Skeena Cat Skiing
Planning Your Trip
Arrive Early: Smithers Ski Packages
If you are flying to Skeena, we suggest adding a few days to your experience to explore the local ski resort in the area. Everyone travelling for any ski holiday in BC should NOT travel on a tight schedule. For example, a weather delay in Chicago will mean you miss your connection to Vancouver and then are late for your holiday. Put in a ‘buffer’ day in your travel plans, and enjoy the local ski hill prior to your cat skiing holiday.
- Check out Hudson Bay Mountain in Smithers, BC, to get warmed up prior to the cat skiing trip
- Find great deals on ski and accommodation at Ski & Stay Smithers
For inquiries on ski holiday packages with Skeena and Hudson Bay Mountain
Travel and Transportation
Guests should travel to Smithers two days before their first cat ski day.
From New years until January 23, guests will be transported from Smithers to base camp by bus and snowcat. From January 26 until the end of the season, guests will be transported by helicopter. Please note that the current Air Canada afternoon flight from Vancouver to Smithers does not allow enough time for you to arrive in Smithers and travel directly to Skeena Base camp that same day. So unless more flights are added, you should organize your plane travel to arrive in Smithers 2 days prior to your first day of cat skiing.
For example for the February 13-16 trip, arrive by your Air Canada flight on the afternoon of February 11 and spend the night in Smithers, Ski at Hudson Bay Mountain on February 12, and fly by helicopter from Smithers to Skeena Base Camp in the late afternoon of February 12 – and start cat skiing on February 13.
Helicopter transfer from the Smithers airport to the Skeena Base Camp is an additional cost of $400 roundtrip plus tax, which is not included in the cost of the trip paid to Skeena. Due to helicopter travel, guests are limited to a total luggage weight of 35 lbs, including ski boots. Guests are permitted to bring one set of skis or one snowboard which are NOT included in the 35 lbs. If weather prevents a helicopter transfer, guests will travel by vehicle and snowcat – at no cost.
Equipment & Rentals
Nearly all of our guests will be flying to Smithers for their back country powder holiday at Skeena.
Flying with skis is cumbersome and costly, so we want guests to know that we have plenty of good rental skis: Kastle; Volkl; Armada etc. We also have ski poles for everyone – even if you bring your own skis, don’t bring poles. (We want to reduce the luggage weight on the helicopter to the lodge) We don’t however rent snowboards, so bring your own gear if you are a boarder.
Each Skeena guest will be given a small Avalanche airbag backpack containing a rescue shovel and probe. Furthermore we provide all guests with an Avalanche transceiver. All other clothing and gear should bring brought to Skeena by guests – Helmet, goggles, gortex outer garments etc. Make sure you wear your warm winter gear when travelling from Smithers to the base camp by ground (Before January 26) or by Helicopter (on and after January 26).
Skeena Cat Skiing
At Skeena Cat Skiing, our #1 priority is your safety. We developed a comprehensive safety program and have put together a team of guides made up of some of the top and most influential professionals in the avalanche industry. All of our guides are members of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) as well as the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA), and many have been guiding for 20-plus years.
The most important factor in risk avoidance is planning and preparation and we have developed our safety program with this in mind. Skeena Cat Skiing is also a member of HeliCat Canada, ensuring that we meet a comprehensive set of operating guidelines. During your holiday you will be provided with an avalanche transceiver and a small avalanche airbag backpack. Inside the backpack will be a shovel and probe. On the first morning of your trip you will take part in a companion rescue training session.
Despite the numerous measures we take in order to make your backcountry holiday as safe as possible, it is important that guests understand that a mountain environment is dangerous and that you must accept the inherent risks of being in the backcountry. All guests are required to sign a liability waiver prior to skiing or snowboarding.
Skeena Cat Skiing
Skeena Cat Skiing has one of the largest and most skiable tenures providing endless terrain to explore! From open alpine bowls to naturally gladed treed runs, and everything in between, the following stats outline what we have to offer.
