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…