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As much as being dropped off on top of a remote peak by helicopter is every snowboarder’s fantasy, it does have two major drawbacks. One: it’s expensive and two: helis can’t fly in bad weather. This is where cat boarding comes in.
Cat boarding involves piling into a special piste basher with a cabin on the back; you’re then driven up the mountain, engine roaring, and dropped off for a powder run just like a heli. The cat sets off back down the track while you’re still strapping in and listening to the guide’s instructions, so that by the time you get to the bottom it’s usually not far behind – in fact your carriage will often await. Then the fun starts all over again.
Compared to a heli, which can swoop up thousands of feet in seconds, the runs don’t offer the same kind of vertical, and there are longer breaks in between, but you’d be surprised just how many laps you can squeeze in during a day, and crucially the cat can head up whatever the weather. This is not to be sniffed at in Canada, home of almost all the world’s cat boarding operations, because whiteout days here are common whilst trees are abundant. Why spend a fortune to sit out the storm in a luxury heli lodge, when you could be shralping an untracked forest?
As with heliboarding, cat boarding comes in two flavours: day trips and all-inclusive holidays. Some operations, such as Revelstoke, access terrain just outside the resort boundaries; others occupy vast swathes of ‘tenure’ in the remote backcountry, with a maze of winding roads cut up the slopes specifically for use by the cat. If you’re staying in this kind of place then you can expect a similar deal to the heli ops i.e. hot tubs, fine dining and big prices (approx. $2-3000 for three days, as opposed to $5-6000 for a heli lodge). A day’s visit to a cat boarding op near resort (e.g. Fernie Wilderness Adventures) is a much more affordable $450 (approx. £275) and includes multiple laps.
Here’s our pick of the bunch in Canada...
[part title="Fernie Wilderness Adventures"]
A great option for combining with a regular holiday at the nearby resort of Fernie. FWA is a short drive from town but boasts 5000 acres of unspoilt terrain that will put a smile on your face long after the lift-accessed freshies have been rinsed.
[part title="Island Lake"]
Now 25 years old, Island Lake has some serious shred heritage – the late, great Craig Kelly was a part owner and director. Also situated near Fernie, it is a little pricier but offers even more extensive terrain.
[part title="Monashee Powder Cats"]
Buried deep in the Kootenays, Monashee is an all-inclusive experience. You meet at a backwater golf course, take an old school bus into the wilds then wind up in the cat to the luxury lodge. It boasts some of the gnarliest steeps, a burned forest and loads of cliffs to huck yourself off – including a frozen waterfall – and for this reason is a regular haunt of the pros.
Baldface, near the laidback town of Nelson, has been made world famous thanks to a certain Travis Rice, who held his Supernatural and Ultranatural powder contests on a specially designed course built on the ‘Scary Cherry’ run. The rest of the terrain in this tree-lined playground ain’t half bad either!
Revy’s unique selling point is that the resort itself offers cat boarding in a designated area, so there’s no need to drive into the sticks (to be honest, you’re already miles from nowhere!). Day rates are a reasonable $300-475, but the zone has been known to get poached by lift users ducking the ropes.