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Ian Brown skis Take It or Leave It on Monashee Powder Snowcats' terrain in the interior of B.C. (Colleen Gentemann/Colleen Gentemann)
Ian Brown skis Take It or Leave It on Monashee Powder Snowcats' terrain in the interior of B.C. (Colleen Gentemann/Colleen Gentemann)

East vs. West: Where's best skiing in Canada? Add to ...

8. One of the things people talk about in the back of a snowcat as they trundle their way to the top of a mountain 10 and 12 times a day is whether helicopter skiing is better than cat-skiing. It's certainly more expensive: a minimum of $6,700 for four days of bare-bones heli-skiing vs. a bargain of between $2,000 and $3,200 for the same stretch in a cat (January is cat-skiing high season, but it snows until April). Helicopters get higher faster, but they can't fly when it's foggy or snowing heavily, whereas a cat can roll in any weather. There is some (debatable) thinking that cat-skiing is safer. Helicopter guides frequently have to make quick decisions about whether a slope is safe to ski, within a vast flyable territory, whereas a cat guide has more time to assess conditions in a smaller territory that he moves through every day. Cat guides certainly seem calmer, and they last longer in the job.

Karl Klassen, the chief guide at Monashee Powder, spends half his time as the Canadian Avalanche Association's public warnings manager in Revelstoke. He has been in the guiding game 30 years, and sees his delicate and difficult job as “putting together a well-thought-out risk management plan” that will keep his clients both safe and happy. He also brings his 10-year-old son up to the Monashees. Having observed him in sober action and meticulous daily guide meetings, I would let him guide mine as well.

9. What I remember best about the Monashees were the last runs we took. We'd been skiing for two days under cloudless skies – at least 23 runs, some 6,400 metres of vertical, through trees thick and thin, down wide bowls, even off half a dozen peaks that normally don't get skied more than twice in two years. But on the third and last morning the lodge was solidly fogged in.

We climbed into the cat and made our way up the ghostly mountain. You could just see tracks from the previous day in the woods, artifacts proving we had been there.

Then the cat poked through the cloud cover, and we climbed onto a bright peak to ski a slope called Epiphany. Karl Klassen told a joke. “What's the difference between God and a mountain guide?” he asked. “God doesn't think of himself as a mountain guide.” We laughed anyway. Then Karl showed us what we were going to ski, hazards to watch for, and where to head so that we all got fresh snow but still ended up together at the bottom. He did not mean it as a metaphor, but maybe it was. Maybe the metaphor is one reason people like to ski.

Below us, the valley was filled with boiling cloud. But up above we could see for miles. For a few moments it was all ours, and it skied that way, too.

IF YOU GO

West: Fly into Kelowna airport and book a shuttle bus ($65 return) or rent a car to reach Monashee Powder Snowcats, a little over three hours away. Off-season rates (March, April) start at $450 a day. 1-866-678-7669. For more information visit monasheepowder.com.

East: A return trip aboard Le Massif ski train (breakfast, lift ticket and an après-ski meal) costs $229. Lift tickets at the hill are $67. For more on Le Massif de Charlevoix, go to lemassif.com.

For more on Auberge Saint-Antoine in Quebec City, go to saint-antoine.com or call 1-888-692-2211. From $189.

For more about Auberge La Muse in Baie-Saint-Paul, go to lamuse.com or call 1-800-841-6839. From $99.

Travel arranged by Tourism British Columbia and Tourism Quebec.

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