Prowling for Pow – Cat & Heli-Skiing

Cat skiing group staring at mountains from mountain top.

The world’s first, and most, cat and heli-ski destinations. The West Kootenay. 

Praeceps et profundus — steep and deep.

In pontumque moueri — on the prowl.

You don’t need to learn your Latin to get this West Kootenay tale of high-powered powder pursuit. Check the history books for details on the world’s first ever cat skiing operation. It happened right here. It’s true. And today, there are more cat skiing destinations in the West Kootenay — complimented by a crown of world-calibre heli skiing venues — than anywhere else on the planet. 

A Time Before Snowboards

The year was 1975. There were no snowboards. Ski ballet was still a thing. And a diesel-powered dance in the mountainous winter world of near-desolate southeastern BC was just about to start. Cat ski pioneers Al and Brenda Drury had searched all over North America for a place to start an adventure tourism business that none in the winter holiday sector had ever considered. High above the north end of Kootenay Lake, they found the place.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world like it,” Drury said years after founding Selkirk Wilderness Skiing. “Maybe Europe, 300 years ago.” Today, the operation, now known as Selkirk Snowcat Skiing, is one of seven cat skiing operations in the region.

Escape The Limits of Resort Riding

Cat skiing offers skiers and boarders a chance to escape the bustle and boundaries of resorts, with professional guides and mandatory snow safety instruction provided, for rates that are often surprisingly affordable.

Some West Kootenay cat skiing guests opt for single day-long adventures in the mountains, overnighting in the vibrant downtowns of Nelson, Rossland and Castlegar. Others post up for multi-day stays, tucking into the inclusive micro-villages and ultra-cozy confines a number of the industry’s adventurous entrepreneurs have painstakingly constructed in the high-country hearts of their sprawling backcountry tenures.   

Big red cat in Rossland.

Big Red Cats, Rossland. Photo by Ashley Voykin.

Whether by cat, or bird, here’s a sneak-peek at the West Kootenay’s winter adventures, all awaiting just over the mountain. 

The West Kootenay’s Has It All

  • Big Red Cats — Located near the definitive alpine city of Rossland and legendary Red Mountain, Big Red Cats offers trips between one day and seven, for intermediate to expert abilities. Eight peaks, 20,000 acres of terrain, with great glade skiing.
  • Retallack — A backcountry dream as famous for its remarkable summer mountain biking as its pure-Kootenay winter riding. Located between New Denver and Kaslo, Retallack offers some of the world’s best steep and feature-laden advanced-to-expert cat-accessed skiing and ‘boarding. Mostly eastern and western-facing aspects, providing powder skiing off three peaks, until early April.
  • White Grizzly Cat Skiing — Situated in cat skiing’s place of origin, Meadow Creek. For over 25 years, White Grizzly has focused on personal service, a warm family atmosphere, and an unparalleled and authentic powder vacation for two, three or four days. The venue’s down-home log lodge has room for a maximum of 12 guests. New as of 2022-23 — 11,000 acres of ski touring.
  • Great Northern Snowcat Skiing — Amongst the world’s first cat ski operations, the tenure’s location was in fact discovered through snow fall records that dated back to the 1800s. The Selkirk Mountain’s remote Bad Shot Range is infamous for enormous snowfall. Situated 1.5 hours south of Revelstoke, this family-run business caters to limited number of guests looking for multi-day getaways. 
  • Selkirk Snowcat Skiing — Often cited as the best cat skiing terrain in the world — and the first cat operation ever — Selkirk has been providing wilderness ski experiences for 45 years. The lodge has room for 24 guests, skiable terrain twice the size of Whistler Blackcomb, and offers unique five-day/six-night packages. Two hours from Nelson, and 45 minutes from Kaslo.
  • Baldface Lodge & Baldface Valhalla — Combined, the two properties are the world’s biggest cat skiing operation. The Lodge offers multi-day five-star shred-fests from its high-country lodge in the  southern Selkirks, a quick heli-hop away from the bustling mountain mini-metropolis of Nelson. The new upgraded cat boxes allow guests more space and more windows for incredible views. Valhalla offers day trip into the advanced terrain of the Slocan Valley’s legendary Valhalla Range.
  • Snowwater — Small group heli-skiing — only three groups of four per day are in the mountains ‘round Snowwater — with superb snowcat back-up terrain for too-stormy days. So, guests of all levels ski or board everyday, guaranteed. Trips of three, four or five days are launched out of Snowwater’s mountain chic mini-village.
  • Stellar Heliskiing — Straddling the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains surrounding Kaslo and the shores of Kootenay Lake, Stellar touts epic terrain, fantastic snow and a genuine Kootenay style experience. Catering to small groups and advanced riders looking for either single day or multi-day adventures. Guests stay in the entirely renovated and super-charming 120-year old Kaslo Hotel.
  • CMH Kootenay  —  Part of Canadian Mountain Holiday’s 12-destination constellation of lodges, CMH Kootenay is based out of the resource town-meets-maverick ski bum ‘burg of Nakusp, on the shores of Upper Arrow Lake. With terrain in both the Selkirks and Monashee, 75 percent trees, 25 percent steeps, suitable for riders and skiers in the good-or-expert range. No-frills heli-ski powder thrills.

Now you know where to go. And remember — the West Kootenays is a world-renown cat and heli destination for a reason. The early birds get the turns — so book your winter powder adventure now!

Want to learn more about cat and heli skiing in the area? Visit the local tourism websites.


Enjoy your #KootenayRoadTrip