Touring Smiles and Chatter Fun

First climb on day one at Chatter

I approached Brody and inquired if I could ski the ridgeline. He enthusiastically shouted back, “See you at the bottom!” I pushed off, carving knee-deep turns in the sparkling powder on the ridgeline to the left of the gully. The line gradually narrowed and steepened above sharp drops on either side, sending my heart racing with adrenaline. This thrilling experience marked my inaugural day of ski touring at Chatter Creek.

My journey to Chatter Creek was more than happenstance. A decade prior, I had skied at Chatter with a lively group of powder enthusiasts who knew how to revel in the moment. The vast terrain, exceptional quality of the slopes, and the humble staff left an enduring impression on me. However, securing another trip was no easy feat as Chatter’s loyal clientele kept returning for the same reasons – Chatter offers the pinnacle of catskiing experiences. In 2017, Chatter introduced a small-group ski touring program to complement their catskiing, and I had been attempting to book it ever since. Unfortunately, it consistently sold out quickly.

The year 2018 was not my healthiest. In May, I received a diagnosis of HPV throat cancer, which led to a challenging journey, including a six-hour surgery in July and 30 radiation treatments concluding in mid-October. Cancer treatment takes a toll on both the body and the mind, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the social isolation that accompanied it. Skiing and biking invitations dwindled, and ski touring opportunities remained elusive. Unfortunately, some people are uneasy around cancer survivors and tend to avoid connecting with them.

Fortunately, Jodie from Chatter Creek extended a lifeline – they had a cancellation for a 4-day ski touring trip, and I secured my spot without hesitation. Returning to Chatter to ski tour was a dream come true.

Chatter Creek’s ski terrain sprawls over 235 square kilometers, covering 58,000 acres of tree runs, old burns, expansive alpine areas, and glacier skiing. Most of Chatter’s terrain lies between 1500 meters and 2900 meters above sea level, offering breathtaking views of the Rockies to the east, including the Columbia and Clemenceau icefields, and the Selkirk Mountains to the west, featuring Mount Sir Sandford and the Adamants. The higher elevation ensures colder temperatures, maintaining light and dry snow – ideal for deep powder skiing. In essence, you get the snow you crave, and plenty of it.

During a previous three-day catskiing trip at Chatter, we descended endless steep pillow lines, one after the other. Chatter’s pillow lines are unrivaled in my experience. It takes a few runs to become comfortable skiing off the pillows into an unknown landing, but the sheer joy of skiing on these pillows is unparalleled. My desire to return was partly driven by these pillows, but I also yearned to explore their high alpine terrain. I suspected that the small-group ski touring would allow us to venture into the vast alpine and other areas beyond the reach of their snowcats.

Brody, our lead guide, was endless fun and adventure

Our lead guide, Brody, was an endless source of fun and adventure. Chatter’s ski touring trips are guided by certified professionals who possess an intimate knowledge of the snowpack and terrain. Group sizes are kept small, with up to six guests accompanied by two guides and a dedicated snowcat for venturing into remote powder. On days when we toured point-to-point, the snowcat was relocated by the staff; otherwise, we would tour back to our morning starting point.

The Mothership was our dedicated snowcat

Our transportation, fondly referred to as “The Mothership,” served as our dedicated snowcat. We relished the same high-quality Chatter Creek experiences as the catskiers – a helicopter transfer to and from the lodge, luxurious accommodations, gourmet meals, and our private table for breakfast and dinner. The staff and guides at Chatter ensured that our experience was exceptional; they were an outstanding team.

Brodie and Nic, our guides, welcomed us on our arrival and joined our ski touring group for dinner. Our group consisted of five members – two women and three men. The guides acknowledged that Chatter hadn’t seen fresh snow in a couple of weeks, and I could sense the group’s expectations tapering off. However, the following day, we skied a bowl and ridge with 40 centimeters of pristine, untracked powder, no signs of previous skiers, and excellent terrain. It quickly became evident that the snow conditions were outstanding, and we were in capable hands with top-notch guides who were eager to ski. On the first run, I chose not to drop the bowl line, opting instead for the narrowing left ridge line. I reconnected with Brodie at the bottom of the bowl, and high fives were exchanged. I couldn’t believe my luck – ski touring on such remarkable terrain with an exceptional group!

For me, this experience transcended mere ski touring; it marked another step in my journey to overcoming cancer and embracing the lifestyle I’ve cherished for decades. During the third ascent on the first day, I shared my health journey with the group and expressed my immense satisfaction at being able to ski tour. Everyone in the group shared the same stoke for enjoying the powder, and we quickly bonded in just a few runs. At the end of each day, The Mothership awaited us with refreshments and snacks, providing a smooth and scenic ride back to the lodge.

That evening at the lodge, the atmosphere was filled with celebration and high energy. Everyone’s expectations had been exceeded! A couple of catskiers inquired about our ski touring experience, wondering if it had been challenging and if we were tired. While we certainly worked for our turns, I found touring to be more relaxing than catskiing and less physically demanding on the joints and legs. Our differences in preference didn’t matter; we were all reveling in the experience of a lifetime!

On the second day, we ventured into more extensive alpine terrain for a point-to-point tour. The group worked together to conquer three substantial climbs and descents. The Mothership was relocated to our endpoint, providing us with another enjoyable ride back to the lodge. Brodie, our guide, was not only a skilled guide but also a proficient snowcat pilot.

The third day brought some inclement weather, so we decided to stay at lower elevations and tour a ridge with steep tree lines and pillows. I was always amazed by the comfort level that experienced guides could provide when skiing with a group of strangers. We were a capable group, and the guides excelled in handling steep terrain. But then again, exceeding expectations is what Chatter Creek is all about.

On the fourth day, we awoke to an astonishing 50 centimeters of fresh, Rocky Mountain-quality powder. The couple from Colorado, who had never experienced snow like this, were in awe. Living in Fernie, where we enjoy numerous high-quality dumps each year, I had learned to breathe between turns to avoid inhaling the powder. The group tore through the slopes all day, with shouts of joy and exhilaration – a storybook ending to four days of ski touring.

Chatter apparently has deep powder snow-snakes

Chatter Creek, it seemed, had a way of providing exactly what I had come for, and then some. A few days of skiing big alpine runs and steep pillow lines made life feel incredibly real, and being well enough to enjoy ski touring made the trip extraordinarily gratifying.
Spending time in the mountains enjoying one of the most enjoyable activities in the world is always recommended. As Warren Miller used to say, “If you wait another year, you’ll be a year older when you go!”

Would I recommend touring at Chatter? Absolutely! I strongly recommend booking a ski touring trip to Chatter if you possess intermediate or expert touring skills. While having knowledge of avalanches and first aid is beneficial, Chatter’s guides take excellent care of their guests.

All skilled skiers should consider visiting Chatter – it’s akin to the Whistler of catskiing, without the crowds, and offers the best snow you can find anywhere.

Words and photos by Dan Savage