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A December Snow Story


About six years ago, some friends and I had a short cat skiing trip in mid-December. The location was Chatter Creek, just north of Golden BC. on the western slope of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It was pretty early in the season, and the purpose of the trip was more for business, and to see the cat ski operation, than for powder skiing. So early in the season, our expectations for great snow were not high. The trip had been hastily arranged and no one was paying much attention to the weather............until we got there.

We flew to the remote cat ski lodge by helicopter. It was the first tour of the year and our guide-to-be, Norm Winter, flew in with us. On the way, he warned us that the skiing would be limited, because there was so much snow. We were arriving on the tail end of a storm that had delivered 150 cm of storm snow, on a good base.

On landing, the downwash from the idling rotors confirmed the lightness of the snow. We were in a blizzard as we wallowed the short distance from the helicopter to the lodge. Norm took a late afternoon "test drive" on the Home Run above the lodge, just to check things out. He came in shaking his head. The snow had been above his waist, and he's a tall person. However, he said it was very light and quite skiable, but only in the trees. The open slopes would be far too unstable.

By the time we got going the next day, settlement had firmed things up a bit and the snow was about crotch-deep on most of us. Coming from the southern Coast Mountains, we all had encountered big dumps, but never this combination of snow depth and lightness. The snow was so light, it would collapse in behind a skier, leaving almost no track, just a slight depression. It was effectively "bottomless" and falling in it posed a real problem. We kept very close to our partners.

The tree skiing was superb. We could ski a bit above the trees, getting some open-slope skiing before dropping into the forest. Underbrush and small trees were well covered and there were many large openings and glades. At the lower elevations, there were huge open cut blocks covered with hummocks caused by well-buried stumps. You could go around them or over them. It was very entertaining.

We had great couple of days and left completely stoked on cat skiing. It was the best powder skiing that any of us had ever had; the stuff you read about, but never quite manage to find.

Big dumps are certainly not an every-day occurrence in December. However, they do happen, not withstanding global warming. I always feel that the "early" snows can offer some of the best skiing of the year. But, itís always a crapshoot, and it certainly does not happen every year.

Submitted by:

Lachlan Brown

Author Lockie Brown, a snowcat skier for about 10 years, is now editor of the www.heliplanet.com Internet directory of heliskiing and cat skiing worldwide (http://www.heliplanet.com/index.php?title=Main_Page). Mountain guide, Norm Winter is now owner/operator of Eagle Pass Heliskiing of Revelstoke BC. (http://www.eaglepassheliskiing.com/index.htm).





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