Powderhounds' Review

Powderhounds' Review

Wagner Custome Skis

Island Lake Lodge Cat Skiing Review
The Powderhounds avoided the temptation to stay indoors for a pedicure and hot stone massage, and headed out one stormy day to check out the Island Lake Catskiing operation.

Island Lake Lodge has a great reputation for providing high quality cat skiing trips and they didn’t disappoint. Of course even though Island Lake is a high quality operation, no cat skiing operation is absolutely perfect for everyone. Our review covers different aspects of their operation and hopefully you can determine if Island Lake is likely to align with your priorities.

Pros
  • Island Lake Lodge provides an exceptional experience with high quality accommodation, gastronomical bliss, and a large range of day spa treatments. This is a good location for a winter holiday if your partner doesn’t want to go cat skiing. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of pampering?
  • Island Lake Catskiing is a slick and very well organised operation.
  • There is a high likelihood of getting lots of vertical feet in each day. In addition to powerful cats, the short cat ride up from the lodge and the ability to ski back down to the lodge adds to potential powder time.
  • Island Lake has outstanding tree skiing. The runs are delightfully gladed with plenty of space to let those babies rip in the powder.
  • Safety is their number one priority and the presence of a specific snow safety team is a great adjunct to their avalanche mitigation strategies.
  • The quality of the guiding is exceptional.
Cons
  • This cat skiing is not suited to frugal powderhounds. However those happy to pay a pretty penny will be rewarded with a fantastically indulgent experience.

Powder Snow
The quality of the powder is generally excellent, but as is typical of the Fernie area, it can be somewhat inconsistent. Commonly super cold temperatures keep the powder beautifully dry and fluffy, but occasionally the Pineapple Express rolls in and when it’s raining in town, the snow can be a little wet (which was our experience). The skiing is at the same elevation of other cat ski operations near Fernie (and 200 metres higher than Fernie Alpine Resort), but the top elevation is 300-400 metres lower than various other BC cat skiing operators.

The 9-12 metres of annual snowfall is very remarkable, but it’s not quite up there with a few of the interior cat ski operations that get 15-18 metres of snow per season.
Overall Terrain
Island Lake has pretty impressive terrain with lots of different aspects and a good mix of alpine terrain and tree skiing (which can be uncommon with cat skiing). The only potential downside is the size of terrain. At 2,134 hectares the extent of terrain is quite respectable, especially in comparison to various USA cat skiing operations, but it’s smaller than most other major BC cat ski operations (see our BC cat ski stats comparison). They commonly have 3 snowcats out each day, and if it hasn’t snowed in a few days, fresh tracks may not be guaranteed.

On one hand the abundant alpine terrain is a huge plus for a cat ski operation, but if snowpack instability inhibits access to these areas, it makes the overall cat ski terrain even smaller.
Alpine Terrain
Island Lake has a large proportion of alpine terrain with amazing views that the operation are renowned for. The ability to access these areas is enhanced through the use of explosives, thereby reducing the risk of avalanche.
Tree Skiing
The tree skiing at Island Lake is superb. Various areas have great fall line skiing and perfectly spaced trees so that you can feel like a legend churning through the powder. Another major plus is that many tree runs have consistent pitch right down to the cat track, with only minimal run out tracks.

Strong Intermediate Terrain

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This has not been reviewed.
Advanced Terrain
The mix of alpine and tree skiing suitable for advanced riders and skiers is a huge plus. A larger tenure would score higher points here.
Expert & Extreme Terrain
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This has not been reviewed.
Guiding
The guides we had get full marks. The charismatic guides were highly experienced, well qualified, and provided great directions with appropriate re-grouping. There was minimal risk of anyone getting lost, and the quality of the guiding gave guests a high level of confidence in their abilities.
Snowcat
The Pisten Bully cats were reasonably new (in 2010) and adequately powerful such that we didn’t have to wait for the cat at the end of runs. They have three snowcats and one backup cat which is another plus. The cabins are well insulated and heated, but there are few aspects that detract a little. The side steps are a little difficult for short legged people to get in and out, and the front row of seats face backwards. Without any hand straps there was a tendency to slide onto guests on the next row of seats – this is OK if you want to get friendly with them! It was surprising for such a luxurious cat operation that the snowcat cabins didn’t also fit the luxury bill.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
The avalanche risk management strategies are very comprehensive. Understandably they are very proud of their emphasis on safety, and this is clearly articulated on their website and evident throughout the experience. In addition to well qualified guides, twice daily guide meetings, weather monitoring, and avalanche forecasting systems, they have a specific snow safety team that travel around during the day to test and blast slopes. Guest packs are also provided that have a shovel, probe, radio and first aid kit.
Safety Briefing
The importance of safety was also apparent during the briefings. The initial indoors safety briefing was reasonably inclusive except for a few backcountry hazards. The outdoor practical component of the briefing was outstanding, with an all-encompassing training session of the shovels, probes, and easy to use transceivers.
Frills
Island Lake Catskiing provides lots of “frills” including a range of powder skis and boards. The polished operation has a well set up day lodge and they provide a professional photographic service. The photos aren’t cheap so may sure you look really hot when they’re taking your photo! During après (which includes yummy food) they show the photos on a screen which provides plenty of giggles and adds to the congenial atmosphere.

During the day, snacks and beverages are provided in the cat. Lunch consists of simple sandwiches which seems a little out of keeping with the gourmet food provided at the lodge.

Accommodation
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This has not been formally reviewed.
Value for Money
This is not an economical cat ski operation. Instead the focus at Island Lake is on providing a very high quality experience. In high season in 2010 the rates were about $1,000 per day for the deluxe accommodation package. See our Canada cat skiing cost comparison to get an idea of how the basic rates for Island Lake fare against other operators.

Day skiing is very affordable but the rate is much higher than for the standby rates of other operators.

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. Check out our cat ski ratings to see how Island Lake fares against other backcountry operations.

The video is not filmed using professional riders, but rather aims to show an example of a real experience.

 

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