Passengers unload from the snowcat at the top of Mount Kirkup. Pam LeBlanc photo
It turns out that the world is filled with bad-ass women who like to do the same kind of stuff that I do – and I found a bunch of them at Red Mountain.
I met Cristi Sullivan and Drue Kerns in a wooden, barrel-shaped sauna at The Josie Hotel where I stayed this week. We sweated together for a few minutes, and the women, both from Missoula, Montana, invited me to ski with them yesterday. Without a moment’s hesitation I said yes.
I quickly discovered they’re experts. Cristi, an anesthesiologist, used to compete in ski racing. Drue, a horseback riding instructor, likes to go fast and steep. I spent the day trying to keep up with them, and it made me a better skier.
Drue Kerns, left, and Cristi Sullivan ride a lift at Red Mountain Resort. Pam LeBlanc photo
I caught my first lift at 9 a.m., and we didn’t stop skiing until almost 3 p.m. (Lunch? Who’s got time for that?)
In between, we caught a ride on the mountain’s snowcat, which hauls skiers to the top of Mount Kirkup, where they can swoop down through steep gladed terrain. (The cat wasn’t running earlier this week, because the freeze-thaw cycle had wreaked havoc on snow conditions; an inch or two of fresh snow made it doable Tuesday.)
Red Mountain, in British Columbia, is the only place I know where you don’t have to fork over hundreds of dollars for a cat-skiing experience. It’s refreshingly no-frills. You ski to a designated meeting spot, climb onto the cat, and hand the driver $10 Canadian.
The snowcat attendant collects $10 Canadian from the passengers. Pam LeBlanc photo
We happened to pull up just as it was loading. The cat – kind of like a big tractor – holds about a dozen folks. A 15-minute ride delivered us to the bald top of the mountain, where we clambered out, popped on our skis, and dove into 200-acres of ungroomed snow.
The cat operates, weather permitting, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. daily, and accesses only advanced terrain. Skiers should be capable of making tight turns and handling off-piste trees and powder. No reservations are needed.
Since I survived that just fine, we stepped it up a notch. Cristi and Drue escorted me to a place called Capt. Jack’s Trees, a never-ending double black run that I’d never have gone down had I been skiing alone. I tipped over a few times, but bounded right up, made a bunch of tight turns, and got myself down the gnarliest slopes I’ve ever navigated.
Cristi Sullivan skis down a gladed run at Red Mountain Resort. Pam LeBlanc photo
I love hanging out with strong women. They spurred me on; I regaled them with stories. We finished with beers on the outdoor patio of The Josie Hotel at the base, where a trio of French Canadian women, also tough and spirited, pulled up chairs. They’d spent the day hiking up to terrain that’s not served by lifts. Their husbands were off at the grocery, getting food to cook dinner.
We got a laugh out of that, and talked about how Red Mountain seems to attract athletic, independent women, and how we liked the low-key vibe of the place. We just wished we’d gotten to experience the massive dumps of snow for which the mountain is known. (The forecast calls for some later this week. My timing’s off.)
“And the $10 cat skiing was pretty cool,” Drue said. “To return here on a powder day would be dreamy.”
Passengers unload the snowcat at the top of Mount Kirkup on Tuesday. Pam LeBlanc photo
We all liked the lack of crowds, the sprawling size of the place, and the down-to-earth, friendly people.
“The mountains are legit,” Cristi said, noting that we saw tons of ski tracks leading down out-of-bounds, extremely steep gullies and faces. “The lift-access back country is plentiful, and there’s every type of terrain.”
If I hang around with women like this often enough, I’ll be making some of those tracks myself soon.
Cristi Sullivan and Drue Kerns enjoy a plate of poutine – french fries, cheese curds and gravy – at The Josie Hotel at Red Mountain Resort. Pam LeBlanc photo