A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Deep Powder Cat-Snowboarding in Baldface, British Columbia

The powder is fantastic. The travel is not. That's the short version of my four-day snowboarding in Canada, together with one old and many new friends at Baldface Lodge.

Let's start with the "fantastic": The snow is dry and light. That's why they call it powder. One might get it at home in Finland or in the Alps, but quicker than one can say "faceplant", someone else has already gone through all of the slope and I would likely end up with one or two good powder runs in a week. That's if I'm lucky.

Myself jumping somewhere in British Columbia, in snow conditions that conform to my new definition of "lucky"

Not so when snowboarding with a caterpillar in British Columbia. At least not in Baldface, which has an area of about 11 km x 11 km (well over 100 square km) without a single piste. The area is reserved for the residents of the Baldface lodge. In our case, we had two groups of about 12 people each. Having 24 people in 100 square km isn't exactly crowded, and the likelihood that you cannot find virgin snow is low even after a dry spell several days long.

And the first day was exactly such a day, with a long dry spell. "Long" means a week or so. All the North Americans in the group put on sad faces, as did Europeans and Asians with previous experience from the Rockies. Myself, I was still in heaven, as even the first day provided more powder than any other skiing / snowboarding day so far in my life. See for yourself how the slopes looked the first day:

Before the second day started, we had got 5-10 cm of snow. And during the day, we got at least as much again. And before the third day, we had perhaps 25-40 cm of powdery snow, adding up on top of what was already there. This meant that some slopes had waist deep snow! Merely going downhill meant that the powder flew up in the face, sometimes hindering the sight. What a perfect reason for "low visibility"!

Here are some powder pictures of PG, Patrik Gustafsson, my friend since we started at Helsinki University of Technology in 1981:

What surprised me was that by far over half of the skiing happened in the woods. The forests are dense. Hint: It's not a good idea to board directly against the trees; going between them is preferrable. And my navigational skills were somewhat impaired by a sore back; lots of running ensured I didn't get tired, but I couldn't use my normal bending techniques as my back protested against most forms of bending. (At least I can't come up with any better excuse for why I was amongst the 17% who fell most frequently in our group of 12). Lesson learned: Do quite a bit of pilates (or some equivalent back strengthening training) or yoga before the next snowboarding trip!

Other learnings:

1. Even though it's cold in Canada (-15 C in our case), one warms up (i) when snowboarding and (ii) when sitting in the relatively warm caterpillar.

2. The only cold time is at the top, outside of the cat.

3. The cat can be used for storage during runs (backpacks, water, tea, sandwiches, cameras).

4. The cat is a very practical vehicle to get from bottom to top. And while we were getting from top to bottom, the cat was nearly invariably faster downhill than us.

5. The group of snowboarders (and two stray skiers) soon became a close-knit team of friends, helping each other make the most of the day.

6. The lodge was luxurious and roomy compared to Alpenhütten in Austria, réfuges in France or rifugios in Italy. And the food was far better than my expectations, which were fairly low due to previous North American culinary experiences, particularly south of the US-Canadian border.

7. Transport to the lodge took 10 min in helicopter from Nelson, BC.

8. The view from the helicopter was good.

9. Some went heli-skiing during the stay. But it would have been wasted on me, as the cat skiing (snowboarding) was more than sufficient fun for me!

10. Transport takes forever. And involves a lot of hassle. But that's another story.

Thank you, Baldface, for a great experience!


  1. Oh wow Kaj, FANTASTIC!!!!!!

  2. Kaj,
    very impressive. Looks like you had some good snow. I've never done cat skiing, but it looks like I should try it!


  3. WOW!
    I'm more of a dog person myself, but after reading through this (and PG's email reports) I'm starting to warm-up to cats...;-)

  4. Tavaliselt jätavad kõik talverõõmud mind "külmaks", aga vaadates neid pilte hakkab isegi minusugune lumevihkaja talvepuhkusest unistama...

    Usually all the fun things of winter leave me "cold", but watching these pictures, even a snow-hater like me starts dreaming about a winter-vacation...

  5. Wow. Seems like amazing power, and great weather...
    everyone should love cats after this...