This won’t be like the articles in ski or skiing or skied or any of the other conjugations. They’re better. The writers remember the names of everything. Run names, names of peaks, names of guides, people-they-skied-with-names, even the names of the wines in the wine pairings and the type of exotic fowl they were paired with. Probably that particular fowl’s personal name too. I try to remember that stuff but it doesn’t happen. By the end of a four day cat trip, I start to think I know the names of the people in the cat, but then I realize I’m just reading them off their rental skis. Bad penmanship has had me calling Peter “Leter” for an entire day and sorry, but if you brought your own skis so there’s no tag on them, your name is Dude.
That said, what I do recall of Mustang Powder is that of all the cat and heli operations I’ve skied with (ten I think, but again, I may have forgotten a few), it’s my favorite. That said, it’s not fun getting there. Ski-buddy Chris and I leave Seattle at 6:30 in the morning and with coffee, lunch, gas, the pretty much mandatory duty-free border stop and a 20 minute wait at the snow-shed on the Coquihalla Highway for something involving a tow truck but we were never sure what, roll into the truck stop at exactly 3:30. Per the website, “Please arrive NO LATER THAN 3:30 at the truck stop.” Hey, someone has to go last. We throw bags and an embarrassing number of skis into the very large, very chained-up, very noisy old school bus and then it’s time to rattle up the snow road for a butt-numbing hour or two. It feels like four. At the top of the road it’s snowing hard, dumping really and we immediately forget the bus ride ever happened. We make the departing skiers tell us how awesome its been, chain gang load bags and skis into giant boxes the cats will carry up then we’re off for another hour-plus ride, this time in the snow cats, up to the lodge. The dumpage continues and as we near the lodge we see outlines of ski tracks descending to the road, being blurred and buried by the fresh.
The food at Mustang, is absurdly, unnecessarily good. Once we’ve moved into our rooms (thankfully Chris-snores-like-a-buffalo and I get separate ones) dinner transpires and it’s some kind of soup made of pureed magical goodness, followed by venison afloat in an impossibly tasty sauce and then a dessert involving palm-tree shaped cookie contraptions emerging from limey something-or-other that’s really good too. After dinner (or maybe before, who knows – by this point the results of that duty-free border stop are in effect) announcements are made, weather, snow, a few watch out for this and thats and the all important schedule comes to light: we start early and ski late. This is one of the very cool things about Mustang. Yes there’s awesome food, a hot tub and great people, but it’s really all about getting in tons of skiing. We start when it’s barely light and ski until it’s almost dark.
Morning one is avalanche school for an hour or so and then we head up. The good news is there’s lots of new (they talk centimeters so it sounds like even more), the bad news is the wind has cranked up overnight and it’s still blowing hard in places up high. We do one low-angle-ish run to warm up in nice, boot-top snow and then our guide wants to check out another aspect nearby. We get out of the cat and the wind is ripping, blowing straight up the slope producing barely skiable wind-pack festooned with tree debris that the 50 mph gusts have torn off the trees and ground into the snow. It’s terrible and I’m thinking, is this what we’re in for all four days? Nope. With that unfortunate piece of data gathered, the Mustang ski algorithm takes us to protected, awesomely steep tree runs and knee deep snow for the rest of the day. And our guide Bruno (Ha! I do remember his name) is exactly what you want a guide to be. Low key, an awesome skier and really only interested in skiing the steepest, funnest-of-the-fun runs. We’ve got some kick-butt young Aussies in our cat who are willing to huck themselves off pretty much anything and once Bruno figures this out, he starts each lap with “if you’re interested in a bit of a sporty line come with me, otherwise check out the route over there.” We quickly come to understand that ‘sporty’ is Canadian guide for cliff drop. As fun as that sounds, my 58 year knees know better, so I take the near-vertical alternative routes and leave the truly-vertical to the young guys and Bruno, who drops them with ease while wearing a thirty pound pack. This works out great. The Aussies get the drops leaving the other routes way less tracked up for the rest of us.
Chris and I swap skis around, rotating between this year’s K2 Pettitors, RMU Professors and Armada TSTs. The Pettitors are really fun and skiable this year (they’ve softened them up to work for mere mortals); they definitely feel like a big mountain ski, built to go fast in deep snow, a little less pivoty and quick in the trees than some others. The Professors are a ton of fun, a big 122 under foot, but light enough that they’re quick and versatile. Chris’s reaction to the Professors, “I want a pair.” The TSTs aren’t particularly wide, only 102 under foot, but they remain a favorite powder ski for me, weighing only 145 pounds. They’ve got a tail (tip rocker only), so they love to go fast in powder, yet they’re so light in the tip that they’re a perfect, quick-turning tree ski. I’m also sporting a BCA 22 Float pack which works great as a day-skiing airbag. Enough room for a probe, shovel and a few stray items and light enough at 5.5 pounds that if the avalanche danger is there, I’m wearing it. It’s also got a well shaped pull handle: there when you need it, but not so big and prominent that it’s in danger of catching on things.
The days blur together, the first three all being limited by visibility and wind so we’re largely in the trees (my favorite place to be anyway, so I’m happy). On day four, our last, the weather warms a bit, the sun comes out, the wind is done and we spend the day in the high alpine. What was an unfortunate wind-crust bakes away, leaving knee-deep to boot-top snow on 2,000 vertical foot slopes. The terrain is ever-changing, rolling and pitched perfectly for high speed powder descents. At times we can see all the way to the bottom of the run from its start, allowing for swooping crazy-fast long turns and floats off rollers. We all ski like heroes, faster and better than we have any right to.
The end of the last day is a scramble to get changed, gear where it’s supposed to be so it comes home with us, goodbyes made to the ridiculously friendly staff and then it’s planes, trains and automobiles all over again to get us back to reality. Next stop was Revelstoke, but that’s a post for another day.
Mustang Powder 2014: