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

Happy Tracks.

Happily Standing outside early on a cold winter morning in the snow

Awaiting the Cat for the first run of the day

Guide Gord tests the snow as we anxiously await the day's first tracks

Loading up the Cat's Crummy for the next run

The plush surroundings inside the Crummy. However there was, until about 3 pm, plenty of good food to be had on the rides up.

This is powder skiing. Although the picture shows tracks, this was an opportunity to get a photo at the bottom convergence of long, wide run that offered untracked skiing for all.

Ho-hum, more of the same

Our guides, Gord (far left) with Ian at his side, explaining the upcoming terrain.

The 13th picture of the day at the bottom of yet another long & satisfying run

And one more steep & deep