Following a few Moose Eyes prepared by Chef Farkas for breakfast, I geared up and met the rest of my group in the basement of the Bear Lodge. There were 12 guests in our cat and included a group of financial advisors from Vancouver, a father-son duo from Massachusetts, a former Big 12 starting quarterback (the only snowboarder in the group), Nancy and myself. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself rubbing GORE-TEX® with a celebrity or two—Justin Timberlake was an Island Lake guest just a week before our arrival.
Our guides, Steve and Candice Kloepzig, a married couple that have been staples at Island Lake for years, greeted us in the Bear Lodge. We went over ground rules for the next couple of days and then spent about an hour running through basic avalanche beacon and rescue training outside. Next, we met our cat driver Russel Maki and boarded the cat.
Each day, the cat is stocked with hot and cold beverages, snacks and lunch. All geared up, the cat makes for close quarters but the sometimes bumpy and cramped ride is well worth the powder payoff.
Thanks to relatively clear skies and good stability, we started skiing the tree-lined Lizard Range area. We spent the morning skiing runs like “Geisha Bowl” and “Face Shots” before moving over to the Mount Baldy area for turns on “Sore Foot” and “Hodad”.
The snow was light and plentiful—thanks to a unique microclimate; Island Lake’s terrain receives over 36 feet of dry, fluffy Canadian Rockies powder—a far cry from the heavy, wet Cascade cement found in coastal BC.
Our 14th and final run of the day was on “Beer Run”—a route that began above treeline then wound through the glades and was supposed to ultimately lead everyone back to the Bear Lodge. There was only one problem—I took a wrong turn and began following some of our tracks from earlier in the day. With no cell service, I wound up at a cat pick-up spot from that morning. Within seconds of my realization and before panic could set in, Maki pulled around the corner to pick me up. Maki and the Kloepzigs knew exactly what happened and Maki brought me back to the Bear Lodge where I met the rest of the group. Steve broke out a case of beer for us to celebrate our epic ski day and, despite some ribbing from my new catskiing pals, all was well.
Following some hearty soup and après beers in the Bear Lodge, I made my way over to the spa in the Tamarack Lodge as the snow began to fall again. My ski guide, Candice Kloepzig greeted me in the spa and brought me to my massage room. Candice, a certified masseuse, had watched me ski all day and knew exactly what muscles needed the most attention to keep me skiing strong the next day.
Between the massage, my weary body, another amazing dinner from Chef Farkas and Island Lake’s culinary craftsmen, and a few too many cocktails—the rest of the evening is a bit fuzzy. However, I do remember the snow falling a bit heavier as I stumbled back to the Cedar Lodge to turn in.
The following day, we woke to about eight inches of fresh pow on the ground with the snow continuing to fall. After breakfast, we loaded up the cat and trekked off to the Three Bears area. We got in runs on “Nonstop,” “Cyclops,” and “Breathless” before departing the area as the snow continued to fall and stability deteriorated. The snow was falling so quickly, that tracks began to disappear shortly after being laid down.
At one point, I took a digger and after an exhaustive search, couldn’t find one of my poles in the deep snow. Due to Island Lake’s abundant powder, this is a common occurrence and the guides keep extra poles in all lengths on the cat.
We returned to a few of the runs we skied the previous day in the Mount Baldy area before finishing on the backside of Mount Fernie. The snow was still coming down and by afternoon we probably had upwards of 16 inches that had fallen since the morning. The final runs included “Spartacus,” “Tele Fun,” and “Backside.” In over 30 years of skiing around the world, these final runs were probably the best gladed turns I’d ever experienced. Our guide, Steve, spends his summers cutting these trails, and as a skier he knows exactly which trees to remove to make for perfect powder turns in the winter.
At the end of the day, we returned to the Bear Lodge for beers, soup and a viewing of the outstanding photography taken by Matt Kuhn of all the catskiing groups from that day. Kuhn can send you home with a disc of photos to commemorate one of the best ski days of your life.
Following après and a few goodbyes, we boarded the cat to head back down to the parking lot. Unlike the last day of camp, there were no tears and no parents to retrieve us from this powdery paradise, but many of us exchanged contact info and some were already planning their return visit to Island Lake.
While some guests were heading back to Cranbrook or Kalispell to catch flights, Nancy and I spent about 10 minutes wiping snow off the car as we jealously looked over at the next group loading the cats to head up to the lodges. We stayed at Fernie Alpine Resort that night and with the snow still falling, we gave some thought to skiing the resort the following morning. However, with sore legs and the knowledge that no lift-accessed skiing could compare to Island Lake Catskiing, we decided against it.
Instead, I went to bed and dreamt of the next time I could return to this sleep-away camp for powder-hungry adults.