Powderhounds' Review

Powderhounds' Review

Wagner Custome Skis
Big Red Cats - Cat Skiing OperationThe big powder hounds have set out a couple of times to review the big red cats. Cat skiing with BRC definitely got our powderhound tails wagging – it was difficult not to have a fun time!

As a guide to the review ratings below, a 5/5 equates to absolutely phenomenal, 4/5 is excellent, whilst 3/5 is still a very good score. You can check out our cat ski ratings to see how Big Red Cats compares to other mechanized backcountry operations.

Pros

  • Big Red cat skiing can cater very well to differing ability levels due to the separate snowcat trips. You can ride the terrain that’s most appropriate for you at a speed that suits you. This is a phenomenal stand-out feature of this operation, because getting stuck with guests of a different proficiency can ruin your day of cat skiing (of course there’s no guarantee that someone won’t embellish their ability level!).
  • Don’t believe any rumours that the terrain is a bit gentle for advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders – it’s not true! There are plenty of “sweaty palm” steeps and treats to huck off.
  • This is a large and slick operation that is tightly and professionally managed.
  • Safety is a priority. The guides are highly experienced and qualified, and in addition to 2-3 guides per group there is an extra snow safety officer on a snowmobile for backup. This guide assists in scoping out appropriate runs, snow testing, and provision of support in the event of any incidents.
  • Multi-day cat skiing packages that include accommodation provide great value for money.
  • The flexibility is fabulous. You can choose a level of accommodation that suits your budget, and decide how much cat skiing versus resort skiing you want to do.

Cons 
  • The area around Rossland typically doesn’t receive as much snowfall as other regions in BC. On the plus side, BRC will be honest about the snow conditions. They won’t BS you that there’s awesome powder when there’s not, and they offer “snow checks” when required.
  • One of the snowcats takes up to 14 guests. Sure this is only 2 more than most snowcat operations, but it seems to make a difference with respect to the likelihood of getting freshies and the speed of the day. Of course the perfect antidote to this is to take up the option for the small group cat skiing!
Powder Snow
The snow quality and quantity at Big Red Cats is very good, but it’s not stupendous like it is with some other BC cat skiing operations. The volume of annual snowfall is below average for BC snowcat skiing, so they tend to get “dump-ettes” and a lower frequency of powder top-ups.

On the plus side, the terrain has a variety of aspects so the guides can generally fossick around if it hasn’t snowed in a while, and there are plenty of trees to protect the snow from the sun. On the downside the top elevation is only 2,200 metres (versus an average of 2,380 metres for BC cat skiing) and they seem to have more wind events and warm temp episodes than some other BC cat skiing further north.
Overall Terrain
The size of the terrain is a little above average for BC cat skiing tenures. The size is generally way more than adequate, but with up to 4 snowcats going out each day, it only becomes a problem if there hasn’t been recent snow. Whilst we always had fresh lines at the top of the run, there were times when further down we had to ski over tracked snow.

The variety of terrain is impressive, both in terms of the type of terrain as well as the degree of challenge it provides. The unique characteristic of providing different snowcat trips for different ability levels is a major advantage. This gives intermediates an opportunity to go cat skiing, whilst experts can definitely go for it without being relegated to mellow slopes or a slow pace. Despite being a day operator where you can’t ski to and from the lodge, expert groups are still able to cover a decent amount of vertical.
Alpine Terrain
The alpine pitches are fairly short before it changes to sub-alpine terrain. Nevertheless Big Red Cats has a decent amount of alpine terrain for a North American cat ski outfit. The alpine terrain is generally steep and littered with lots of treats such as chutes, jumps and other rocky features. Even if the avalanche risk is somewhat high, the shape of the terrain and the presence of various ridges tend to allow access to parts of the alpine areas.
Tree Skiing
BRC has plenty of variety with respect to the tree spacing. Some areas have sparse vegetation where you can let the boards fly, some areas have tight trees to make it adequately challenging, whilst other zones are a happy medium with gladed trees. The pitch also varies significantly.

