu look convincing.

I went to their website but couldn't figure out the pricing per person. Could you share?

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Fri Mar 02, 2018 11:14 am

$1350 CDN per day for high season next year, which is early January through mid-March. I still consider Mustang an excellent value as you get 50% more skiing than at a lot of other cat operations and cost is well below heliskiing.

Plus $100 each way if you get to use the heli transfer. The heli transfer program was initiated in 2016 and less than half of them including both of ours ran that season. In 2017 we heli transferred both ways and this year only on the way out. It's nice on the way out because you can wait in the lodge and you get on the road earlier. The latter is particularly good for John, who sometimes tries to drive all the way back to his home in Seattle.

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Fri Mar 02, 2018 12:06 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:$1350 CDN per day

And that's all in (other than the heli transfer): full board, lodging, etc.?

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Fri Mar 02, 2018 1:08 pm

Libation ($7 CDN for pint of quality local brew), massages (?), rental skis ($35 CDN per day), use of the lodge's satellite phone ($1 CDN per minute) and the helicopter transfer (as Tony explained above) cost more. Otherwise that's all in. The exchange rate in recent years has been favorable for guests coming from the U.S.

This was my third trip. My two previous trips to Mustang were in 2015 and 2016. Mustang did not start with helicopter transfers until 2016. That year we did not fly either direction due to snowfall, so I've only flown (and had to pay the additional $100 CDN) for 1/4 of my transfers to and from Mustang.

In the Kelowna airport, the airport hotel and/or on my flights home from Kelowna, I have so far bumped into and had a chance to compare notes (and on one occasion, photos) with skiers returning from helicopter skiing with Mica and Purcell. Based on these conversations, I'm convinced Mustang is a far better value in terms of vertical skied and time spent skiing. The guides will keep you out bell-to-bell every day at Mustang and will move as fast as conditions and the group allows. This means time (not additional cost) is, essentially, vertical at Mustang. If conditions allow for longer runs (this year they did not, due to the wind slab in the alpine) and you have a strong group that is disciplined about quickly loading and unloading the cat, it is not difficult at Mustang to significantly exceed the limits those heli operations place on vertical and/or number of runs before their guests have to get out their credit cards again. Its also really nice not to have deal with down days and to have excellent tree skiing when weather or snow conditions are sub-optimal in the Alpine.

I hope to be able to find the time to add some additional photos to this report over the weekend.

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Fri Mar 02, 2018 7:44 pm

Purcell is mostly a day operation, so vertical tends to run low at those places with avy drills plus more first timers. Mica is a boutique operation with A-Stars, potentially very big verticals, but of course that depends upon the group and the weather/conditions. Mica's tenure is north of Chatter Creek's, and the continental snowpack over there is clearly less stable than in the Selkirks/Monashees. So there are times where the terrain that's both safe and has good snow may be limited.

It is true at many Canadian heli operations like CMH you start paying more once you get over 16K per day, which is coincidentally close to what I've averaged in 25 days at Mustang. In Alaska you tend to get more as the limit is by run count or flying hours (the latter in Iceland too), but of course there's the high down day risk in Alaska, which limited me to 2 ski days out of 6 in both trips at Points North.

There are some heli operations like Mike Wiegele, that charge a moderately higher base price but allow unlimited vertical. But when I went there for 6 days in 2006 I got the same 100K vertical that is CMH's limit because we were in the trees the whole time due to weather. I went back to Wiegele for two days in 2007 and one of those was mostly in the alpine for 27K.

So there's a big upside when you get lucky in the heli (28K of thigh-deep with Chugach Powder Guides in 2007 was the ultimate for me), but given the vagaries of weather Mustang's consistency is quite impressive.

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Sat Mar 03, 2018 6:59 pm

flyover wrote:Libation ($7 CDN for pint of quality local brew), massages (?), rental skis ($35 CDN per day), use of the lodge's satellite phone ($1 CDN per minute) and the helicopter transfer (as Tony explained above) cost more. Otherwise that's all in.
Am I the only one who tips? I thought the lodge manager said the average tip is $100-200/day (Canadian). I am pulling down the average, but am almost there. Tony Crocker and I also paid $25? for wine pairing to go with dinner the last night (menu posted above) and that did not include the $10/glass ice wine (that I skipped) with dessert. My hope is that bigger tip may give better chance of single room (where you share bath with one other single) or earlier exit on helicopter.

My first three pictures are all from the second day. In the first one the snow looks better than it skied. You can see some wind affected snow in upper right. I don't think we made the close-in tracks as I think we all traversed to the cat road to get out of very wind affected snow. And the small group still on the traverse (middle left) included big guy who made us all wait a few times and his partner and the tail guide. Big guy fell into a hole below the traverse here. But if he had been going faster the hole may not have been a problem. Second picture is tracks out group made early in the day and the last picture is alpenglow on peaks across valley from lodge.
Tony posted great powder pictures of me and the ones I took of him do not compare since my zoom is only 3X and I did not take the highest resolution. And I got yelled at by the guide for stopping before I got to him (and where an avy could have swept me into trees), especially when others stopped with me.
The last pictures were taken on the last day, two on helicopter ride out. I got to sit in the front because I was the only heli virgin. There were four people in the seat behind me. The first picture is our lead guide dropping a waterfall that he tried to keep us all away from.
Mustang's Lodge is L-shaped with hot tub on 3nd floor between legs of the L. The longer leg in this picture contains sleeping rooms the bar and some common areas are in between and the dining room and kitchen are in other leg. Picture taken just after helicopter took off.
Helicopter was not upside down although my Mom worried about that when I sent her the picture.

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Sun Mar 04, 2018 10:42 am

OK, I probably should have mentioned the tip also. Theoretically, like any gratuity it’s optional. However, most of us have probably heard the old joke: what is the difference between an extra large pizza and a mountain guide? The pizza can feed a family of four. I tip within the recommended range, and I get the sense that most guests do.

Day 1:

Tom, a new snow machine, and a crate of explosives
Tony Crocker
Waiting for the green light
Flat traverses required the boarders to do some serious wallowing
John and Tom

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Sun Mar 04, 2018 10:58 am

Day 2:

Cool pic, but this snow was upside-down, slabby and slow... conditions were much better below treeline.
Stewart, blending into the background...
Pure comedy on El Dorado. Even our lead guide almost went over the handlebars in the wind slab.
Better snow here. Hail Caesar? Colosseum trees? Not sure which one.

Re: Mustang Powder Snowcat, Feb. 17-19, 2018

Sun Mar 04, 2018 11:21 am

Day 3:

Tony Crocker
Keeping it tight...
The snowpack had become very complex in the run-up to our tour.
Helicopter transfer was a dramatic way to end the trip.
Photo credit: John. I also scored the front seat. Our Jet Ranger carried just the pilot and myself in the front, and John and Tom in the back.

Somehow, I don’t have any photos of tseeb, which is a shame, because he skied the wind slab better than any of us.
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