Are you an experienced rider who is looking for a way to get your hands on some super-juicy, powder hunting fun without breaking the bank? Well, well, well. You have come to the right place. Let me tell you about cat skiing in Canada with Valhalla Powdercats… the perfect way to dip your toes into backcountry riding.
If you’ve been skiing for a while now and are a confident rider, you have no doubt enjoyed your fair share of off-piste and tree skiing at your favourite international ski resort. You may also have heard from friends within the ski industry about cat skiing or backcountry riding. Are you wondering what all the fuss is about?
Well, let me tell you! Cat skiing or backcountry riding tours are the ultimate way to whet your appetite in ‘big mountain’ riding. You can take it one day at a time, for relatively reasonable cost, to see how you like it!
Some areas are easier than others, and welcome intermediate riders. And some areas are particularly advanced. So it’s a good idea to do your research when looking for the perfect place to go cat skiing in Canada. The company we chose was Valhalla Powdercats.
In this post, I will tell you all about them, and our amazing day with them in Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, Canada.
First of all, What is Cat Skiing?
To put it simply, I like to think of a snow cat as a tractor for the snow! It’s a powerful machine that can push through piles of snow to reach the top of the mountain. You may know of a snow cat as a ‘groomer’. They drive around all night and groom the ski resort so you can have some perfect corduroy runs first thing in the morning.
But when you go cat skiing, the snow cat has a cabin attached where the skiers sit, and are happily taken to the top of the mountain. They can be slow going, but anything beats hiking.. right?! 🙌🏼
When you go cat skiing, you can expect to ski around 7 to 12 runs in the day, bearing in mind that these are much longer (and more challenging) than your traditional ski resort run. The snow cat will drive you to the top. You jump out and ride down hooting and hollering over the incredible powder. The snow cat meets you at the bottom. Rinse and repeat 🙌🏼.
What is the difference between Cat Skiing & Backcountry Riding?
They are essentially the same thing! They are both done outside of resort boundaries, and require you to have appropriate avalanche gear. There are no groomed runs or marked trails in either of these types of riding.
The main difference is that backcountry riding can be lift assisted with a hike from the top of the mountain or it can be hiking from the very bottom of the mountain.
You may have noticed the key word here to be hike. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to save my energy for the riding part, thank you very much.
Cat skiing is usually done in a seperate skiable terrain than a ski resort. This is why I think it is super cool, because you literally feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere! 😍
So Who are Valhalla Powdercats?
I have no doubt that there are plenty of amazing companies who offer cat skiing in Canada. However, we chose Valhalla Powdercats for a few reasons.
The first being that they were only located a few hours down the road from us in Big White, British Columbia. The second is that they came highly recommended from a few different people.
And third, well, the snow forecast was saying 50 cm’s would be dropping its beautiful butt on Valhalla on a date that had a last minute booking available. It seemed like destiny to me 🤷🏼♀️.
Valhalla Powdercats sits in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains. They are renowned for receiving light, dry and consistent snowfall over their 21,000 acres of terrain. Yup. You read right. 21,000 hectares 😱. They receive up to 13 metres of snow per year… that is almost as much as Niseko in Japan (powder capital of the world!).
With only two snowcats sharing the terrain, you are guaranteed to experience some untracked powder.
Our Day with Valhalla Powdercats
Alright, let’s get down to story time. I said we had chosen Valhalla because of the unbelievable snow forecast right? Well. As the day drew nearer, the forecasted snow seemed to get farther away 😬. It was changing on a daily basis, and our dreams of needing a snorkel to get down the mountain safely were dissipating.. quickly.
The good thing is that Valhalla are very good with harvesting their snow. So, when they’re in a drought, they ensure that each person rides as close to the last persons tracks as possible. This works because you still get fresh tracks, but the next group doesn’t have to ride through your partially tracked snow.
