October 31st, 2011

58 000 acres of terrain. Image:: Mark Gallup,

If you haven’t already booked your northern hemisphere snow-sliding adventure for this coming winter, time to get cracking. Having trouble choosing a destination? The Mountainwatch archives are an inspirational goldmine. These next few weeks we’ll be reaching in and plucking out some of the best of our previous travel adventures…

This gem comes from Rachael Oakes-Ash and her adventures at Chatter Creek Cat Skiing, an interior BC secret well worth uncovering.

Skiing British Columbia | Rachael Oakes-Ash

I write this column against my will. There are some places one should not talk about and Chatter Creek is one of them. Known amongst native Canadians as the superlative cat skiing experience deep in the heart of interior British Columbia, Chatter Creek has remained a local favourite for those in the know only.

In the lead up to my arrival when I tell Canooks where I am heading they all respond with two words – Cheater Creek. It would appear that Chatter has a reputation for late night parties big enough to match the mammoth terrain.

Cat skiing in a multi day lodge has oft been referred to as ‘poor man’s heli’, though I don’t know too many poor men who can afford the $500 to $800 a day price tag. Thirty six guests come for three night or four night packages, or combine both for a full week. Rooms are double twins and shared with friends of your choosing or strangers you hope don’t snore.

The night I arrive there’s a staff party at the bar. Who am I to judge? Instead in true Australian fashion I join in, scoping the newly arrived guests for signs of life. Lucky for me I’ve scored a lively crowd with four financial types from Toronto on an annual boys’ trip they book every year. It would appear the further east you go in Canada the more dry, sarcastic and hilarious you become.

Get your powder on. Image:: Mark Gallup,

Let’s just say the quiet achieving leader is the ‘L Train’, a man with luscious locks and dulcet tones that dub him the Barry White of Canada with a calm wisdom that immediately makes me feel like a kindergardener. He’s surrounded by his three musketeers who spend their nights slurping red wine like cordial and are not afraid of a shot ski or two.

They’re magnificent company and we spend our days indulging in good banter and observations of the comedy fodder presented in front of us known as ‘the other guests.’ Trust me, when stuck in a remote lodge for four days you need folks who like to stir it up.

The quote of the week happens on day three when one musketeer greets me at the breakfast table with “Rachael, I got up up ten minutes ago. Trouble is I went to bed in my room but woke up in someone else’s and I don’t know how I got there.”

The secret to Chatter is that once you’ve been here you are given first preference to book for the following year, if done so within two weeks of departing. Almost everyone rebooks. Translated? It’s bloody hard to get in but I suggest you don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

Three cats holding groups of twelve transport guests across fifty eight thousand acres of terrain each day with elevations ranging from 1500 metres to 3000 metres. Chances are you won’t see the other cats and once in a group you remain with that group for your duration.

The Torontarians are sharing the cat love alongside a trio from Britain that includes, wait for it, the doctor scientist who ‘undiscovered the g-spot’ disproving centuries of French male theory in one single paper and made headlines around the world. A thousand jokes spring to mind and we used every one.

There’s a father and son from New York, though Dad hurts his groin on day one and is out for the week, spending his days perfecting his billiard skills at the lodge. Add a couple from Montana and we have a full cat. Did we mention Tim, an Aussie turned Canadian? Traiter.

Chatter Creek is so remote the only way to access the lodge is by helicopter so don’t expect any highway traffic to keep you awake at night. Do expect cat drivers like ‘our Bryce’ who packs a flaming torch in his pocket ready to burn dead trees to a cinder. We kid you not (see pictures).

Geoff, our lead guide, doesn’t say much. He lets the terrain and the snow speak for itself, while Matt the tail guide ensures we have fresh beer at the end of the day which makes him a keeper. We have arrived during an El Nino cycle and there’s been a snow drought for weeks but somehow the team at Chatter still manage to serve up fresh tracks going steeper and deeper each day.

I would love to tell you how many runs we did a day but I wasn’t counting. Vertically obsessed skiers bore me to tears, so do first track poachers. The beauty of cat skiing is it’s laid back. You can ski hard then rest up in the cat inhaling the buckets of gourmet food on offer before the next run, pumping the i-pod speakers to set the mood.

Chatter Creek was set up by Dale McKnight, a former logger with a love of skiing. He realised early on that if he pursued a life as a ski guide he would have little time for a stable relationship and a family so he harassed the government with a well thought out plan to utilise the land for cat skiing and was granted a twenty five year tenure. A genius plan to raise revenue was set up by offering each ‘investor’ ten years of annual skiing for $25 000 plus a full return of $25 000 at the end of the decade.

Now Dale runs Chatter Creek with the love of his life, Isabelle, raising their five year old son on the property and managing staff that have to be slightly unhinged to live two weeks on one week off this intrepid property.

If you like your snow light and dry, your booze decantered or served up in a shot glass and you’re not shy of leg burn then Chatter has your name on it, just stand in line and you may eventually get in.

Three days at Chatter Creek costs from CA$1515. You can book online on the website which outlines space availability according to dates.

Chatter Creek is only three hours drive from Calgary. Start the way you intend to finish, with a fun and funky flight on V Australia. Flights operate daily from Sydney to Los Angeles – – and Zuji have flights from LA to Calgary with no booking fees.