Powderhounds' Review

Powderhounds' Review

Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, Cat Skiing Review

The Powderhounds took a magic carpet ride on a snowcat and reviewed the Selkirk Wilderness Skiing cat ski operation. Essentially SWS are the gold standard of cat ski operations that others try to imitate, and as such we have rated them with 5 out of 5 paws overall!

SWS has a lot of repeat customers, some of which have visited more than 20 times. More than half of their guests have skied with them for 10 years or more. This loyalty speaks volumes for the quality of this cat ski operation.

Of course even though we (and many others) think that Selkirk Wilderness Skiing is an extraordinary operation, no company is absolutely perfect for everyone. Our review covers different aspects of their operation and hopefully you can determine if SWS is likely to align with your priorities. As a guide to the 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 Selkirk Wilderness Skiing fares against other mechanized backcountry operations.

Pros
  • The fabulously diverse terrain is a highlight of SWS cat skiing. 
  • There are lots of runs with “perfect” fall line. Without compromising on safety, this enables guests to spread out a little horizontally so that even the last pair of the group gets freshies! 
  • Selkirk Wilderness Skiing is a very polished operation. I guess they’ve had since 1975 to perfect the experience, and in that time they’ve managed to get the combination of a relaxed culture and professionalism just right. The staff are absolutely fantastic and they provide a feeling of family. They create a welcoming atmosphere that results in plenty of friendly banter. 
  • SWS has gorgeous snow. It’s a fridge magnet! In case you’re wondering what’s so gorgeous about a fridge magnet, this is the combination of being a powder magnet with abundant snowfall, and the snow being refrigerated by nearby glaciers, which generally keeps the powder in pristine condition. Gorgeous! 
  • There is a major focus on safety considerations. Safety briefings and other risk management strategies are really well done. 
  • There’s a good chance you’ll get plenty of vertical in each day. The cat track system is efficient, it’s only a short cat ride up from the lodge to the first run, and you can ski back to the lodge at the end of the day.
Cons
  • SWS is located in a remote area so it’s a bit of an effort to get there. However for some, part of the attraction is to completely get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  
  • This is not one of the cheapest operators in the business. This cat skiing is not suited to powderhounds on a budget, but rather discerning powderhounds who are seeking a quality experience.

Powder Snow
The powder gods look down on SWS very kindly. Like all ski areas, they sometimes get warm temps and dry spells, but the odds are definitely stacked in their favour. The SWS area receives 15 metres of snowfall per season on average, and as a general rule the powder is very dry thanks to high elevation, cold temperatures and the “fridge effect” of the location. The terrain is large and has lots of aspects so the guide can find good snow, and with minimal winds, the alpine snow is generally not wind affected.
Overall Terrain
The terrain at SWS absolutely rocks! It’rsquo;s obvious that Allan Drury put a lot of time and thought into selecting the little piece of paradise, and the operation has had since 1975 to perfect any glading requirements.

There’s no sense of déjà vu from one run to the next. Lines range from mellow to extreme and there’s sooooo much variety with regards to the type of terrain which includes the full gamut of delights. It’s reasonably large at 7,800 hectares, the terrain has lots of different aspects, and you get lots of vertical per day.

SWS has lots of wide fall line runs, so without compromising on safety, the guides can allow guests to spread out somewhat horizontally across the slope so that everyone gets freshies. This obviously doesn’t apply to all the terrain, but we were impressed that we could be the last to ski down and often still ski the coveted virgin snow.
Alpine Terrain
SWS has a good range of alpine terrain of varying pitches including big bowls, chutes, and other features. The alpine vertical isn’t particularly long (as is common with a lot of cat skiing) before it morphs into sub-alpine and then tree skiing.

Even with moderate avalanche risk they are able to access much of this alpine terrain due to the shape of the terrain and the ability to select ridges and other “safe” slopes.
Tree Skiing
The tree skiing is absolutely stupendous! The diversity is what makes it so special. Many of the trees are moderately spaced, some are a little tight, and there are some open meadows where you rip it up kamikaze style! There are big trees, little Xmas trees, cliffs amongst the trees, pillow lines, cushions, mushrooms, quarter pipes, and variability in the pitch. You could never get bored!

Strong Intermediate Terrain


There are some sparsely vegetated mellow slopes and some reasonably short runs that could be tackled by strong intermediate skiers and snowboarders, and those without powder skiing experience. SWS runs two specific programs during the season for powderhounds on their “L plates”. Intermediates should book into these and not participate in the standard program; not because the staff wouldn’t be welcoming, but because the other guests might be rather annoyed if they’re held back from hitting the challenging slopes.
Advanced Terrain
This scores full marks, once again for the huge variation in both alpine and tree skiing.
Expert & Extreme Terrain
The SWS terrain has a little bit of a reputation as being “soft”. This rep is definitely not warranted and the terrain is far from lame.

