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Organize a Cat Skiing Trip, Ski at a Discount
by: Lachlan Brown
What's better than backcountry powder shared with a couple of good friends? What beats chasing your buddies through the trees, sharing great lines on open slopes and watching your mates "pop" off bumps into the "pow"? Now, if that though brings a smile, broaden the picture to include 12 good friends. Think about a day of great powder shared with the 12 people you most like to ski or ride with. Then expand that thought to three or four days in succession. Oh, yes, and throw in some uphill tranportation that gives you 12 to 15 great runs a day.
If it seems like a wild dream, it's not. Snowcat skiers are doing it every year.
Assemble your own group to share a snowcat and two guides and to control the pace of each day's skiing. The cat rides back up the mountain become almost as much fun as the runs down, filled with the old lies and jokes and stories that you all enjoy sharing. Evenings in the bar at the lodge playing pool or darts for "shots" or soaking in the hot tub just continue the fun of the day. Our "Favorite Chatter Creek Photos" (http://favorite-chatter-creek-photos.blogspot.com). were taken by some old friends who go cat skiing together every year.
Many cat skiing operators in BC encourage groups. At least two operators offer no particular incentive to group leaders, but point out the advantage to having companions that know one another and are all compatible skiers and riders. However, at least three BC operators provide group organizers a free seat and one operator offers two free seats (take 12 people, pay for 10). Other operators offer a discount ranging from $1200 per day, to $1500 for a 4-day tour. Typically, it's all or nothing and the group size must be 12 to qualify for a discount. As nice as it is to get a great discount, Group Organizers shopping for a cat skiing tour should think about group discounts last, after making a short list of operators having terrain and skiing conditions that best suits their group's needs.
Organizing a group is no cakewalk. The group organizer is the sole point of contact with the company. He or she collects and accounts for all funds, makes lump payments on behalf of the group, distributes company literature, collects client information and submits it to the company. Above all, the organizer ensures that group members understand the tour dates, transportation arrangements, meeting times and special conditions like baggage restrictions or clothing needed for the trip in to a remote lodge.
The real effort goes into filling the group with compatible skiers. A sign-up list circulated at the end of each tour always generates lots of interest in the following year. Everyone's ready to be back next year; same time, same place, same group. Fantastic! However, things change a bit in the following weeks, when the deposit becomes due. People return home and remember (or are reminded of) family vacation promises, visiting relatives, budgetary constraints and other priorities. Then it's "scramble time" for the Group Leader. The deposit is due shortly and the group is not full. Some Group Leaders end up subsidizing the group deposit.
Finally, the organizer handles last minute changes. People get sick or have emergencies or "things" happen at work and substitutes have to be arranged. Snowstorms can force last-minute changes to travel plans, requiring telephone calls to the entire group, as described in the article, "Getting to Chatter Creek: Go Early and Get there" (http://backcountrywintervacations.com/getting-to-chatter-creek.html)
You may have known your buddies for years, but you don't really understand them until you try to organize their ski trip. As one cat ski operator noted, "It's like herding cats". One or two email messages is not enough to convey critical dates and other information. There is always that benighted soul who forgets or is confused or looses forms or is always late with payments. Experience teaches the value of a standby list of people happy to step in and replace "foot-draggers". That usually focuses the attention!
Regular reminders and specific confirmation is needed to ensure that people really do understand what they need to know, and that critical dates and times really have been recorded in next year's calendar, and not this year's. If the meeting point is in a different time zone, alarm bells have to be rung regularly, or people will forget the time shift, or get it backward. People need reminding that there is a day of travel before and after the dates of the tour. If tour members are married, it's a good idea to ensure their wives know "the drill".
Different organizers handle their discount in different ways. Merle McKnight, manager of Chatter Creek, in Golden recommends, "Put it in your pocket, you've earned it!" Many organizers do just that. Others share the discount with the group members, giving everyone a small discount. One organizer rents a bus to take his group from Calgary to Golden, where his cat skiing tour starts. That tour really starts and ends in Calgary and everything in between is a blur.
In the end, whatever frustration a group organizer may bear falls right away on that first run of the annual tour, as one's mates charge down the hill, with whoops and hollers and powder snow flying. The grins on their faces make it all worth while!
Having written so much about organizing groups, I should add that, over the years, I've had a number trips with two or three friends, sharing a snowcat with strangers. Without exception, these trips have been wonderful experiences. I've made new friends and have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Even though I am an experienced skier, I have rarely felt held back by weaker skiers. Well, perhaps just once. Snowcat skiing is so "laid back" and relaxed and guides are so skilled, that a range in ability within a group can "work" very well. Most snowcat skiing operators encourage just strong intermediate and expert skiers, so "slower" skiers are rarely far behind. More often than not, they end up waiting while the hotshots "scope out" special challenges; cliffs, bumps and the like.
If you don't really know what cat skiing is, check out Cat Skiing Articles at http://cat-skiing-articles.blogspot.com/.