John's Report - January 14, 2006
13 @ Pow-Pow-Powder Cowboy
Friday�s skiing was, without reservation, the very best powder tree skiing I have ever experienced anytime, anywhere - honest. This unsurpassed pleasure was had at Powder Cowboy�s nearby cat-skiing operation. I, and 12 others, had seats for Friday the 13th�s excursion. The day began perfectly. The snow was heavy & continuous. The date and poor driving conditions raised fears about missing the �7:30 Sharp� downtown Fernie meeting. Giddy glee replaced paranoia as our two guides, Ian & Gordon, shoe-horned the 13 of us, themselves, and everyone�s gear into a 4x4 Ford Econoline van.
Last year I heard Island Lake Resort group offers full-time Elk Valley residents the opportunity of discount cat-skiing at both the Island Lake and Powder Cowboy operations. On a very limited basis, one can buy a seat for $175. Additional seats are available, on different terms, on other days, for $225. Details are best obtained directly from Island Lake Resort.
Powder Cowboy is north of Highway 3, up the Bull River Valley. It�s on the west slope of the Lizard Range; more or less over the ridge above FAR. The cat�s base was blanketed by �fat� snow; which, when standing in boots upon virgin snow, was waist deep. Although Ian said something like 150 cm had fallen over the past few days, I forget the exact figure because, as the words left his lips, I was engulfed by a dream-like bliss.
Due to avalanche hazards, we skied the trees. The descents were deep but relatively short, about eight hundred to a thousand vertical metres. But it was in the heart of pillow-snow encased glades and well above any recent rain-line. The continuous snowfall, cloud and flat light combined, limiting visibility to just a few hundred metres, which was ample, except the flatness made it hard to judge speed and pitch. This led to a number of Warren Miller-style, �ass-riding�, roster-tail, �don�t care if I die�, high speed, turns. However, unlike in Warren�s world, more than once, it all ended pile-driven, deep under snow. Thus, I learned, the human body is like a cannon ball, capable of hollowing deep craters. Crater punching isn�t the problem; it�s getting up. The soft snow offered no resistance to poles, arms, knees or anything else, leaving one at the bottom of a hole, flapping & gasping like a landed fish. At day�s end, only a tiny band stood UNFALLEN, I having departed early from the selected few.
Often, when skiing a tree copse, one could find oneself balancing a razor�s edge between tree wells. These wells are deep, sometimes as much as 6 feet. They reminded me of sand spider traps: an unsuspecting insect slips into a conical hole in the sand. Once in, the insect slowly and inevitably slides into the jaws of an awaiting spider buried at the hole�s base. One of the group fell into such a well. The only evidence of her presence was a day-glow ski tip barely sticking out under what otherwise seemed an entirely innocuous and small tree. Fortunately the buddy system paid off & her partner quickly dug her out unharmed... and there was no spider.
There�s no beer report as I lacked foresight to bring beer on which to report. Despite my egregious error, on the return drive, I concluded it�s wonderful to live in Canada�s Rockies