Interview by Tom Jackson
1. Let’s start with the name – Snowwater Heliskiing Canada. I’m sure linguists love it – a word that describes an element in two different physical states, right? Do you have other examples (kidding)? Or do you raft and fish in the summer, in which case you need a comma: Snow, Water. So what’s the story with the name Snowwater Heli-Skiing Heli-Boarding??
Yes our name can be somewhat misleading, as it sounds like we either have watery snow (which of course we don’t), or that we provide activities involving both snow and water (when we only provide skiing). Actually, Snowwater is named after the largest Peak above our lodge, Snowwater Peak. This creek, which runs from Snowwater Peak, is our main water source and also feeds our hydro-plant, providing us with eco-friendly power for 2/3’s of the year.
2. The Kootenays enjoy a reputation of tons of snow and great trees. Describe the terrain you ski at Snowwater, please.
Ina nutshell that is the Kootenay: tons of light snow and world famous tree skiing.
The terrain at Snowwater Heli-Skiing is superb. We have acres and acres of steep old growth forests, with runs from 1500 to over 3000 vertical feet. The snow is consistently light and powdery. We also have high alpine bowls, steep couloirs, and meadow after meadow of unbroken powder. We really have it all and are able to ski every day in great conditions most of the season.
3. You also run Valhalla Powder Cats. What are the similarities and differences?
Valhalla is a snowcat business, offering single and multiday trips. At this point there is no lodge based skiing (this is planned to change as well), although we offer accommodation in Nelson or the Slocan Valley with these packages. At Snowwater, we have a secluded on-mountain lodge, complete with fine dining, hot tubs, heated floors and massage facilities. All of our trips are all-inclusive, so it is a very relaxing atmosphere. We also have snowcat backup at Snowwater, which means we never have a down day – ever.
I would say that Valhalla is particularly known for its terrain. There is a huge variety of steep fall-line descents through trees, cliff features, chutes, or wide open bowls – it is simply the best cat skiing around
4. What is the average price paid per vertical foot at your catskiing and heliskiing operations?
I’m not sure of those statistics actually. What I do know is that we offer the most cost-effective skiing in the industry. Unlimited vertical at both ops! I would imagine the cost is well under average to the client. This is one of the reasons we went to all-inclusive. Nobody really wants to spend all day counting vertical, and having to ski runs to the bottom when the conditions are perfect. We ski where the snow is best, as long as clients want to, and there is are no arguments at the end of the trip about vert![Nice dodge, Maria!]
5. You offer catskiing backup, which I have benefited from personally. We alternated all day as the weather blew in and out. Very cool. How often do you use the cat backup?
It really depends on the season and the month. Some seasons when the snowfall is nonstop, it can be challenging for us to get too far in the heli. But we have now spent three summers glading this local terrain, and it has virtually changed the entire experience. It is simply fantastic backup terrain, or bad weather heli terrain. Some seasons we can go for weeks without ever stepping into the cat, other times we use it more often. But if we use it, it usually means it’s really dumping – so nobody ever complains!
We are proud to have pioneered ‘snowcat backup’ in Canada, effectively eliminating ‘down days,’ and ensuring all guests ski or ride everyday.
6. Your Kootenay Sampler is a unique way to combine resort skiing, catskiing and heliskiing at a very reasonable price. Explain that package, please.
Yes this is probably the best value in the industry! It is a one of a kind package. This is a progressive 7-day powder trip allowing the client to ease into the week, and culminates in 3 unlimited days of heli skiing at the lodge. A lot of Europeans like to come for 7-day trips when they come all the way across the ocean – and this is one of their favorites.
You can pick from either Whitewater (which has a new lift), or Red Resort for a starter day. Then ski two days with Valhalla [Powder Cats], enjoying cat skiing and getting used to deep, untracked powder in the big mountains. This is followed by a rest day, whereupon you can enjoy Nelson, and its abundance of ski and art shops, as well as make a trip to Ainsworth Hot Springs – which has limestone caves to swim in and is really worth a rejuvenating visit! Finally the trip culminates in 3 days of heli skiing at Snowwater, living like royalty for the rest of this Kootenay adventure! All ski rentals, accommodation and most meals are included. It’s really a fantastic value for one’s money.
