WHEN ITS HAMMERING SNOW and the choppers are grounded, superstars like freeskier Seth Morrison head to Nelson, British Columbia, where they often find the best snowcat skiing on the planet. Nelson's surroundings offer 3,000-foot shots of fall-line tree skiing, cliffs fit for backward off-axis flips, regular three-foot dumps that keep the landings downy soft, and eight operators less than a couple hours' drive away. Here's a look at Nelson's best cat-ski operations. Oh, and did we mention you'll spend an average of 70 percent less than you would on a week of heli-skiing?
White Grizzly Adventures
If crowds aren't your thing but steep tree skiing is, head to White Grizzly, a five-bedroom log cabin tucked in a secluded cedar forest. The Jacuzzi out back and the single-malt Scotch in front of the fireplace might give the impression that the White Grizzly experience isn't core. Don't be fooled. Its 5,000-acre terrain is home to some of the most technical tree slalom in existence, and the 12-person groups mean more runs and an average of 18,000 vertical feet per day.
»Where: 56 miles north of Nelson on Provincial Highway 31
»Cost: US$527 per person per day,
»SWEETEST STASH: Love Triangle is steep, tight, and full of small cliffs
»Contact: 250-366-4306, www.whitegrizzly.com
Start off with a quick heli-ride from Nelson to this mountaintop handcrafted-timber lodge and seven surrounding cabins with a rock-star clientele, then go in search of fall-line freshies that stretch over 36,000 acres, followed by a feast of buffalo steaks, curries, and cedar-plank salmon topped off with bowls of chocolate soufflé;. Bring your snowboard—many of the guides are uni-plankers and choose runs that don't call for traversing.
»Where: A five-minute heli-ride due north of Nelson
»Cost: US$575$700 per person per day, including meals
»SWEETEST STASH: Go airborne at Lunch Lake, which offers multiple cliffs with perfect long, steep runouts
»Contact: 250-352-0006, www.baldface.net
Tracking Device: It's not how you get to the top, it's the ride down that matters
Retallack Resort and Alpine Adventures
Seth Morrison and fellow freeskier Dan Treadway filmed segments for a Poorboys Productions ski film in Retallack's high-alpine powder bowls last January. With 3,500-foot descents that take you through three different climate zones and more open-bowl skiing than most operators deliver near Nelson, Retallack is for devotees of steep and deep. The lodge, which sleeps 24, is powered strictly by its own hydroelectric plant, so the three-story fireplace comes in handy on cold nights—as do the heavy German chicken-fried steak and green beans, fuel for the next day, when you'll be arcing two-foot-deep turns down 30-degree faces.
»Where: 62 miles northwest of Nelson off Provincial Highway 31A
»Cost: US$443 per person per day, including meals
»SWEETEST STASH: Big Woody, a forest of 100-foot cedars
»Contact: 800-330-1433, www.retallack.com
Valhalla is one of very few single-day skiing options near Nelson, which makes it perfect for those who want an extra powder shot after skiing the groomers of nearby Red Resort or Whitewater Winter Resort. And with seasoned guides like Chris Moyle, who does harrowing heli-rescues in his spare time, you'll feel right at home among the 50,000 acres of steep fluted stashes, elegant rolling bowls, and hike-up summits.
»Where: Stay at historic Nelson landmark the Hume Hotel (doubles, $75; 250-352-5331, www.humehotel.com) AND meet a shuttle west of town for the 30-minute drive to the snowcat
»Cost: US$333 per person per day (cat skiing only)
»SWEETEST STASH: If you've got a strong stomach and like big drops, Magic Nose is excitingly vertical, with no option but to go big
»Contact: 888-352-7656, www.valhallapow.com