RUN AFTER RUN, OUR CAT FULL OF KEEN SKIERS SHARED STORIES OF PAST SKIING ADVENTURE AND THEIR LAST RUNS, chattering incessantly with the excitement of young children. The first sign of a phenomenal deep powder ski adventure is when the guides are snowed in. When the guests rally to help the guides get their cars out of the parking lot, you know there is epic skiing in your future.
This felt like the trip of a lifetime. It might have had something to do with the -22 C temperature and overnight warming temps that brought the mother of all storms rumbling in, slamming into the West Coast and the Monashee Mountain Range. The windshield face shots along the 45-kilometre drive from the edge of Sugar Lake to the snowcat pickup were as good an indication as any that the timing to drop into Monashee Powder Snowcats, also known as MPS, was impeccable.
Arrival at the Tsuius Lodge after travelling 30 minutes in the snowcat with future ski friends felt like a homecoming of sorts. Carolyn and Tom Morgan welcomed us with hugs and “How are the kids,” while their son Gary and daughter-in-law Keaton embraced us with bright smiles and mirrored warmth. Head guide Karl, lead guide Joe, photographer Colleen and the rest of the team have all adopted the mountain haven that Tom and Carolyn have built as home – some have been part of this mountain family for more than 13 years.
More hands make lighter work, so staff and guests stood shoulder to shoulder chattering away excitedly while passing groceries, ski bags and duffel bags along the human train from snowcat to kitchen and drying room. Then it was into the main lodge through the covered walk, past the guides’ room, kicking off boots before heading upstairs for the safety talk, a big focus here at MPS. Karl Klassen heads up the safety program, covering a part of backcountry skiing that is somewhat elusive to me, and I was happy to pay for the expertise. Karl is the chief avalanche forecaster for the Canadian Avalanche Association, and I felt confident knowing that I would get to have the time of my life without a worry, skiing safely with his guidance.
Rooms at most cat ski operations provide everything you need in a no-frills way, so the mark of a first-class operation is the food. The Red Seal chefs at the helm here – Dave Simenoff, who towers at nearly seven feet tall, and Annie Beulah – could surely have their pick of kitchens to please any gourmand. Add Fiona Coupland, the resident baker, to the mix, and you have a medley of healthy flavours and textures to make your salivary glands erupt.
Impact, sustainability and footprint are words holding great weight at MPS, and I was consistently impressed by the zero-waste philosophy modelled by the owners. When I commented on the delicious pepperoni and sausage at lunch, Carolyn explained that the meat cuttings left over from food preparation are frozen and then transported to the local butcher, who repurposes them for consumption. The containers used to pack your lunch are disposed of in clearly labelled bins at day’s end, and are sorted, cleaned and ready to use again tomorrow – zero waste. Even on the hill, trees are left where they are and only Mother Nature can change the shape of the mountain in a permanent way.
League of their own
While MPS is in the Pacific time zone, they run on mountain time, playing by their own rules in a world of their own. This lets guests get an earlier start to their day and win some time back when they head home. Any avid skier can imagine the energy that exists after a clean mountain air sleep in a snowed-in, predominantly testosterone-filled mountain lodge (although this is slowly changing as more women build confidence on their boards). There are only so many cups of coffee you can drink while waiting for it to be time to boot-up and leave the electronics behind for the day – bliss.
This was a trip of many firsts: My first time skiing 70 centimetres of fresh, stable powder snow. And my first time choosing the wrong equipment for those conditions. Yup, those 95mm underfoot, 170cm boards sunk the moment I stepped into the bindings, leaving me anchored there. It is not often that I feel like a rookie in the mountains anymore, but this was one of those times. I had not thought that super-fat boards were relevant for little 125-pound me. I thought I would always float, but with that much snow, the guides had to call in the big boys. Within 15 minutes, a snowmobile arrived with my new skis for the day, a burly 115mm underfoot and 185cm long: perfect.
Karl led our pack of drooling skiers to the first pitch and offered instruction, demanding that everyone pay attention in a way that only a seasoned guide can do. His demeanour and tone suggested that this could be our best day ever, depending on how well the group followed his directions. After all, he was in charge of getting everyone home safely, a massive responsibility.
Reaching from the 1,600-metre elevation at the lodge to the highest run at 2,500 metres, a 5-kilometre-high by 11-kilometre wide playground waited for us untouched. Add two cats and 24 people (the maximum per day) skiing that terrain, and you are virtually guaranteed fresh tracks every run. And have I mentioned that it snows a lot here? Early in the season? All six of my visits to Monashee have been in early-to-mid December, and snow has always been epic.
Use the smart meter
Karl was ready to release us on the first of many runs. He outlined our terrain parameters and meeting points, gesticulated comically with his poles about how our smart meter (head) and our fun meter (groin region – use your imagination) needed to align for fun and safety. Then we were off in pairs with our buddies. Generally, when the snowpack is this deep, it lacks stability, so you ski flatter terrain to avoid risking an avalanche. But because the lower layers of snow and this new snowfall had bonded to the existing snow, we were able to ski very steep terrain, a skier’s dream.
Within the next run or two, Karl was offering options for drops of one to nine metres. Some of our ego-filled crew blasted off, and if there ever was a time to “huck your meat,” this was it. The landings appeared shocking to some as they watched the jumpers all but disappear, only to reappear below their bomb holes covered in snow and smiles. Gary often led the charge in his own backyard.
Run after run, our cat full of keen skiers shared stories of past skiing adventures and their last runs, chattering incessantly with the excitement of young children. Then it was out into the fresh mountain air to for each of use to recreate our last best run, possibly to top the cliff we just dropped, the face shots we inhaled, or simply to return to that place that reminded us of how lucky we were to be deep in the Monashee Mountains.
As the cat lumbered back to the lodge at day’s end, I imagined how complete my day would be once I sank into the hot tub buried deep in the snow, flanked by the lodge on one side and forests and mountains the other. With tired muscles relaxing in the warm water, I would reflect on my best day ever. And then I remembered: I could do this all over again tomorrow!
– By Edith Rozsa. Photos by Bruno Long