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Chatter Creek Cat Skiing Jan 28 to Feb 1

Fri Feb 04, 2005 9:16 pm

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 ( and on the web site named "Ski Photography by John Dougall" ( The Chatter Creek web site is at

Recent reports from Chatter Creek indicate more snow and cooler temperatures. Perhaps things are getting back to "normal".

re: Chatter Creek Cat Skiing Jan 28 to Feb 1

Fri Feb 04, 2005 10:15 pm

I was quite interested in this report after my time in B.C. Jan. 22-29. 7,000 feet appeared to be the dividing line between packed powder and hardpack or worse at Kicking Horse, which should have a similar climate to Chatter Creek.

So it is impressive that with the extra elevation Chatter is offering powder skiing when the other B.C. cat operators are closed or skiing the cement that I saw.

Looking a the the link though, I am curious if Chatter operated between Jan. 18 and Jan. 28. I suspect not, but they had lots of company. I called TLH Heliskiing today, where I will be Mar. 26-27. They were down 12 consecutive days. They had never been down more than 4 before. TLH's top drop point when I was there was 8,700 ft.

While in B.C. I called RK and Purcell, which offer daytrip heliskiing. They reported rain effect to 7,200 - 8,200 ft. I concluded that it would not be worth it for shortened vertical. I've been with RK and the top drop point was 9,800.

It appears that only the farthest north operators like Wiegele and Mica Heli Guides have much vertical of powder to work with. TLH said that their sister operation Last Frontier was unaffected, but it is close to the Yukon border and a bit chilly in January.

re: Chatter Creek Cat Skiing Jan 28 to Feb 1

Sat Feb 05, 2005 2:53 pm

Sat. Feb 3. Chatter Creek reports hip-deep powder and cooling temperatures. It looks as if things are getting back to normal. Also, today is sunny! 8) 8)
Last edited by Lockie Brown on Sat Feb 05, 2005 3:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

re: Chatter Creek Cat Skiing Jan 28 to Feb 1

Sat Feb 05, 2005 3:08 pm

Oops! Tony, I just noticed your comment.

Although Chatter Creek is only about 90 km north of Golden, it's climate seems to be quite different from that of KHR. I've been skiing at Chatter for 5 years with multiple trips in some years. On some of those occassions I have skied KHR prior to going to Chatter Creek. Chatter consistently has more and better snow. It may be due to its proximity to Kinbasket Lake, although the lake is always covered with ice.

Some folks on my recent tour had skied KHR for the prior two days and they reported that the conditions were not very good. Sorry if your visit did not meet expectations.

Chatter did have two "difficult" tours (total of 7 days) a week or two ago although I gather the guests had an "OK" time. This period included two "down days". That's life in the backcountry! What a grunty winter! Hopefully, that's all behind us! :?: :?:

re: Chatter Creek Cat Skiing Jan 28 to Feb 1

Sun Feb 06, 2005 12:05 am

I found your report quite consistent with what I observed at Kicking Horse: excellent snow above 7000 ft. The problem is that Kicking Horse's layout forces you to ski down through 2000+ vertical of crap to reload the gondola and get back to the goods.

There was some discussion of this with the Calgary skiers at Great Northern. Supposedly the KH developers are in it for the real estate profit and have cut corners on the ski development, planning to sell and let someone else do the upgrades. Examples cited:
1) No gondola midstation. Seems obvious with the glaring difference between upper and lower mountain conditions. This year it's more extreme but it's a chronic problem and also results in delayed opening of the mountain. One of these years it will cost them Christmas, as it probably did their opening season 2000-01.
2) It may be heresy on this board but KH is undergroomed. This is mostly a midmountain issue. The Calgary skiers said that old logging tree stumps would need to be removed and they didn't want to spend the money.
3) Snowmaking. The lower mountain averages less than 100 inches per season. Sorry, they need it down there.
4) The new Stairway to Heaven chair is a conventional quad. The Calgary skiers said it's easily convertible to high speed, but they prefer to let the next owner pay for the upgrade.

I'm just passing along local opinion here for what it's worth.

re: Chatter Creek Cat Skiing Jan 28 to Feb 1

Mon Feb 07, 2005 3:37 am

Your comments are consistent with my observations over the past few years and with local scuttlebut. When we go to Chatter Creek, we usually arrive in Golden the day before our flight to give us lee-way in case of road closures. A few times, we have skied KHR in the morning, before our flight to Chatter. The last time I bothered was the year they added gondola cabs and the new lift in the alpine. I can's say I have every had a very good day there, even with pretty good snow conditions.

I think the "out of bounds" skiing there can be very good in the right conditions, but I've never had a local guide. I've had OK powder skiing in the alpine, but on the lower slopes have been thrown into a mogul mine field. As you say, the place could used a little more grooming.

re: Chatter Creek Cat Skiing Jan 28 to Feb 1

Mon Feb 07, 2005 6:12 pm

My first day at Kicking Horse was in excellent conditions top to bottom in March 2002 as you can tell from the report ... 1016407205 .

But more often there will be a sharp difference in conditions between upper and lower mountain, and management should tailor lift placement/grooming/snowmaking to accommodate that.
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