Our terrain is more than double the size of other “big” cat ski operations in BC. We have 50 runs now, and we have only scratched the surface. This year we will double the size of our terrain and we will continue to expand every year until all skiable terrain is accessible by snowcat. Endless wide-open bowls to explore, fresh tracks with the signature fluffy powder of the north. The experience and access we will be able to provide will be simply unbeatable.
- Coordinates: 55°29’00.0″N 127°16’00.0″W
- Highest Elevation: 2,000 meters (7,000 feet). Treeline is at around 1500 meters in the Skeena Mountains.
- Run Lengths: 300 meters to 600 vertical meters (1,000-2000 ft.)
- Average Daily Runs: 10 to 15
- Average Daily Vertical: 12,000 feet to 18,000 feet (3,600 meters to 4,600 meters)
A ski holiday at Skeena will involve ski runs in wide-open alpine, and terrain below the tree line. The treed terrain is necessary for the cloudy and snowy days, as the trees create the visibility needed in a white-out. On clear days, we are up in the big alpine bowls and wide-open meadows, with unbeatable views. This terrain and snow is where Skeena really stands out as a truly unique experience.
Best Chance for First Decents
Your chances of getting first lines and first descents at Skeena are the best that BC has to offer. Each season Skeena has developed new runs and now has between 40 and 50 runs, with more being added for winter (2022-23).
Being located further north than the majority of cat and heli-ski destinations in BC means that the tree-line at Skeena is at a much lower elevation. With the planned expansion of our skiable area for winter 2021-22, we are opening up the north portion of the Gail Creek zone, which will result in tons of new alpine runs added. With this expansion, we will nearly DOUBLE THE SIZE of the skiable terrain, which, in turn, will double the experience! The following season we will expand into the Thomlinson zone.
Within a few years, we plan to create a ‘Cat Assisted Ski Touring Lodge’ in the Natlan sub-range of the Skeena Mountains. This range is separate from the main Skeena Cat Skiing areas of the Thomlinson and Gail Creek Mountains. A horseshoe-shaped valley provides the perfect location for a ski touring lodge. The lodge will be surrounded by big peaks, close to tree skiing runs. The morning and late afternoon snowcat lift will allow guests to double their downhill skiing vertical each day while allowing the bulk of the day to be a quiet and peaceful ski touring experience. Check out the spectacular Natlan terrain we will use for this future project — coming soon!
Big Alpine Terrain
The thing that sets Skeena apart from other Cat ski operations is the quality and quantity of own big high alpine terrain. A lot of southern BC cat skiing is done below treeline. Tree skiing is excellent and important on cloudy days, but when the visibility is clear at Skeena, you will be in spectacular high alpine bowls. Skeena also has good tree runs – and we are embarking on an ambitious tree spacing program in order to improve the lower sections of our tree runs
Skeena Cat Skiing
Skeena Cat Skiing acknowledges and gives thanks to the Gitxsan Nation for allowing us to operate on their unceded traditional territories. We recognize and honour the Gitxsan peoples’ land rights and title, and are appreciative of all those fighting to protect the land, resources, and environment.
Skeena’s ski tenure is located 80km directly north of Smithers, BC, and approximately 200km from the Alaskan panhandle border. The tenured area is over 30,000 hectares — one of the largest in BC! This area has long been known by local loggers and powderhounds as a crazy snow belt. Here is where the warm, moist Pacific air collides with the cold, dry air from the interior creating huge dumps of perfect powder snow. The local mountains further enhance the accumulation. If it’s snowing anywhere in BC, it’s most likely snowing at Skeena Cat Skiing!
And all of this is accessible in a short and affordable trip from Vancouver! No matter where you live, you can fly via Vancouver on a short 1.5-hour flight to Smithers, BC.
- From January 26 till the end of the season, guests will be transported to base camp by helicopter and/or van and cat depending on weather and daylight. The cost for the helicopter transfer is approximately $400 (roundtrip) and is NOT included in your Skeena holiday cost.
