Spokane Spokesman - Review & Article
Good fortune begets great skiing
To find great skiing, you can prepare to be in the right place at the right time. Or just get lucky. Last week I asked Loulou Kneubuhler to join me for some "research" on Schweitzer's trees. He freed up Friday.
Last fall Ski Magazine rated Schweitzer among the top three resorts for tree skiing in North America. A day there in the forest was on my list.
Loulou and I carpooled to Schweitzer with my friends, Jim Joy and Dave Watling. We picked a perfect day. A storm that dropped a half-foot-plus was playing out. Attendance was sparse.
Schweitzer is rich with terrain – and trees. Choose a glade from any lift. We didn't ski the same trees twice. People will argue about the top three for trees. But the attention Schweitzer has attracted is understandable.
Joy's phone rang. Big Red Cats was calling. Joy is a regular customer of the cat skiing operation at Red Mountain Resort. A guest guide was flying into Spokane that evening. Free cat skiing was tomorrow's payoff for driving him to Red Mountain.
Joy had other plans. I thought for two seconds before I made a call of my own: "Honey, I'm going to Canada."
Returning home, I had time to throw damp gear in the dryer, take a shower, pack a clean pair of skivvies and kiss my wife, Claire, goodbye for the second time that day.
My passenger was Nat Patridge from New Hampshire. He went to Jackson Hole after college and has been guiding there since. He's a ski guide in winter, a climbing guide in summer. Patridge was stepping in for a few days to help Big Red Cats extend a great season and to see new country for himself.
We reached the Red Shutter Inn about 12:30 am. Breakfast was served six hours later. A safety briefing followed. The boarding area was about 22 kilometers north of the resort. After some avalanche beacon practice, a group of 12 piled into the cat.
Big Red Cats operates in British Columbia's Monashee range. Our plan was to ski and ride Neptune and Pluto mountains. Patridge and a tail guide rode the cat with us.
Meanwhile, another guide – the snow safety officer – moved about the area on snowmobile. He was digging pits and evaluating conditions, which were ideal. It was sunny. You could see great fall lines for a hundred miles.
Patridge led a group of strong skiers and boarders through 12 runs of boot top powder. A typical route started from a ridge, dropped into forest and ran out in a logged area spaced with young treetops in the snow. A few runs through the stark totems of a burn area were a rare treat.
Cat skiing brings together a cluster of strangers in the morning and turns them into best friends by midafternoon. Our group had folks from Vancouver, Kelowna and Montreal. Only one Yank was on board. They christened me an honorary Canadian for the day.
I probably won't see Patridge or my fellow cat riders again. But I'll remember them if I do.
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