Beta: Ask any of the owner-operators of Chatter Creek to explain how a bunch of woodsy locals could create one of the premier snowcat lodges in the world and you'll get their standard response. "We're just a bunch of loggers from Golden," they'll bark in the guttural monotone of the B.C. Interior. And then they'll get back to work: wrenching away under the hood of a Ski-Doo; ski-cutting an avalanche slope; maneuvering a Bombardier up a 35-degree switchback. It's not until you're standing above a rolling glade carpeted in that classic Canadian pillow-drop-fluff that you figure it out.
In the Interior, it's possible to be a logger and a skier, and therefore it's possible to have a white-collar powder-skiing experience (plush cats, gourmet dinners, massages) with a blue-collar feel (snowmobiles, pool tables, canned beer). Core, pure, down-home, call it what you will. The entire outfit makes real skiers feel real comfortable. It's heli-quality, above- and below-tree line terrain without any of those lock-jawed guides with permanent Stein hair commanding, "You must spoon my wedel!"
Sure it's relaxed, but there's another reason skiers from Seattle make the eight-hour pilgrimage. Most cat-ski outfits "farm" their terrain-conserving fresh powder by forcing clients to ski in each other's wake, laying tracks like furrows in a field. Chatter Creek ain't no farm. With roughly six times Vail's skiable terrain-50 square miles of high-altitude glaciers, couloirs, and glades-and only 24 guests, there's plenty of room to spread out. As long as you aren't in front of the guide or barreling down another drainage altogether, nobody cares. All of which is enough to make you consider buying a chainsaw and a snow machine and signing on as an indentured servant.
Topping out at 9,600 feet, Chatter Creek is high for the Canadian Rockies, meaning it rarely gets the rain that can turn the rest of the region's powder to sludge. Expect 40 feet of snowfall throughout the season. It usually settles down to a 14-foot base by late February and early March.
Clients rave about the wide-open glacier skiing, but for lead guide Andrew Prosser, the prize shot is North Lodge Ridge, an open swath with 40-degree-plus rollovers: "You can tip it way over up there if you have the snow stability." The Nose, an old burn with snags spaced like telephone poles, is also a must.
Blizzards track northeast from Oregon and Washington on the fabled Pineapple Express, a massive storm highway that pushes moist air from Hawaii to the Canuck Rockies, where it just flat out dumps.
Chatter Creek has two Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) "full-mountain" guides working at all times.
The lodge features 32-inch-diameter spruce logs that were logged, hand-peeled, and erected by the owners and staff. Rooms are spartan but comfortable.
In Golden the chicken parm comes drowned in cheddar and salads arrive with the dressing-to-lettuce ratio flopped. Not here. The chef at Chatter Creek is a Dutch ex-pat who serves hearty fare with an exotic Indonesian flare. The fish soup is amazing.
BANG for BUCK
Early on, Chatter Creek earned a reputation for stellar terrain but chaotic execution-hellish traverses, long waits, that sort of thing. Thanks to the recent employment of full-time ACMG guides, everything now runs damn close to flawless, and skiing 16,000 vertical feet of varied terrain is routine.
Getting sucked into a man-eating tree well is a real danger. Think about turning beneath trees, not above them. -Marc Peruzzi
If you do get stuck in a tree well, don't struggle: You'll collapse the walls around you. Instead, blow on a rescue whistle like this one from Wind Storm ($4.50, wind-storm-whistles.com). Even in a dense forest, you can be heard a quarter mile away.