Strong Intermediate Terrain


Big Red Cats has a decent range of mellow terrain that’s not too heavily wooded that’s perfect for novice powder hounds. The segregated trips by skill level are an absolute super bonus for intermediates. The only downside is that the majority of the trips are allocated to advanced and expert riders with only a handful of intermediate trips per season. This is only the product of who books in first, so intermediates, get in and book your cat skiing nice and early!
Advanced Terrain
There is an abundance of fantastic tree skiing and alpine terrain for advanced riders. It’s absolute ecstasy!
Expert & Extreme Terrain
Because Big Red Cats can cater so well to intermediates, it seems to attract a reputation amongst some cat skiers as having lame terrain. All fool them because this rep is eons away from reality. BRC has an abundance of steep gnarly terrain that will adequately challenge experts. Some short pitches fall into the “holy fxxx” category, and there are chutes and lots of features for air-time. The only downside is that the steeps are over all too soon, and many of the runs mellow out to a flat commute back to the snowcat road.

Once again the ability delineation is fantastic for experts. Sure there’s the chance that some bloke will overestimate his talents, but the chances of being disadvantaged by slow skiers or boarders is pretty slim.

Expert groups are very common. Generally these include a good amount of hucking terrain but cliff jumping isn’t mandatory. Uber-expert groups tend to have a much greater focus on leaping off little cliffs and other features. These uber snowcat trips are generally less frequent, so get in early or pull together your own posse.
Guiding
Big Red Cats have a huge number of guides and they all differ somewhat. They often need to pull in casual guides who aren’t that familiar with the terrain. Conversely some of the old hands know the terrain intimately and all the nooks and crannies. The guides are generally fantastic at picking the right lines dependent upon the conditions of the snow and snowpack.

We had high levels of confidence in the lead guides with regards to safety aspects and provision of clear and concise instructions. A little more PR mingling with the guests would probably have heightened the experience further.
Snowcat
The snowcats are powerful and without heavy arses on them, they purr very quickly up the hill. The cat tracks are also efficiently placed which contributes to a faster uphill commute.

The cabin interior had a few rows of seats so some guests had to sit facing backwards. Other minor shortcomings were a side entrance so you had to get in and out via the tracks, there was no stereo, and it felt a bit sterile. On the plus side, the cabin was bright and airy with great windows to appreciate the amazing views, the snowcat had insulation so we could chitchat to our heart’s content, and there were good storage facilities and gadgets.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
As is common with the high profile BC cat skiing operators, the emphasis on safety and avalanche risk minimisation at BRC was very apparent to guests in the field. Having at least one guide out there on a snowmobile testing snowpack stability and the like is really impressive (and the snow pit analysis doesn’t cut into precious skiing time).
Safety Briefing
The non-practical component of the BRC safety briefing used to include a fabulous video that guests watched at base camp. This is no longer the case and guides now utilise the time on the bus out to the staging area to do the safety talk. The briefing lacked the structure that it used to have, but it covered most aspects and is now more interactive. If you’re keen for a video, you can always watch the safety vid on the BRC website.

Once at the staging area we did a quick beacon search session but no probe and shovel practice, which is somewhat typical of a day operator.
Frills
Lunch consisted of nice wraps and rolls. Water, granola bars and the infamous cookies were also provided during the day, but no hot beverages.

Other than having ski rentals, they don’t provide any other frills such as breakfast or morning coffee, an après session with beers, or a photography service. On the plus side, you don’t have to pay for frivolities that you don’t necessarily need.
Value for Money
The rates for day skiing in high season are slightly higher than the average for Canada cat skiing companies, whilst low season prices are a little less than the average. Rental powder skis attract an additional charge, and besides lunch, you don’t get too many other added extras.

Where BRC comes to the fore with respect to value for money is with multi-day packages. Firstly the day skiing is significantly discounted for 3 days or more, and the accommodation rates vary from budget to reasonable. Either way, the accommodation value is much better than what you get with a backcountry cat skiing lodge.

The other bonus is that you don’t have to rent a car to get to BRC, unlike with some cat ski operations that are trickier to get to.

Notes Regarding Review
The review is largely based on our experience, but also on discussions with staff, former guests, and information available on their website. Our review has some limitations as it’s not possible to ski every run and in all possible snow and weather conditions. Every guide is somewhat different and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only.
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