With the warm and wet weather that has plagued so much of British Columbia, we faced our annual Chatter Creek Snowcat Skiing "powder bash" with trepidation. There had been recent reports of severe avalanche risk in the backcountry and Chatter Creek had reported down days and rain to almost 7000 ft in the prior week. Things did not look good! However, 32 stout hearts showed up at Golden airport, ready for the helicopter ride to Vertebrae lodge.
We all expected to spend the tour "in the trees", but we soon learned that most of the lower elevations were far too rain crusted. Our skiing would be in the alpine. Fortunately, settlement had significantly reduced the earlier avalanche risk and the warm weather had diminished the faceting that had resulted from earlier cold weather. Throughout the tour, we encountered very little instability, but our guides were careful to avoid exposed and unsupported slopes.
Our first day was foggy with marginal visibility but the snow was consistent, soft and easily skied. We skied between the elevations of about 9800 ft. and 7000 ft.. Sometimes we were playing "follow-the-leader" and sometimes the visibility opened up to permit great skiing. We had a good day and everyone enjoyed themselves. It snowed about 10 cm that night.
Our second day was clear and sunny. We spent most of the day in the Chatter Creek watershed, a huge alpine area with some trees. We had line after line of perfect powder skiing in great light. The terrain was wonderful. It does not get much better! We also enjoyed some very pleasant tree skiing with no trace of rain crust.
The third day was overcast with snow squalls. We took a look at some of the usual tree skiing terrain, but there was not nearly enough new cover on the rain crust. We beat a hasty retreat to the same area we had skied the day before and had more marvelous skiing. Fresh tracks all day without even crossing an old track.
Our fourth and last day had high overcast and pretty good light. We had a great day with very good skiing, all in the alpine. The last run of the day was on "Mummies Run" on the Lodge Ridge. The terrain is fairly steep, with great hummocks and the snow was perfect. I can still picture it!
Chatter Creek came through again! I've had trips before with "dicey" weather and in five years, Chatter Creek has never yet let me down. Everyone on the tour had a great time. "Ecstatic" was probably the best description. No one wanted to go home! Everything about the trip was great, particularly the Chatter Creek staff. I could wax poetic about the guides.
The new "Solitude Lodge" is another beautiful log building that expands living space to over 18,000 sq. ft. The drying room has been enlarged, as has the bar and games room. Chatter Creek expanded to 36 clients this year (three cats) but there is no sense of crowding in the lodge and the terrain is more than ample.
Rumor has it that Chatter Creek's application for an expansion to it's cat skiing tenure will soon add over 90 sq. km to the existing 130 sq. km. I think that will make it the largest snowcat skiing operation. The tenure already has just about everything, from glaciers to huge alpine bowls to steep "trees", to open cut blocks, to old burns. The expansion is icing on the cake.
Photographs from the tour can be found on the "Chatter News" web site (http://powder-skiing.blogspot.com
) and on the web site named "Ski Photography by John Dougall" (http://ski-photography-john-dougall.blogspot.com
) The Chatter Creek web site is at http://www.chattercreekcatskiing.com
Recent reports from Chatter Creek indicate more snow and cooler temperatures. Perhaps things are getting back to "normal".