Catskiing in the Kootenays: Hit the Backcountry In Southern BC

By Andrea Bates

Your road trip is overdue. Throw a dart on the map. Maybe you’ll get lucky and hit Ymir (pronounced Wy-mur), British Columbia which is an easy three-hour drive from Spokane, and just 20 minutes south of Nelson. Now throw your skis in the truck and go have fun with Wildhorse Catskiing and Powder Mining Co. They are all about giving you a backcountry experience where you’ll be skiing or riding what you want: powder. A daily snowcat skiing operation, they also offer three-day packages (with the Ymir Palace) from which you may not want to return.

Once on the 10-by-10 kilometer area that Wildhorse accesses, you may feel as if you have stepped onto the exterior set of the movie classic The Shining. In the last windless week, the slender alpine firs may have acquired animal characteristics, their limbs drooping with daily, fresh snow. But many of the myths of backcountry catskiing have already been busted. Among them: one neither has to be Rockefeller-rich nor a Warren-Miller-world-class-skier to have magical moments in the Kootenay region of southern B.C.

Head up the night before and check into the Ymir Palace where you’ll just have to roll out of bed and tumble down the hill for the 8 a.m. meeting with Wildhorse. Although accommodations are abundant in Salmo and Nelson, the Ymir Palace is just too convenient to overlook. Owners Belinda Hooks and Ross White purchased the vintage pole (or post/beam) structure then spent six or seven years renovating the former bordello into a completely unstuffy, guest-friendly hostel with shared bath or private small apartment.

Don’t let “shared bathroom” scare you. Each bathroom has new fresh tile, fixtures and character. By nature, my husband, Rick and I are not fussy, pillow-mint people. Our “must have” list includes close proximity to skiing, thrifty to moderately priced rooms, plenty of clean towels, unending flow of hot water, walking distance to the bar and a fridge for a six-pack. Make that a 12-pack. Bingo.

Getting to Wildhorse’s operation base is easy. Accessing the skiing terrain is not. You want an expert at the helm. As the Wildhorse website states: “A good leader must choose terrain appropriate to everyone’s skill level, the avalanche stability, terrain factors and most importantly the risk level of all members of the group.” Australian native lead guide/owner/dreamer Trevor Holsworth fits the “expert role” to a ‘T’.

Our road trip coincided with the first Wildhorse backcountry tour of the season. The area had yet to be skied and the snow had arrived in abundance. Trevor and staffer Sarah met us at the General Store just yards from the Ymir Palace. Traveling first by car and then by snowmobile-pulled sleighs, we met the Bombardier snowcat somewhere near the 12 km marker. Its captain, Danny, is just the kind of guy you want behind the wheel on steep, narrow roads outback. He digs heavy machinery, and has been working with it all his life. He hauled us to up Paradise Glade where the temperature was perfect. Jumping out of the cat, the snow was cold, deep and dry. Good start.

By then, our motley crew was better acquainted. We consisted of: three 1960s era guys with good looking gear and no beer bellies, one local day-tripper, a family of five who had returned for a second trip, my husband Rick, and myself. Add in Jenneka as tail guide (later dubbed “cat wrangler”) and it was a party.

Prior to the first run, Trevor provided obligatory education, and tested our understanding and use of transceiver/transmitters in the event of avalanche. Each of us had to prove we could locate the buried transmitter by following arrows and lights on the simple piece of electronics. Beyond that, our only concerns were “how deep” and “how long will my legs last.”

Trevor planned the day so that each run would be on freshies. With a hint of his Aussi accent, “I’m going to lay the tracks here, and you should all stay to the left (or right) of my line and meet me on the skid road.” In two turns, he would disappear into the trees and would predictably let loose his signature “hoot.”

We waited until he buzzed Jenneka’s radio. The description of what to expect would be forthcoming: the tightness of trees, logs or stumps, etc. The information made making the plunge into uncharted waters do-able. Grouped in pairs, we “leapfrogged” our way to Trevor’s post. Plenty of good-natured heckling and laughs would punctuate the trip back to the top to do it again.

For nearly five hours, this was the happily repeated routine. Too soon, the day was done, but we were just getting warmed up. Time to head back to the General Store-the 60s dudes were already talking about staying another night, and taking a chance on stand-by seating in the morning.

“Job? We don’t need no stinkin’ job!” Well, maybe just one more paycheck for fat skis…

For more information on the Wildhorse Catskiing and Mining Co. visit: or or call (888) 488-4327 or (250) 354-4441. Make sure to plan your trip in advance, which is essential.

The following prices are in US dollars:
Daily: About $301. Fat ski rental about $21.

For more information on the Ymir Palace go to or (866) 964-7466. Rooms range from $39 to $50 Canadian dollars.

From Spokane: North on Route 2 toward Newport. Take the shortcut 211 North to Usk. Go left or east on 20 then 31 to Metaline Falls. Cross border at Boundry open from 6 AM to Midnight only. Do not forget your passport! Route 31 becomes Route 6 in Canada. Follow the signs to Salmo. Town of Ymir is 10K north of Salmo. Turn-off is on right hand side. Ymir Palace is behind the General Store for meeting place is on left in 150 yards.

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