A Day in the Life of a Cat Skier
The Lizard Range’s wild and rugged peaks seem to have a knack for capturing moist weather patterns holding them hostage while snow falls hard and heavy for days. This makes Fernie the ideal winter playground for countless outdoor pursuits. Atop many winter sport enthusiasts’ bucket lists, Cat Skiing. Why wouldn't it be? Deep blower untracked snow, powder smiles, bottomless turns and weightlessness. These are a few things that come to mind. We are lucky to have two Cat Ski outfits here in Fernie that have both been in operation for over 30 years. Fernie Wilderness Adventures and Island Lake Lodge are synonymous with good times on snow.
Though I have never had the chance to experience a day at Fernie Wilderness Adventures, I've been fortunate to have had many at Island Lake. A day of Cat Skiing starts early and feels even earlier from a lack of sleep due to the anticipation and excitement the evening before. At Island Lake the day begins with a Snow Cat ride up through an ancient Old Growth Cedar Forest to a series of beautiful luxury back country lodges. Stepping into the Bear Lodge you are greeted with hot coffee and Lodge-made pastries along with an introduction to the guiding team and an overview of the day's conditions.
Next there is a safety briefing which includes important lessons on how to use the equipment provided in your day pack, a shovel, probe and beacon. You are skiing in avalanche prone terrain so naturally safety is the number one priority. Now it's time to once again board the snow cat, the stoke is high and the music inside your deluxe Cat is pumping. Even if you don't know the other 10-12 people in your Cat there is a unique bond quickly formed that is hard to duplicate in other types of ski experiences.
Your first run is generally a mellow one and gives the guides a chance to assess the group's skiing ability. Some of the guides at Island Lake have been with the company for over 25 years; they are extremely knowledgeable on the terrain and provide great stories and jokes throughout the day to keep you entertained. There are plenty of snacks, sandwiches, wraps, treats and refreshments aboard your cat. In an effort to maximise vertical, which on average at Island Lake is 12,000-15,000 vertical feet of skiing each day, lunch is enjoyed on a ride up to your next run. After 10-12 runs of the best powder skiing you have ever had, through perfectly gladed trees and high alpine bowls it's time to wind things down.
At the end of your final run and with a giant beaming powder smile on your face, the Snow Cat meets your group with cold locally brewed craft beer from Fernie Brewing. If this wasn't enough you are then transported back to the Bear Lodge for an Après Ski including a delicious spread of fondue, nachos or pizza put out by the talented culinary team at Island Lake. Stories of the day's shred are shared with your group over another cold beer then before you know it you're back aboard the cat getting whisked down through the snow choked Cedar Forest back to civilisation.
Was it all a dream?
Mike Wilson is Tasting Room and Retail Manager at Fernie Brewing Co., and one of those enthusiasts he mentioned above! Don’t forget to head to 26 Manitou Road to order a flight - all money from these are donated to local charities, with over $100,000 donated back into the community so far!