Great Northern Snowcat, B.C. Jan. 23-25, 2005

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Great Northern Snowcat, B.C. Jan. 23-25, 2005

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Feb 02, 2005 1:18 am

I have been coming to Canada for cat/heli skiing since 1997, and this was the first time with no good powder. You've all heard about the infamous "Tropical Punch" rainstorm of Jan. 18-21, which had snow levels up to 8,000 ft. in the Northwest and most of B.C. During my week there was very little precipitation but the weather remained unseasonably warm.

I chose Great Northern for its more reliable location (Trout Lake, about an hour south of Revelstoke) because I had close calls with rain events at Island Lake the past 2 seasons. In some sense I was right because Fernie's Lizard Range was so soaked by the Tropical Punch that Island Lake has cancelled 5 consecutive tours over 2 1/2 weeks, through this coming Sunday, and that will continue until they get some snow.

Great Northern is the second oldest cat operator in Canada, 25 years old. They have about 16,000 acres of prime terrain topping out at 7,400 ft. The lodge is near the road at 2,500 ft. so there is an hour cat ride up in the morning (and back down if you don't want to ski a well-graded 10km. cat track).

Snow conditions on Sunday were truly obnoxious. It must have been rain-soaked powder on top of lighter snow. Fat skis sank in like skinny skis in sun-baked powder 10 years ago, and it was not easy to pull them out. I was very focused as I had gone down the hill in the meat wagon with a torn meniscus the last time I had skied similar conditions at Grand Targhee in 1995. I crashed once or twice most runs, but finally managed OK on the 4th and 5th runs (out of 6).

I would ascribe the above commentary to my own limitations, until I heard that lead guide Brent had fallen once. Most of the group were long-time repeat customers from Calgary and they had NEVER seen Brent crash in over a decade of trips. Brent was also skiing on conventional skis, and the group noted when he came out on fats Monday that was also a first.

There was light sleet and drizzle Sunday. When we ascended in the cat Monday morning the snow looked worse, with more creases from rain runoff. However, the snowpack had consolidated and fat skis now stayed on top. Now I was in more of a comfort zone, as this was rather similar to late season spring skiing, of which I have much experience. It snowed lightly some of the time on Monday.

Tuesday was a bit cooler, and we encountered a touch of breakable crust at the start of our first run. Fortunately most terrain was in similar condition to Monday and thus manageable.

Despite our unlucky experience my friend Al Solish and I are likely to return to Great Northern in 2 years. Great Northern has vast amounts of outstanding subalpine and steep tree skiing. It is somewhat unusual for such an established operator to run only one cat, but most customers have been coming for many years and this was a very strong group.

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The cat unloads us just above tree line at 7,200 ft.
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Here I am at the top of Triple Ripple, one of our first runs.
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On Sunday my Chubbs dived under the rain-soaked snow and ground to a halt. I picked up this modest-sized chunk while excavating room for my skis.
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Here Minnesota couple Bob and Cindy put tracks down an open slope. It LOOKS like powder .....
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A couple of the Calgary skiers wait for the guide's OK to launch into the steep trees.
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In Tuesday's balmy weather we ate lunch by the cat.
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The sun lit up some low clouds over Trout Lake Tuesday afternoon. On sunday and Monday we ate lunch in the mountaintop hut at right.
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Two of the Calgary skiers hucked the drop at center left on our last run Goldfinger. The first stuck the landing while this one cratered.
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http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Tony Crocker
 
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Location: Glendale, California

re: Great Northern Snowcat, B.C. Jan. 23-25, 2005

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:21 pm

On my last night at Great Northern I persuaded them to let me see their snow records. They measure every day at 5,500 ft. but only when they are operating. Consequently complete monthly data exists only for January, February, March, and only for the past 9 seasons.

Putting the data through my computer programs and correlating to Mt. Fidelity in nearby Glacier National Park I estimate that Great Northern's annual snowfall averages 493 inches. Despite my unlucky experience I would expect plenty of powder to go around 95+% of the time at Great Northern.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
User avatar
Tony Crocker
 
Posts: 9794
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2004 10:37 am
Location: Avatar: Charlotte Bay, Antarctica 2011
Location: Glendale, California

Re: Great Northern Snowcat, B.C. Jan. 23-25, 2005

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Apr 22, 2017 11:25 pm

With historical perspective this trip stands out more and more for the glaring contrast of high price and some of the most heinous snow conditions I have ever skied.

We skiers deal with weather surprises routinely and making the best of whatever you get is part of the program. Thus at the time we hoped to return under more normal conditions. As it turns out I found cat skiing options I liked better, first Chatter Creek in 2007 and then Mustang in 2010. As I visited more places I occasionally inquired about whether they had cancelled tours during the infamous Tropical Punch of 2005. In nearly all cases at least a couple of tours were cancelled, with customers rebooked the following season. So it does not reflect well on Great Northern that they made us pay the $$$ to ski under these extreme conditions.

I must emphasize that rain-checking tours due to bad conditions is a rarity in the snowcat skiing industry in Canada. Big Red Cats, which is located in a somewhat low and rain prone area, is the only one I know with a liberal policy in this regard. But Mustang, where I now go every year, had 6 rain events between mid-December and mid-February in 2014-15, and to my knowledge cancelled no tours.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
User avatar
Tony Crocker
 
Posts: 9794
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2004 10:37 am
Location: Avatar: Charlotte Bay, Antarctica 2011
Location: Glendale, California


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