7. You make it possible to get to the lodge in one day from the left coast, right?
We changed our arrival time to 4:30pm at our office. The late arrival time allows guests to make it here in one day. We found that people would prefer to get here all in one day, than to have the experience of flying into the lodge, and have to spend an extra day travelling there and back. It also allows the lodge staff a couple of hours to clean all the en suite bathrooms after the guests leave, as clients usually like to shower just before they leave.
8. Do most guests fly into Castlegar, BC or Spokane, Washington?
Most guests fly into Spokane, rent a car and then drive up. Castlegar is a bit of a gamble with weather as it is a small airport. But some people still fly there, or to Trail with Pacific Coastal , which tends to be more reliable than Castlegar, but is a longer drive to our office.
9. We rented a car in Spokane, and enjoyed a beautiful 3.5-hour drive. How far is Castelgar?
Castlegar is a 15 minute drive to our office – located at the junction of highway 3A and 6.
10. Is Snowwater exclusively unlimited vertical pricing?
Yes that is correct. We offer exclusively unlimited vertical, all-inclusive trips. Why get an extra bill at the end of your trip?
11. What is the average vertical for a week at Snowwater Heli Skiing Canada?
It is easier for me to say what the average vertical is per day, as we offer mainly 3 and 4 day trips. It is common that clients will get 20,000 vert. a day, and even as high as 40,000. No one ever complains about vertical here. [Epic]
12. You now include three glasses of wine with dinner? I think I know who had that idea! Patric is kind of a wild man. How can you keep up?
Actually we include all wine and beer with your trip, but politically that is how we have to say it.
And Patric is now our in-house sommelier!
Keeping up with Patric? Well, that is a combination of years of practice…and knowing when to ignore him!
13. I liked that your lodges are limited to only 12 guests. What are the advantages and disadvantages to being a boutique operator?
Yes we offer a very high service with this small amount of clientele. Next year we plan to go to single occupancy, so there is a lot of new construction in our future, including a spa building, man cave, and gourmet teaching kitchen.
Our goal with each trip is to provide a heliski experience that is as exclusive as it is personalized. We are creating a Snowwater alumni who love to return year after, naming new runs, enjoying the changes, and becoming our friends who we often visit in the offseason. Also, small groups really allow us to provide exception cuisine and cocktail service!
But alas, catering to only 12 people isn’t really an opportunity doused in high profit margins. It turns out we do this for a lifestyle that we have grown to love and could never give up. This is why most ops have at least 18 people at their lodges and often as much as 36. It really gives them the chance to put more money in their pockets, but it is nothing like the close, intimate experience we have here, that keeps our clients and staff coming back year after year.
14. Who is your favorite booking agent and why?
Well TJ of course! Ha!
Our favorite booking agent is the agent who brings us the most clients! It is great to have an agent who you know is really rooting for you and helping to convince clients that this is a great place to come. With us being small, agents are limited in what they can sell to make money on us. We understand that, but we still hope that they see the value in promoting our business! Agents that are easy to work with through the whole booking process as the favorite – and TJ is definitely at the top for how he deals with both clients and operators. [nothing like begging for a compliment, eh?]
15. Is there anything else you would like to add about Snowwater Heli Skiing Canada?
Yes Snowwater is small group heli skiing. We fly in small, cohesive groups in the fastest and most powerful machines in the industry – the B2 A-star. Small group heli skiing is unlike any other type of skiing. It will magnify your entire wilderness experience in the mountains and change your life forever.
Finally our mandate is simply to be better and better every year – always striving for ways to improve and keep us interested and motivated. There are a lot of plans down the line for Snowwater – just wait and see – it’s quite exciting!
Thanks, Maria. I had a great time at Snowwater and hope to get back up there soon. ‘Hi’ to Patric, too. This interview will end like every Snowwater Heliskiing trip, with fireworks!