Resort skiers know that there is no such thing as a friend on a powder day. The mad morning rush to lay down first tracks after an overnight dump is an every-man-for-himself affair. I’ve never been one to resent the guys in front of me in a gondola line, but – like most serious skiers – I’d just as soon give the whole traffic jam a miss. That’s why I’m standing on a ridgeline overlooking the jagged limestone spires of British Columbia’s Lizard Range.
Here in the Cedar Valley, just 10 miles from the historic mining town of Fernie, a local microclimate produces well over 40 feet of dry snow per season, a prodigious amount for the Rocky Mountains. There’s so much of the fine fluffy stuff to go around that the mercenary urge to rush toward the old-growth forest runs and make the first tracks through lofty alpine bowls all but disappears.
In the eye of this perfect powder storm is legendary and luxurious Island Lake Lodge, considered by many to be the premier cat skiing operation in the world. This has been sacred ground for serious snow sliders since fat skis were skinny and Gore-Tex hadn’t been invented. The lodge’s original owners practically invented the sport of cat skiing in Canada a quarter century ago, and since then the reconfigured resort groomers, which seat up to 14 passengers in heated comfort, have been transporting avid wilderness skiers all over its private 7,000-acre wilderness reserve.
A typical day here entails 10 to 15 runs and more than 15,000 feet of vertical. There are no lift lineups, no snarling snow patrollers. And there is also less physical exertion. The fat powder boards supplied by the lodge keep me up near the snow’s surface as I effortlessly steer graceful S shapes. To avoid accelerating too quickly, I just have to push my skis into the snow.
I meander down ridges and wide slopes before calling it a day and heading back to the lodge for tenderloin and albacore tuna. It’s snowing hard outside, but I don’t set my alarm for early hours. There’s plenty of powder to go around.
More information: Located 10 miles from the town of Fernie in the southeast corner of British Columbia, Island Lake Lodge offers luxury two-, three-, and four-day cat skiing packages that include lodging, all meals, safety equipment, and powder skis, starting from $1,460 a person. Groups include up to 12 people. Nearby Fernie Alpine Resort is a world-class ski and snowboard destination and a great place to warm up for your cat skiing adventure. For a preview of Island Lake Lodge cat skiing, watch “The Balance of Powder.“
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