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Some two-and-a-half hours south of Calgary sits Castle Mountain. Pete Coombs spent two days skiing this welcoming resort and quickly found himself among friends
cat skiing castle mountain canada
I’m sitting on a slow lift in the bright Albertan sunshine above a sea of untouched powder. Suddenly, as if shot from a gun, four young skiers fly into view, taking huge air from a rock band, before vanishing into the snow-stacked trees with only their tracks in the snow and their whoops of joy trailing on the wind to show they’d been there at all.

But I’m not stressed, not chomping at the bit to ride the powder before it gets tracked out, no, not at all. I sit back, relaxed in the knowledge that all the seats in front of me are empty, and the slopes are deadly quiet again.

Andrew Rusynyk, who has worked at Castle Mountain for 13 years, broke the silence.
‘That guy at the back there, the one who got the biggest air, is a real nice lad. Back when he was only 11, he volunteered to tidy up the mountain every day so as to get a free lift pass. He’d catch a ride up here anyway he could after school, ride the hill for an hour or so, then, once the lifts shut, he’d ski down picking up any litter he could find.’

Castle is that kind of place, everyone knows everyone, and if they don’t know you they soon will. Testament to this was that only a few minutes after walking into the resort’s only bar alone, I was sitting around a table with all the locals, supping beer like I was with a group of old friends.

Castle is owned by a group of local shareholders, who bought the resort when it was threatened with closure. It’s a very fine balance to ensure its continued survival whilst keeping all the shareholders happy.

‘Many of the locals don’t want change,’ said Andrew, ‘but we have to evolve or we’ll simply go bust. We’ve got such great terrain and snow, that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on new lifts isn’t going to bring in more people - it’s opening up more of our mountain that will. We sold off plots for building at the base station, which were mostly brought by locals, and those sales have allowed us to buy a second-hand chair-lift from Beaver Creek, Colorado, and open up a whole new green and blue beginners’ area. After that we cleared some routes down from Haig Ridge, which has allowed us to open our lift-assisted cat skiing operation.’
After the previous day’s inbound fun, mainly in the superb Chutes area, I woke excited at the prospect of riding the new lift-assisted cat area.

It’s a cool concept they’ve come up with - you ride the new chairlift to where the cat is waiting for you, it then takes a very short drives up the Haig Ridge (20mins max), dropping you off wherever the guide dictates. You then ski down on steep powder fields before entering the gladed forest, eventually meeting a wide track at the bottom, which runs all the way back to the chair again. It works really well, as it allows you to get some long descents without ever being cooped up in the back of the cat for too long.

After a quick safety brief, my group was standing above a pristine powder field and the guide asked which buddy team wanted to go first. We’d been teamed up into pairs in the cat, and my buddy was a local male skier. There had been a few jokes about a mixed marriage, but with a quick nod to each other we dropped into the deep snow before giving anyone else the chance to speak up. We tore down the slope with high arcs of snow flung skyward in our wakes, and once we’d stopped, neither of us could wipe the smile off our faces. It may have been a mixed marriage of skier and snowboarder, but we knew we definitely had a future together, even if only for the rest of the day.

Back at the lift, my ticket was checked by Marie - who then straightened out my jacket in a very mumsy way before giving me a hug, which took me a little by surprise. Apparently she hugs everyone, whether they want it or not; it took a little while for the super cool teenage jibbers to get used to it, but now even they hug back too.

I only spent two days in Castle but left with new friends, and wishing that it was my local mountain too.
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