Elevation: 7,478 feet Vertical Drop: 600 to 3,300 feet verts per day: 12,000 to 14,000 feet (8-12 runs) Snowfall: 500 inches cost: C$500-C$550 per day, including lodging and meals; C$125 for heli access Getting There: Scheduled flights depart from Calgary and Vancouver into weather-prone Castlegar, B.C., 25 minutes from Nelson; locals don’t call it “Cancelgar” for sport. The alternative: Spokane, a three-hour drive away. Info: 250-352-0006, baldface.net
Beta: Bracketed by Valhalla and Kokanee Glacier provincial parks, Baldface Lodge boasts the largest snowcat-skiing venue in the world-36,000 acres-with some of the steepest cat-served lines on either side of the 49th parallel. Snow-anchoring glades of mossy hemlock and rare old-growth yellow cedar keep you (relatively) safe. This season, an A-Star chopper ride replaces the water taxi across Kootenay Lake, and clients sleep in temporary digs at 6,850 feet. And thanks to the travails of the Great White Peso, you pay peanuts for powder. There’s no vertical limit, either; fast groups can get 20,000 feet a day.
Pad your three- to four-day snowcat adventure on either end and hang with the tribe of Whistler expats in Nelson, B.C. This as-yet-unruined Kootenay mountain town of 10,000-the set for Steve Martin’s Roxanne-has long been a place vert-jocks could go to escape the posers and prices of big resorts while still playing hard in big mountains.
Others may be steering the cat, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a suggestion. Ask-no, beg-to be shown Moss Garden. Named for Moss Patterson, Nelson’s rock-star freeskier, it’s an earthly delight of 40-plus-degree pitches, old-growth trees, and lines snaking through a cliff band.
3 Days Later
With Baldface’s permit area of 56 square miles, jousting for powder with snowmobilers and heli-skiers is not an issue.
Near closing time in mid April, you can find corn on sun-warmed south slopes, then get north-facing powder shots between old-growth hemlocks next run.
With snowboarders for owners, this outfit isn’t likely to give riders the short end of the ski pole. Snowboard legend Craig Kelly might even be your guide.
Marquee route: A somewhat unfair category: The operation is just two years old, so few of the lines are even named yet.
Off-Broadway: See above.
Stop looking for a rope to duck; you’re there already.
Drinking & Dancing
While you’re cat-skiing, you’ll be sequestered (mostly with guys) in a log cabin in the woods. Nightlife here means ski-touring or snowshoeing by moonlight. Or maybe a hot tub and a Face Plant Ale, the local brew. For nights in town, Mazatlan (250-352-1388) has good live music, tacos emolados, and margaritas you could swim laps in.
From your baked croissant with asiago scramble to your fettuccine tossed in ginger wasabe crème, meals are covered in the price of admission. When in Nelson, pull on your new hemp fleece, and grab a java at Oso Negro (250-352-7661). Rice (250-352-0933) serves up organic hot-and-sour coconut soup. Pair it with a Wild Honey Ale (a Nelson specialty).
DigsEventually Bald Face will have three cush four-person chalets and a less swank bunkhouse that sleeps a dozen, all atop a 6,800-foot peak. In the meantime, it’s trailers retrofitted with snow-friendly roofs (at least you get high thread-count sheets). For dirt cheap in downtown Nelson, try the Dancing Bear hostel (C$17-C$20; 250-352-7573). Make like Kenny Rogers in The Gambler at the 104-year-old Heritage Inn (C$65; 250-352-5331), complete with creaky floors and a basement saloon.
Head to Nelson early and warm up at nearby Whitewater (800-666-9420). With 50 feet of snowfall and copious steeps compressed intto 1,300 vertical feet, it’s Alta’s Mini-Me. Convince a local to show you the lift-accessed OB off the back side.
With the Selkirks getting pounded à la Wasatch, fat skis are a given (and included in the price). But don’t forget your iPod (starting at $299; apple.com) to plug into the snowcat’s speakers. Otherwise, you’ll be left with the guides’ raunchy jokes for uphill entertainment.