1. At Monashee Powder Snowcats lodge northeast of Vernon in interior British Columbia, which can easily lay claim to the best skiing in Western Canada, you travel in the same snowcat day after day. Over time the conversation becomes familial.
Steamily unbooting after eight hours of skiing steep trackless powder, a former ad man named Doug Checkeris is talking to Bruce Paitich, an orthopedic surgeon, and Andrew Pilacinski, a custom home builder, about hors d'oeuvre. The lads are here from Toronto and Montreal with four other pals. Some are visiting for their fifth year in a row.
“Are we going directly to the hot tub or to the bar?” Doug asks.
Bruce: “I say bar.”
Andrew: “Do you really need to ask?”
Bruce: “Is this a spring roll or a chicken wing night?”
Doug: “Spring roll.”
Bruce: “Really?” His tone is one of astonished wonder. There is a reason for this: The mountains make you appreciate small luxuries.
2. At Le Massif de Charlevoix, the as-yet unheralded ski resort northeast of Quebec City that boasts the best skiing in Eastern Canada (and the highest vertical east of the Rockies), you have conversations with strangers run by run, day by day.
At the moment, for instance, in the après-ski bar at the Summit Lodge, where the Quebec singer Pascale Picard (who has opened for Paul McCartney) has been belting it since the gondola closed an hour ago, a bank manager named Marie-Claude Boulanger is explaining why she comes to Le Massif despite a three-hour drive from the Eastern townships.
There are fewer beginners, there are no crowds. And “at 41 with kids,” she says, “I have no time for myself. But I can be here and be genuine.”
People tell you things after a brisk day skiing in a brilliant locale. There is a reason for this as well.
3. If you are wanting to ski powder, you should cat-ski in the Monashee Mountains, the first high range to greet moisture-laden clouds from the Pacific Ocean as they pass over the interior of British Columbia. There is always powder snow in the Monashees.
But maybe you prefer to ski in the East. Maybe the thought of sitting in the back of a snow-caterpillar with 11 other snacking skiers as it trundles its way above treeline along the spines of 2,590-metre peaks fills you with claustrophobic horror and a fear of avalanches. Maybe you'd like to spend one day skiing and another absorbing the history of Canada's founding city, interrupted by brilliant meals and nights in spectacular hotels with your partner who's not all that keen a skier in the first place.
In that case you should go to Le Massif, the rambling, still-evolving knot of snowy mountains perched on an ancient meteor crater 75 minutes northeast of Quebec on the shore of the St. Lawrence River in the Charlevoix, a region as famous for its history and food as it is for its copious snowfall. One night while I was there, 25 centimetres swirled down out of the sky.
I'm not saying you can't go to Mont Tremblant or Whistler, if you don't mind the crowds. What I am saying is that there is better skiing to be had in both ends of the land, and that I have found it.
After that, if you insist on arguing about which is better, East vs. West, that's your compulsive little problem. My suggestion, dudes, is: embrace both.
4. To get to Monashee Powder Snowcats lodge, you fly to Kelowna, B.C., drive an hour north through Lumby to Cherryville, transfer to a tire-chained yellow school bus driven by an ex-RCMP detective and Hall of Fame softball pitcher named George Kuich, who in turn churns another hour and a quarter, much of it up a snow-clogged logging road to a parking lot. There, a snowcat – a large cabin set on caterpillar snow treads, $300,000 new, $70,000 used – takes you another hour up the first part of a 150-kilometre network of snowcat-made snow-roads that give Monashee Powder access to more than 160 runs on its 66-square-kilometre tenure of exclusive ski territory.