Small Groups, Steep Chutes Â» Mustang Powder Cat Skiing
Well, the literature on the website implies a tour is almost guaranteed in this cat but in the four years my buddy has done it, they've not skinned up once. This year was no difference. If you had a group of six and no one wanting the skin, I'm positive they wouldn't force it on the group even if skinning was good idea. They certainly have some sick lines accessed with hikes and even belying in but I'm not sure the snow conditions that would make them accessible. Despite the upside down snowpack, flat light, and getting 10-20cm each day for my three days out there, we rode very interesting and challenging terrain right off the cat...albeit mostly in the trees.
The snow was the most active I've personally witnessed. On the last day with all the new snow, 30-40cm slabs would break off the top of every unsupported roll or cliff if you cut it. We were very aware of slough and where your buddy was. We didn't really do any steep pitches outside the trees except the occasional couloir/chute that they manage often. We never felt in danger and the amounts of snow sliding were not the type to get you buried...just might knock you over or into a tree.
This was my first Multi-Day cat trip. I've been to FWA and the cat operation right off the resort in Revelstoke and both were day trips. The lodge here is about a 2.5 hour bus then cat ride from the #1 Highway and they only do 3 or 4 day trips at Mustang. There is WiFi at the lodge and a sat phone. Everything was first class and they apparently keep getting better each year. Safety briefing/beacon training was good. Everyone wears a pack all the time. An added bonus and new this year was that each person gets a real VHF radio (not mickey mouse FRS) and each group has their own channel. This is a great thing as you can imagine.
Staff were all great, rooms were more then adequate, and everything was clean. The food was really great...breakfast to dinner and the après appetizers was top rate. For lunch, they setup a large buffet and you make whatever you want to bring on the cat.
In this cat (maybe all) its all about skiing/riding. They cater to the strongest in the group not the weakest and warn that if you are out of your element, they'll let you know. If your fitness is not up the task, they suggesting sitting early or often instead of holding up the group with spent legs on the last runs or having a fall.
Our lead guide was awesome and we kept the same one all three days. Dude is also an engineer and builds roads and glades as well. Notably, he helped design and build the course for the Red Bull Ultra Natural event at Baldface, his home mountain.
The typical terrain for us was trees with mostly a black diamond pitch (35-40deg) with occasional sections much steeper. Our runs were littered with big rollovers or cliff bands and even some pillow lines. I would say there were probably no mandatory airs in they runs we did but if you were comfortable doing that it sure made it more enjoyable and faster then looking for an alternate route. If you were looking for air, the guides certainly knew where to get it and you could likely pick your poison from 10 to 35 footers. We also did a few couloirs and chutes that are always fun.
Given the conditions and visibility, we rode some of the same runs that the other cats did but I think the difference was that we didn't avoid the steeper and more interesting sections and the guide really had confidence that we could billygoat out of most situations if the need arose. There was not much hand holding and we were really only warned about life threatening features Other then that, it was mostly...here's what you can expect, see you at the bottom.
I spend every weekend at Fernie throughout the winter season and get a lot of good powder days. Lodge experience aside, I can honestly say that these three days were likely my best on the snow ever. The snow and even the somewhat limited terrain were simply awesome. I think the incremental cost for the steep chutes cat is worth it if you are that type of rider. We had 12-13 runs on both the short days and got 16 runs on the full second day. Likely could have done another but the cat was running out of gas...seriously. Its the kind of thing that can ruin you for resort riding forever.
I took some video and always try to find time to put an edit together for myself. The footage is likely not great as the focus turns to riding not filming once you get out there....especially with a shitty GoPro Hero 3 that keeps freezing up and needs to have the battery pulled constantly.