Continuing with the Powder Highway theme we wanted to experience mechanized skiing Rossland-style. Sometime over the summer, I had talked to Big Red Cats about getting a group together. One group became two groups and so we somehow ended booking two private cats dividing the 24 skiers (12 per cat) into one group of Advanced/Expert and another group, Intermediate.
Any ski trip is always a weather crap-shoot and we sure ended up rolling good dice. We’d already gotten our powder legs with early-season Whistler/Duffey cold smoke sessions and the Rossland Range storm system show was no exception. The main hurdle was everyone making it in from the Vancouver/Coast area through the stressed-out highway system safely so it was with some sense of relief that we all assembled at staging (conveniently less than 30 minutes drive on a paved, plowed highway) just north of Rossland).
Our day starts by assembling at the catski staging at the pre-set time. We then divide into our groups and are allocated backpacks with avalanche rescue tools, transceivers, radios (you can choose to use your own pack). If you rent powder skis this is when you collect the gear and hopefully, you’ve taken the time the evening before to set the bindings. We then go through an abbreviated companion rescue scenario to familiarize ourselves with protocols. It’s worth mentioning that BRC has a set of protocol and safety videos that all guests are directed to view before even going on the trips and also enables reading and signing waivers beforehand via SmartWaiver. This cuts down dramatically on pre-trip faffing around.
Expectations were high. Temps were cold at -10 to -15ºC with approximately 15cms of low density falling overnight on top of the 35 – 50cms from the previous day. Then another 10cms of low-density snow fell during the day making for above-average quality.
Our second day at Big Red Cats was more of the same. Expectations continued to be high and they were again fulfilled by another 10cms more of low-density snow falling with minimal wind. The skies then broke for a light show partway through the day.
A short word on how we in the advanced/expert cat managed our own group to get more out of the trip. First I had taken the trouble of pre-sorting groups into categories beforehand. Usually, the catski operations handle this beforehand, or the guides sort people on the fly. This takes time (at least a few runs) and we wanted to save time. Secondly, we got our groups going quickly by making transitions quick by helping the guides with some actions such as packaging poles and skis; assembling quickly at cat pickups; and eating, drinking on the fly. This made for quick turnarounds. Quick turnarounds mean more laps!
Our third day with Big Red Cats had the sameness of even more pow. Another -15 day with another 12cms falling overnight. But wait! There’s more as another 8cms fell during the day. As the trip had developed we could see the guides had more confidence in us. Even throughout the first day, our group was already getting into steep terrain. This trend continued as we were “rewarded” by our cat getting to open new (as in not skied this year) terrain up near Mt Mackie further from the home base.
Another short word on Big Red Cat’s staff and operation’s professionalism. BRC had a set of COVID protocols and they were followed rigorously. This isn’t just academic as BC and Canada had health regulations to follow for this trip to go off. BRC staff were also on the ball when dealing with broken gear. One of the skiers in our group broke a binding. Even with an older boot, a new set of gear was prepped; a dropoff point and handoff were accomplished and adjustments were done on the fly efficiently.
Where to stay
All of us stayed at accommodations at RED Resort. There are options at Rossland but many of us were also skiing at RED Resort before or after the trip and there’s a certain simplicity in minimizing driving.
Twelve of us stayed at Big Red Lodge; a house with a massive kitchen, lounge, dining room & a modern “house” like feel. Eight of us also stayed at the Red Shutter Inn which is a bit more like a ski lodge but with separate rooms, bathrooms, and a resident big red cat but with smaller rooms than the lodge. Four of us also stayed at the Rams Head which is a quirky lodge also located close by the BRC office but with huge rooms.
On the topic of driving, it’s possible to ask for BRC to drive you to staging but due to staffing shortages and Covid protocols that option wasn’t available so all of us car-pooled and made our way up the highway to the cat ski staging.
Where to eat
There are not too many options at RED Resort for dining in but fortunately, the most logical one is of superior excellence. We ate breakfast at the Rossberry Cafe and it was solid. After talking to the owner we then set up a pre-set bistro-style three-course dinner for the entire group of 24. This was superb food and a nice way to enjoy a day of powder skiing without having to hop into a car (the Rossberry is a minute’s walk from where all of us were staying. By pre-arranging the menu and reserving service also went off without a hitch.