Firstly for experts there are lots of steeps; both below the treeline and in alpine chutes. Some of the steep pitches are only short before they peter out, but they’ll definitely keep an expert challenged. The varied features such as toadstools, pillows and little drop-offs also keep things really interesting and get the adrenaline going.

The terrain also has accessible pillow lines and cliff bands for those with an extreme bent, where you can leap to your heart’s content.

Like most cat skiing operations, the ability to tackle the tricky terrain is somewhat reliant on snowpack stability and largely dependent on the standard of the group. If you have an affinity for a lot of extreme hucking, try to pull together a group of like-minded ski animals and request an extra special cliff tour.
Guiding
Many of the guides have worked at SWS for over 10 years so they know the terrain incredibly well and all its little nuances. This level of local experience helps them tailor the run choice appropriately and find the best snow quality possible. The guides provide clear instructions regarding avalanche risk and appropriate lines to take, and the tail guides do a great job of keeping track of everyone.

On some days other staff come out cat skiing, and whilst some of them don’t have formal guiding qualifications, they contribute to additional tail guiding and safety aspects.

The guides have plenty of personality which adds to the whole experience.
Snowcat
Selkirk Wilderness Skiing has the perfect setup for a snowcat cabin. If any other cat ski operator wants to know the ultimate way to set up a snowcat cabin, they should look at the SWS cats. All seats face forwards (except the “jump seats”), there are great storage options for drinks and other paraphernalia, comfortable pleather seats, and a heater. The cabin is spacious and insulated, and the seats are not too high as to prevent socialisation. The steps out the back make it easier and safer for guests to get in and out, and the cat tracks can have spikes on them so it can travel faster.

The efficient cat track system also helps with speed so you can get plenty of vertical in. They have four snowcats with cabins, but only use two and have two as a backup.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
As is somewhat commonplace across the well established BC cat skiing operators, the emphasis on safety is very evident. They put significant effort into avalanche risk management and other safety considerations, and make sure all these aspects are very evident to guests. They use blasting sometimes but not routinely, and use slope selection as a primary strategy. They actively utilise local avalanche forecasting, have morning and afternoon guide meetings, undertake onsite slope testing and take pride in the qualifications and experience of their guides. All guests are provided with a radio and a backpack with a shovel and probe.
Safety Briefing
Safety as a priority is also apparent with the comprehensive briefing provided. A structured briefing is provided and no aspects of backcountry hazards are glossed over. The tutorial includes plenty of opportunity for questions. A practical application session covers radio, avalanche beacon, probe and shovel use, and an orientation to safety equipment (e.g. sled, oxygen) within the snowcat is provided.
Frills
They’ve got all the necessary trimmings covered. A range of snacks are provided throughout the day including healthy things such as fruit and vegies, and treats such as yummy slices. Lunch includes rolls, wraps or croissants with gourmet fillings. The culinary delights are a surprise package each day. Your taste buds definitely won’t get bored!

SWS rent out a range of quality powder skis and snowboards, so you’ll be able to feel like a legend out on the snow. This legendary behaviour can be captured on “film” via their photographer who heads out some days. He sets up really quickly and won’t interfere with the flow of the run, unless of course you get too much Kodak courage! A slide show of the pics is shown in the evening.
Accommodation
The common areas of the lodge are delightful. There are various areas to hang out depending on your mood, but commonly you’ll be drawn to the bar area for a chitchat with your old or new found friends. The welcoming nature of the staff and the other guests is exceptional, and you’ll definitely feel right at home. And the food is so superb that you’ll want to make this place your home permanently!

The accommodation end of the lodge has more of an emphasis on simplicity than luxury, which suits the culture of the operation. It doesn’t matter that some of the rooms are rather plain, because the only time you’re likely to spend in your room is to zzzzzz. The range of room configurations is a major plus, and it’s possible to stay in a single room, twin room, or king room. The comfort of the beds and bedding is also fantastic. One shortcoming is that there are no ensuite bathrooms, just lots of communal washrooms, but they provide lovely fluffy bathrobes to wear.
Value for Money
At SWS you get outstanding quality, but this does not come cheaply and powder skis or snowboards are not included in the package. Many guests will have to get a rental car to get to Meadow Creek, which also adds to the cost. See our Canada cat skiing cost comparison to get an idea of how the rates for SWS fare against 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.

The photos and video (on this page) has not been filmed using professional riders; they aim to show an example of a real experience. 
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