Cat Skiing

Jesse and her crew at Fernie Wilderness Adventures

I’m weaving through snow-coated pine trees in the backcountry on a February morning, and the only track is the one our guide left for us in the snow. Everything else is blanketed in white. We are deep in the Rocky Mountains descending what Fernie Wilderness Adventures (FWA) calls the Money Run. The sound of the train in town echoes up the valley and dissipates quickly, leaving only the whisper of my board floating through untouched snow. There is a slight breeze that plucks clumps of snow from the trees, and cries of delight from other cat skiers—the fresh powder is intoxicating.

“Why is it called the Money Run?” I ask Chad Kelley, a FWA guide for the last five years.
“Because it’s money!” he replies.

If the first run is money, and the second run is Sweetness, the next six hours of backcountry cat skiing in the mountains can only be described as epic.

As someone who has never experienced cat skiing despite growing up in Fernie, going far into the woods with FWA to snowboard was like only ever swimming in a bathtub and then being introduced to the ocean. There is untouched terrain that begs attention, and with only seven or eight others no one is bound to take your line—a line that is fresh every time. The guides do a run-through in avalanche safety before jumping in the cat, where we spend the rest of the day venturing through a part of FWA’s 5,000 acres of accessible terrain.
The cat skiing routine is easy to get used to—get in the cat, eat a sandwich, get out, strap in, slice through fresh powder for 15 minutes, and repeat. Had I known it was going to be like this, I would have gone a long time ago.

As we put on our helmets and goggles in preparation for White Russian, people in the cat talk about where they are from, what they do, why they’re here. Courtney Haeusler, a tail guide with FWA, has invited her brother from Saskatchewan to cat ski. A local woman brought her daughter and son up for the day. Three men from Calgary drove here the night before because they have never cat skied; they are driving back late this afternoon.

“The last time we were [in Fernie] we had to dig the car out to leave,” says Shawn Lawrence of Calgary. This is why they come here.

We ride until nearly 4pm and then head back to the lodge for soup and hot chocolate. My legs have gone frigid from slashing powder all day, but I welcome the aches as I make my way up the lodge stairs. Inside I talk with Kim Sedrovic who, with his wife Deb, established FWA 25 years ago.

Kim has been guiding since he was 15 and knows the terrain better than anyone. A strong family and community man, he’d rather be out with the guides building new cat roads on a steep ridge—opening the way for fresh untouched powder—than sitting in the office. This is a family business, a friendly business.

Before fully committing to FWA, Kim worked for Line Creek for 15 years. Now, instead of crediting only tourism for his success, he commends the mining and logging industries, the backbone of the valley. They lease the terrain from Tembec, and environmental and safety practices within the industry make it possible for Kim to run FWA year-round. He highlights how important it is to stay local.

“I got all of my training that allowed me to grow and develop my business while working at the mine,” he says humbly. “We live in a phenomenal area with industry: logging, mining and world-class skiing.”

As I’m driving home at the end of the day, I can’t help but ask myself why I’ve never gone cat skiing before. Mountains surround us, and I just spent the day sailing on that champagne powder Fernie is famous for. Even if the rule is that there are no friends on a pow day, there has to be an exception when it comes to cat skiing. After you’ve finished that fresh line, that is.