- If weather prevents us from flying one or both ways, we will arrange travel to and/or from the Base Camp as required, by bus and snowcat. (at no cost). Prior to January 26, due to the shortage of daylight, all transfers to/from Base camp and Smithers is done by ground. The Helicopter transfers commence on January 26 and until the end of the season.
- On the way home, return flights to Vancouver are available from the Smithers Airport.
Skeena co-owner Nick Holmes-Smith and wife Ali also own Mustang Powder Cat Skiing, and Nick recommends the Skeena experience for its accessibility (among other reasons). “I can honestly say that it is much quicker and easier to go to Skeena than Mustang and most other cat and heli operations in Southern BC”.
Skeena Cat Skiing
Our Snow Cats
At Skeena, we operate with Pisten Bully (PB), Prinoth, and Bombardier snowcats. We have two big red PB 600’s as our main group cats, one Prinoth 350 for road building, two BR 275’s and one older BR 400. Only two group cats go skiing each day, so in the event of a cat breakdown, we have plenty of backup snowcats to keep guests skiing while repairs are made.
Pisten Bully snowcats are made in Germany and are like German cars: Great performers, fun to drive, but expensive to repair. The closed profile track grousers allow these machines to climb well, and they are fast (well, fast for a snowcat!). Our 2 main cats are mid-hour machines and with their enormous engines are the kings of the snowcat industry. Some of the snowcat photos on this website show the older Bombardier snowcats. Please know that we now use the faster, newer and smoother Pisten Bullies.
Another great quality of these machines is their suspension system. When you spend a few hours a day with the cat, this becomes a very important factor. It makes it much quieter in the back and easier to talk about how great your last run was.
The engine in the PB600 is a 400 HP Mercedes diesel with 1900 ft-lbs of torque, in the PR 350 we have the 350 Horsepower cat engine. This is more than adequate power to get groups quickly to the tops of the runs. They aren’t racing machines, but they can sure climb.
Our mechanic spends evenings checking over the snowcats and doing any repairs and services that may be needed. In the off-season, we do a comprehensive summer service to all the snowcats. This proactive maintenance work minimizes breakdowns during the winter. If you are the sort of person who is interested in machinery, during your ski holiday don’t hesitate to talk to Jevon about cats and machinery.
Skeena Cat Skiing
Skeena Cat Skiing basecamp is positioned at approximately 1,500 meters, halfway up the Gail Ridge ski area. The trees and land formations provide sufficient shelter for the camp, and the nearby glacial stream provides the camp with water. But the heartbeat of basecamp is the power generator that supplies electricity to the entire camp.
Our basecamp consists of warm insulated bedroom tents that are 12’ x 12’ ; one very large common tent and the shower house. Most guests will share a tent with a friend, but there are several single-bedroom tents that will be allotted to solo travellers and other guests on a first-come-first-served basis.
- The common tent contains the kitchen, dining, and lounging areas. Our wood-burning stove provides the heat as well as a cozy atmosphere. A boot dryer is also located in the common tent.
- The heated bedroom tents each have two single beds with comfortable mattresses, warm bedding, a fluffy pillow, a coat rack, a night table, and an electrical outlet. New this season in the bedroom tents are porta-potty toilets.
- The shower house has shower stalls and sinks with the water being heated by an on-demand system. We supply towels, organic shampoo, conditioner, and soap.
Skeena Cat Skiing
All of our meals are prepared on-site from scratch by our talented chef, using organic ingredients, locally grown meat, and wild seafood. The breakfast buffet includes homemade apple and cinnamon oat porridge, yogurt, granola, and fruit followed by a plated hot breakfast. Lunches are made fresh every morning. We do not have a scheduled stop for lunch on ski days, so guests may help themselves whenever they are hungry. Upon returning to basecamp after your day of skiing, hors d’oeuvres are served in the common tent. Around 7 pm, a three or four-course plated dinner is served, featuring soup or salad, an entree, and dessert. Bar snacks are available during the evening. Non-alcoholic beverages are included.