Even still, we started to sweat. Had we just each paid $500 of our hard earned, minimum wage Canadian money to have zero fresh tracks? 😭
Arriving at the Valhalla Office
Our day started at the Valhalla office at 7:15am. Bright and early 😴. I was nervous. Nervous about the terrain, nervous about the weather, and nervous about whether or not there had been any fresh snow in the last week. I am a stickler for comparing myself to others, and I just didn’t want to be the slowest or least capable in the group.
We were greeted by the office staff, filled out our waivers and collected our avi gear. The gear is included in the price, as they want everyone to use their gear. This way, they know everything is in working order 👌🏼.
I was planning on renting some fatter powder skis for the day, but unfortunately that thought process was completely dashed by the rental assistant.
“Guys, it’s hard and fast out there. There is no fresh snow. We’ve had 14 cm’s in the last 2 and a half weeks. It’s bumpy and chopped up”.
Wow. We were completely taken aback by this response and immediately felt gutted. We considered bailing on the day completely, but realised there were 22 other people in the same boat as us. So we stuck it out.
Side Note: How was that for horrendous customer service? 😱 It still blows my mind to this day just how blunt and completely not-stoked with life he was. I mean, you work for a company that offers amazing cat skiing in Canada!? Seriously.
The Long Morning Ahead
The morning is a long one. Between signing waivers, loading gear and listening to a briefing, our stoke level is about a 0/10 😭. We hop on the bus and head to the cat pick up location, ride the cat up further for avalanche training.
The snow doesn’t look too bad at all up here, and we both quietly turn somewhat optimistic that this wouldn’t be the worst day of our lives. Dramatic, I know.
Finally, by about 9:30am we are standing on the edge of our first drop in. It is so steep, that I can’t see over the edge 😳. I’m sweating again. The guide explains the rules: stick with your buddy in the trees, listen for his call. Erm, okay.
My buddy takes off straight away (thanks babe!), and I have no choice but to suck up my nervousness and follow.
Those first few turns are the stuff that dreams are made of – steep, soft and powdery through perfectly spaced trees. Halle-freakin-lujah 🙌🏼. Everything is going to be okay guys!
And so a Successful Day was Had
The rest of our day absolutely flies by, naturally. Admittedly, we did have to ski through some crud to get to the fresh snow, but it was totally worth it. Each run had its fair share of good snow and awesome terrain. If the snow we experienced that day is what they call ‘no fresh snow, fast and bumpy’, I would love to see what a their idea of a good day is.
We managed to fit about 8 runs in over the day, which is not bad considering how much driving we had to do to get to untouched runs. The only negative I have to say about the riding, is that the runs were not quite as long as we were expecting.
Our favourite run was definitely ‘Sugar Bowl’. High up in the alpine, Sugar Bowl hadn’t been touched all season and provided some wide-open fresh snow deliciousness.
Other Things to Note…
You won’t actually stop for lunch with Valhalla Powdercats, and I doubt you’ll want to. There is plenty of time to eat in the cat in between runs. Valhalla provides all food and drinks, including snacks, and the food was awesome! They can even cater to dietary requirements 👌🏼.
The guide also did a great job at ramping everybody up in between each run. Energy was high, and stoke was definitely up to a 8/10 at least. There was music blasting in the cat, and the guide showed genuine interest in how we found each run.
Valhalla advertises themselves as terrain only suitable for advance to expert skiers. I can be pretty hard on myself about my capabilities skiing. But I was one of the better riders in the group and I promise you, I wasn’t a ‘confident’ advanced skier at the time.
If you’re able to get down well-spaced tree runs with some decent pitch to them, you will be absolutely fine.
So, Would I go Cat Skiing in Canada Again?
Absolutely!! I would go cat skiing again anywhere for that matter 😂.
Despite the fact that we had a bumpy start to the day, and we went cat skiing in the middle of a drought, we had a freaking amazing day out there!
Even though the snow quality was not the best we’ve ever had, the overall experience of cat skiing and being out in the backcountry, puts this day of riding into our top 5 for sure. I would definitely recommend anyone looking to go cat skiing in Canada in the B.C. area, to go with Valhalla Powdercats. They really were great (except that one guy 😂).