Towards the end of last season I mentioned that I’d bumped into (well, exchanged emails) Tom Gordon-Walker from NonStop Snowboard during my visit to Fernie. Speaking to him over the summer, he asked if I’d like to post a review about Cat Boarding in Fernie.
Naturally there’s a mention of NonStop, but, for anyone who’s thinking about trying catboarding/skiing, but isn’t quite sure what’s involved, this is a great run down of what’s involved – so read on…
Fernie is one of the most special and fantastic resorts in North America, the secret is definitely out on how great it is, but if you rush you can still experience it in relative solitude. The main reason it is so great is the snow, specifically how much snow it gets. In two consecutive weeks this winter Fernie received 170 cm and 140 cm, that is pretty amazing! Riding the resort here it is pretty easy to see why so many people flock to Fernie and keep coming back, the terrain is steep, deep, tree filled and has tons of hidden little gullies to play in. However, even on the best days the resort will become tracked out and that is the time to turn to the cats!
Cat boarding is a lower cost version of heliskiing, loads of fun but not quite so hard on the pocket! It’s great for skiers too, so I had a couple of my ski buddies come along. This re-ignited the classic debate, which is better, skiing or snowboarding?
The cats give you access to terrain well outside the resort that is always untracked and uncrowded, pretty much the ideal scenario. In Fernie there are several operators, Island Lake and Fernie Wilderness Adventures either of them are excellent to use and will be able to find you that untracked powder we so crave.
A typical day starts early, say 7.30am, when you meet at the cat base for a safety briefing, and kit supply if you need it. Then it is onto the cats for the first climb, you will usually get between 7 – 9 runs in a day (each taking 20 mins or so, so save your energy). Once you get out the cat you will see what Fernie powder is really about, there is tons of the stuff and it is all for you and your group. It is well worth adjusting your kit before you set off (moving the bindings back) as the snow is so deep that it can feel really hard work with your usual stance. Then its up to you to let rip, the guides will give you a good idea of where to go but there is a good degree of freedom on each run. I can say I have never seen powder like it and hope you get to ride the same. After 7 or so runs you will be feeling pretty tired, the really deep snow conditions do take there toll. The runs are full of trees and you will be loving the riding in these conditions and you will be leaving the day totally stoked but knackered.
A day as amazing as this is included on all NONSTOP Snowboard 11 week courses. For those of you that don’t know NONSTOP run snowboard instructor courses in Canada at Fernie, Banff, Red Mountain and Whistler. Their courses train you up to Canadian Level 2 allowing you to instruct pretty much anywhere in the world.
I’ve got to agree with that – a day riding backcountry with a cat as transport can be an awesome experience. We went catboarding when we in Fernie; you can read me review of the day here, there are some extra photos (including barrel roll action) and here’s the video we made of the day (it’s also in that first link):