Powderhounds Review

Powderhounds Review

Fernie Wilderness Adventures, Cat Skiing Review “I love big dumps” and I’d heard that Fernie Wilderness Adventures cat skiing was a great operation where I could continue my love affair with powder snow, so on went the fat skis to give you the skinny on this cat ski operation.

The review covers different aspects of their operation and you can determine if FWA is likely to align with your priorities. That being said, the cat skiing is lots of fun so you’ll have an awesome time regardless of your priorities!

Pros

  • FWA has some really interesting terrain and is great for freestylers or anyone else who likes to huck. It’s like one big backcountry terrain park!
  • They send out a professional photographer to capture some classic powder moments. Looking at the photos on a big screen at the end of the day adds to the festive après session, and if you want to purchase a CD of the photos, the price is very reasonable.
  • Some cat ski operations require a minimum of 6-8 guests before they’ll operate, but at FWA they can take small groups out in the Weazel if they don’t have many guests booked in. This mini cat fits only 4 guests and one guide, and offers a faster powder skiing experience.
  • The lodge and cat skiing staff are super friendly. You can’t help but have a good time, and that’s before you even sample the powder.
Cons
  • Fernie Wilderness Adventures has the smallest terrain of the BC cat skiing operators. With 2-3 snowcats out each day, fresh tracks are not necessarily guaranteed unless it’s recently snowed.
  • With a long cat ride up from the lodge in the morning (about 45 minutes) and down in the afternoon (30 minutes), there’s less time available to ski or board. FWA offers 8-10 runs per day and approximately 10,000-12,000 vertical feet of skiing or boarding, which is less than some other Canada cat ski companies. (See our BC cat ski comparison regarding the size of different operations and the daily vertical feet on offer.)

Powder Snow
The powder is generally very good, but as is common in the Fernie area, the snow quality can be highly variable. At times the powder is classically Rocky Mountain dry and fluffy. However sometimes it’s raining in town and the snow can be a little wet (which was our experience).

In relation to quantity, FWA receives an average of 8.7 metres of snowfall per season which is very respectable. However considering that a few BC cat skiing operations receive 15-18 metres of snow a season, FWA doesn’t get top marks for the snorkel-factor.
Overall Terrain
Fernie Wilderness Adventures have really interesting terrain features. Between short cliff bands, mini pipes, and lots of fluffy pillows, freestyling terrain park junkies will have an absolute ball at FWA. The video above shows some of the fun to be had! Unfortunately the interesting terrain only lasts for about a half to two-thirds of the vertical, and then the mellow run-outs or trails are relatively dull.

The main limitation of the terrain at FWA is the size, which then has a negative impact on all other terrain ratings below. This is the smallest cat skiing terrain in BC at only 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares). It’s only a fraction bigger than Fernie Alpine Resort and there are 11 ski resorts in Canada that are bigger than FWA. Obviously there’s a much higher probability of skiing fresh tracks at FWA than a ski resort, but with up to 2 to 3 cats out each day, fresh tracks are not necessarily guaranteed at FWA.
Alpine Terrain
Only a very small amount of the terrain could be classified as “alpine”.
Tree Skiing
In amongst the trees and powder pillows is where all the merriment can be had. The spacing of the trees is really tight in places, so the skiing and boarding can be rather technical. However there’s diversity in the spacing and there are lots of openings amongst the trees. The top sections have a bit of pitch but are not super steep, and the runs mellow out significantly further down.

Strong Intermediate Terrain

not rated
Not rated
Advanced Terrain
FWA is very well suited to advanced riders considering the pitch and varied spacing of trees. The rocks and terrain features are just an added bonus. The cliff bands are only short, so those who wish to avoid them can easily go around. FWA would score full marks for advanced terrain if the tenure was much larger.
Expert & Extreme Terrain
There is no super steep terrain or chutes, but for those who like to huck, the terrain is nirvana.
Guiding
The guides we had were pretty good; very relaxed whilst maintaining a good level of professionalism. They knew the intricacies of their terrain (probably because it is quite small) and the exact locations of particular cliffs or jumps. One of the guides was even considerate enough to stomp down the landings for some jumps. The only criticism would be that the guiding was a little loose at times, and they needed prompting multiple times to provide directions for those who wanted to avoid the cliffs.
Snowcat
One of the snowcats had a wide-arse cabin with seating for 14 persons in two rows. One row faced forwards and the other backwards, but the backwards facing seats were well designed such that you didn’t slip onto the laps of guests on the other side (damn!). The side door arrangement made it a little hard to get in and out of the cat, but otherwise the comfort factors were pretty good.

FWA has multiple snowcats, so they have good contingency plans in the event of mechanical failure. FWA also has the advantage of being able to provide small group cat skiing in the “Weazel” mini-cat.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
FWA’s website indicates a moderate emphasis on safety and avalanche mitigation strategies, but this wasn’t as evident in practice. Any measures undertaken by the guides were not discussed or made obvious with guests, and on-site slope testing was not conducted. A few of the guides have relevant qualifications.
Safety Briefing
A safety briefing was provided in the snowcat with written prompts to ensure all aspects of mountain safety were covered. This was reasonably effective as the briefing was comprehensive. However the practical component of the briefing was very brief indeed, with little emphasis on what to do once a victim had been located. Another limitation was the use of old fashioned transponders that require a slow grid search, so it was difficult for day skiers with little practical experience to master their use in a short space of time.
Frills
FWA has some very good frills. They send out a professional photographer each day and during après they show the entertaining photos over snacks and beers. A CD of the photos is very inexpensive relative to some other operations - only $60 for one person and $40 for each additional person.

The snacks provided during the day are not particularly gourmet, but absolutely more than adequate. Lunch however could be improved by selecting sandwich fillings that don’t go soggy.
Accommodation
The wilderness lodge is very cosy with a homely atmosphere and incredibly friendly hosts. This is not a luxurious lodge as seen with some other Canada cat skiing operations, but rather it is rustic with a capital “R”. The generator is only on for a few hours, the bunk beds are wobbly, the hot water is temperamental, and the hot tub is wood fired, but these quaint traits make the wilderness lodge experience more genuine, and you definitely know you’re getting away from it all.
Value for Money
A single day of cat skiing with FWA is not the most expensive in Canada, but it’s towards the upper end (see our Canada cat skiing cost comparison). To add to the cost it’s an additional $45 per day to rent fat skis, and multiple loonies to get a transfer from town to the lodge. Value for money is also potentially lessened with a smaller ski vertical per day than other operations.

Fernie Wilderness Adventures is more expensive than day skiing with its neighbours, although these operations only run day skiing on selected days or as a standby arrangement, so it’s not possible to really compare rates.

If you can be flexible with dates, FWA offers some cheap last minute packages. Join their facebook page or “Dumps and Deals”. You too can then love big dumps!

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, and the terrain skied on a particular day is dependent on the ability of the group. Every guide is somewhat different and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only.

To compare to other operators see our Canada cat skiing ratings. This also outlines some of the factors involved in the decision-making.

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