Posted on April 8, 2010 with 4 Comments
Three weeks ago now, I went to Island Lake Lodge for the first time. This is a place I’ve always heard about; it’s sort of legendary for having excellent cat skiing, stunning scenery, and deep blower pow. Despite hearing that nearby Fernie was having a less-than-normal amount of snowfall this year and a lack of recent snow, I was excited just to go see the place. I was also looking forward to this trip because of the people who were going–several awesome folks from The North Face, plus celebrity badass Jimmy Chin and Island Lake legend himself, Scot Schmidt (see: Godfather of Extreme, inventor of the color yellow, etc.).
Skiing at Island Lake with Schmidt, I feel like, is akin to having Elvis show you around Graceland or something–nothing less than radical. Here, Scot and Jimmy prepare to drop in on some trees. It was snowing lightly when we took the cat in to the lodges the first evening, but I didn’t think it looked like much would come of it. However, our first run the next morning was the kind of magic carpet skiing–smooth, if a bit firm underneath, with a few inches of blower on top–where you can hero ski. Super fast, carving turns, flying through trees and ollie-ing off every little wind ridge in sight. So. Much. Fun!
It continued to snow off and on the first day and night we were there, and we woke on the second morning to partly clear skies and the most amazing 180-degree view of sunrise over the surrounding peaks. When you see the spot where the (super-nice, naturally) lodge is situated–right on a lake, with a massive ampitheatre of peaks and ridges towering above, you can begin to understand why this spot has been such a hot commodity over the years. Word has it that many people have tried to get their hands on it, including princes and oil barons, but thankfully the owners have held on. This is just some of the terrain we were drooling over continually.
We got lucky (or at least everyone kept telling us we got lucky, all the employees were saying, “You guys lucked out; it wasn’t supposed to snow, and we haven’t had it this good in a while!”), and scored a legitimate pow day on the second day. The partial sun allowed us to get higher up into the alpine, affording views like this one–looking back at some sweet mini lines in the direction of Fernie.
Mega-ripper-babe Karilyn Larsen and me, cat style. The whole crew was charging, ripping, super fired up–we played endless games of cat and mouse through the trees, hitting every little pillow and jump we could. If you were lucky, you got to either follow the guide or Scot Schmidt, as they know every little nuance of each run and so would hit the best fall line the whole way–plus, it was a rush just trying to keep up with the master of smooth style himself!!
I left with great memories of pow skiing, of course–but also a lasting impression of how much fun can be had when each member of a group is really charging and bringing the positivity. And Island Lake is a model of efficient cat skiing (each cat ride averaged 10-15 minutes for a worthy run, and our driver told us that for our group of 15 or 16 people, we burned under what would be a tank and a half of gas in my Subaru for a full day of riding–14 amazing pow runs) as well as amazing customer service (they take a drink order before your last run so you can enjoy a beverage of your choice on the ride back to the lodge–nice touch!!). It’s a crazy life sometimes–it just makes me shake my head in wonder and feel unfathomably lucky.