Waking up in a foreign country, with 12 inches of fresh snow and the day's upcoming adventure weighing on my mind, I thought I was still sleeping and in the middle of a dream. Fortunately for me, I was awake and the dream was just beginning. Typically, I'm not a morning person, although it was easy to jump out of bed, even with a slight twinge in my head, possibly from a little too much Canadian whiskey the night before. That was all in the past as I packed up my boots and was eagerly out the door by 6:40 am, on my way to begin the day's adventure.
Valhalla Powdercats is located in South Slocan, right between Castlegar and Nelson, British Columbia — about three hours north of Spokane. Entering the office, I was greeted with big Canadian smiles from the friendly ladies behind the desk, and a well-appointed gift shop selling high-quality hats and sweatshirts for VPC and their sister heli ski company, Snowwater Heli Skiing. The smell of coffee and fresh-baked croissants lingered in the office. Excitement was high as all of the guests were booting up, putting their transceivers on and loading their backpacks with the necessary gear for a day in the backcountry. Keeping to a timetable, a quick presentation and introduction of the guide staff was made, and we loaded one of the biggest, most badass buses in the world, equipped with flame throwers and 48-inch wheels, and made our way deep into the Valhalla Range, where we would meet our snowcat and hundreds of thousands of acres to be explored.
There were enough skiers on the bus to fill two snowcats comfortably. Once we were all loaded up, the cat departed for a day of adventure. We first stopped and did a drill with our transceiver and avalanche rescue gear. After the entire group felt comfortable with the skill level of fellow skiers, it was time to load up the cat one more time and ascend to our first drop-off. Coeur d'Alene's Robert Hoskinson, along for the adventure, confirms the operation's dedication to safety: "The staff is very professional and knowledgeable when it comes to your safety. But from the time you walk in the door to sign your [liability] waiver, the staff is there to make sure you have a great time."
As I stood on top of a nicely spaced tree run with not a single ski track in sight, I realized the remoteness of my situation. "Everything is larger than life," says Hoskinson. "The terrain up at Valhalla is on par with any big-mountain experience you can dream up." Each run offered its own opportunities for face shots and fresh lines. Route selection was always of the utmost importance, since we were traveling in the backcountry.
Comfortably settling into the routine of ski, eat, repeat, the day just got better and better as the snow continued to fall and the group got more comfortable with each other. Between each run, we would eat and slam water to refuel for the next run, with a good amount of joking around — lighthearted conversation or a recap of the snow conditions we just skied. The food was thoughtfully prepared, with tasty ingredients and unique flavor combinations, including housemade sandwiches and wraps, fresh-baked cookies and an assortment of fruits and vegetables. "I remember the food being great," says Hoskinson, "but it was definitely overshadowed by the snow and terrain."
Eventually, as all good things do, the day came to an end and we were back in the monster bus with fatigued legs, big smiles and an endless amount of powder-skiing memories. A trip to Valhalla Powdercats is an epic adventure. Luckily for us, it's not too far from home. ♦