|Girlski - Photo by Dave Silver|
Dressed to the nines in a white suit, black shirt and red satin tie, chauffeur Nick Leinweber wowed the women on this 50th birthday trip. With all the excited chatter, exuberant group singing and even dancing in the vehicle, you might think we were old friends in a limo en route to a posh party.
But, no, this garrulous gang of 12 women was heading up backcountry snow roads in BC’s Columbia Valley in a Pisten Bully snowcat for our first taste of catskiing.
Warned that he was only allowed to intrude upon this female-only catskiing tour if he dressed appropriately to drive us, the handsome hunk managed to manhandle our skis and boards all morning without a stain to his immaculate suit which kept as pristine as the perfect powder we skied.
|Girlski group by Dave Silver|
More often associated with masculine hollering, joshing and competitiveness, both catskiing and heliskiing are not generally perceived as female pursuits. But, for the past decade, cat and heli-ski operations have been seeking ways to even out the sexist equation. After all, there are many strong female skiers around; women are often in charge of the purse strings within households these days; the typical ‘adventure traveller’ has been identified as a 47-year-old woman; and many of the luxurious lodges are spa-like, rustic retreats with plenty of pampering.
Results from a survey of 514 female skiers and boarders, carried out by Dr Simon Hudson, suggested that cost was the main hindrance as well as not having friends to go with. Avalanche danger only came fifth in the ladder of deterrents and ski ability eighth. Helicopter fears were at the bottom of the list.
Despite nightmares about backcountry slides and hidden crevasses, I decided to try out that first all-girl cat group to see how I fitted in with the women who were bucking the stats, overcoming avalanche angst and tree-well terrors to enter this male-dominated domain.
|Photo by Dave Silver|
Although dubbed Girlski, I worked out that our average age was 47, with several women booking this signature holiday to celebrate 50th birthdays. We had almost as much fun in the cat cab – called the crummy presumably because of all the spilt food – as we did on the unscathed terrain. Unlike men who apparently nap and only chat sporadically in between runs, we bonded over chocolate treats and favourite Ipod tunes. No way did the exertion of 12 daily descents deprive us of the energy to chat, sing and dance in the close-quarter crummy!
The need to feel confident and skilled in safety procedures was also paramount in Hudson’s survey. After thorough beacon search and rescue training plus snowcat and group skiing guidelines, there was palpable reassurance throughout my group on our first morning. Backed up by radio links with the safety team, every run was fastidiously tested and criss-crossed by our guide before we were allowed to descend in strict order.
|Waiting our turn - photo by Dave Silver|
All BC snowcat and heli-ski operations are governed by Helicat Canada with strict tenets for training, qualifications and safety procedures. In fact, some veteran heli-skiers have been known to complain that backcountry wintersports have been ‘softened’ and are too safe for thrills.
|Louise Hudson - by Dave Silver|
Although I sometimes felt serenely alone when skiing through the thicker forests, I could always hear the group’s shredding shrieks and the shrill, directional hoots of our guide. Without the ski-hill confusion of traversed tracks, it was simple enough to follow the line with the reassurance of my ski partner nearby on each descent.
Around half of Hudson’s survey respondents - 80 percent skiers and 20 percent boarders - felt their ability was somewhat lacking for heli-skiing. Women are often self-deprecating when it comes to skiing, typically under-rating skill levels and hanging at the back of a mixed gender group. But, you don’t have to be an expert to catski. Strong intermediate standard is sufficient with a good level of fitness and stamina to survive the three days. The big fat skis help and so does the unscathed soft snow.
|Me by Dave Silver|
Nowadays, increasingly more women are being attracted towards experience caching rather than materialism. The tourism trend is towards doing something on holiday rather than pure relaxation. And catskiing is not all hard slog on the steeps and deeps. Not only do you get to relax afterwards in the sauna, hot tub or spa and luxuriate in the lodge’s lavish catering, but you feel you really deserve it after the exertion of skiing 15,000 vertical feet. And in the remote rural setting you feel a million miles away from metropolitan madness and everyday pressures.
Since then, I have been on many more heli and catskiing trips including Selkirk Tangiers at Revelstoke, Keystone Kat Skiing, CMH HeliSkiing and rk heliski at Panorama. Over the last ten years, high level women-only programs and camps have been popping up at resorts all over North America. Last season I attended Elevate at Jackson Hole where our gungho group of 60 women were coached in the backcountry and on dramatic double diamonds by feisty female instructors and motivational pro skiers.
|Seirus Heat Touch Mitt|
- Brightcoloured ski jacket so your ski buddy can see you
- HeatedTranspack backpack to stow – and keep warm - extra accessories
Island Lake Lodge – www.islandlakeresorts.com
CMH Heli-Ski – www.canadianmountainholidays.com
Ladies Only Multi Week Program Lake Louise - https://www.skilouise.com/rentals-and-lessons/ladies-programs-multi-week.php
|Sunshine Village Ladies Freeriders (Courtesy of|
Sunshine Village Banff)
Sunshine Village Ladies Freeriders - www.skibanff.com/lessons-
Her Turn, Vail - http://www.vail.com/ski-and-snowboard-school/adult-lessons/specialty-programs.aspx#/WomenOnly
Fernie Ladies All Mountain Club - https://rcrstore.skircr.com/product/fernie-ladies-all-mountain-club/
Women's Edge, Aspen Snowmass - https://www.aspensnowmass.com/plan-your-stay/lessons/womens-edge-group-lessons
Women’s programs at Breck - http://www.breckenridge.com/ski-and-ride-school/specialty-programs/womenspecialtycamps.aspx#/LadiesFirstUlt4Ski
Women's Wednesdays at Copper Mountain - http://www.coppercolorado.com/winter/ski_and_ride_school/adult_seasonal_programs/womens_wednesdays
Arc’teryx Women’s Ski Camps at Whistler Blackcomb - http://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/snow-school/arcteryx-womens-camps
Powder Room Women’s Clinics Kicking Horse - http://kickinghorseresort.com/winter-main/the-mountain/mountain-school/seasonal-programs-camps/
Elevate at Jackson Hole - http://www.jacksonhole.com/elevate-womens-camp.html
Women of Winter Camp Squaw Valley Tahoe - http://squawalpine.com/skiing-riding/women-winter-camp
Girls Do Ski freeski camps – www.girlsdoski.com
Telluride Helitrax Chicks with Stix - http://www.helitrax.com/intro-to-heli-skiing-for-women/
Mike Wiegele Women’s Week - http://www.wiegele.com/heliski-theme-weeks.htm
LOOK OUT FOR A NEW ARTICLE ON SNOW BUSINESS IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS ON SUNDAY JANUARY 10TH!