Trip Report: Anthony Lakes Cat Skiing
Trip Report: Anthony Lakes Cat Skiing
Earlier in the year I was invited by Next Adventure in Portland, Oregon to go on a cat skiing trip at Anthony Lakes in the Elkhorn Mountains of Eastern Oregon. I had driven by Anthony Lakes at least three to four dozen timesaver the years in both the winter and summer months on my way to and from Twin Falls, Idaho and Salt Lake City, Utah. I had even seen the sign on the side of the road with the international sign for “Ski Area,” but I had no idea of the hidden gem that was tucked away behind Baker City at a base elevation of 7,100 feet! While not an incredibly large ski area (1,100 acres) and not something you would consider a “resort,” Anthony Lakes is an incredibly inviting ski area with some amazing terrain and natural features!
My ski partners for this trip were: Master boot fitter and ski tuner extraordinaire, Greg Coulter, from Next Adventure and ON3P ski maker and one of the Next Adventure cat ski photo contest winners, Shawn Hokkanen. We decided to carpool it together from the Demo Days event at Mission Ridge, Washington that was held just a few days before. Greg and the rest of the crew from Next Adventure were testing skis, snowboards, boots, goggles, helmets and poles while Shawn was manning the ON3P booth. The ride from Mission Ridge to Anthony Lakes was filled with good music, great conversation and a sprinkle of hijinks.
Once we arrived at the ski area, the Anthony Lakes marketing manager Chelsea McLagan who gave us the 4-1-1 for the trip the next day greeted us. After a quick tour of the ski area, we decided to give in to our rumbling stomachs and head to Baker City, where we were staying, check in to our hotel and find some dinner. About a 45-minute drive from Anthony Lakes, Baker City is an old mining town from the late 1800s that is nestled between the Wallowa Mountains to the north, the Elkhorn Mountains to the south and the Blue Mountains to the west with the Powder River running through the middle.
This combination makes the area prime for farming and ranching, which we found out after being caught in a Baker City traffic jam. Yep, they still drive cattle from one place to another down the roads here. Regardless of our rumbling stomachs, we enjoyed the moment and the setting sun behind a mixture of Elkhart Mountains and clouds. Once to our hotel, we checked in and learned that the place is not only beautiful and gives you the feeling you just time traveled back to the old west, but it’s haunted too. Sweet! After strolling through town and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we decided to do a quick gear check and hit the sack since our guide introduction and mountain brief would begin bright and early.
The next morning’s weather stayed true to the forecast: Clear skies with a continued and relentless inversion throughout the entire northwest. While February is usually a great month for snow, the week prior (and through the week after) had been plagued by unusually warm temps in the alpine zones. While we were a bit bummed that we would miss out on the infamous Anthony Lakes powder, it would turn out that our guide, cat driver and the rest of the crew we were skiing with, would make this a day to remember! After being greeted by Chelsea and our guide Kevin Cassidy, we proceeded through paperwork and the overall ebb and flow of the day. Shortly thereafter, we were greeted by our ride for the day, the Ladybug! An early 80s LMC snowcat that seats 12, has a rocking sound system and sunroofs!! The Ladybug is probably the coolest snowcat I have ever seen or been in! Once we were all loaded, we started up the mountain for our first run. The daily thaw and evening freeze made for a rough ride in the morning. Both in the cat on on skis. Admittedly, I started to get a little bummed that our super sweet pow trip might turn into a crud trip. However, this was a fleeting thought. Between the lively crew, our amazing guide Kevin and the ever softening snow, the apprehension gave way to gut busting laughter, beaming smiles, more high fives than I could count and some serious stoke! How funny is it that snow conditions are superseded by the power of the human spirit when it comes to having fun!
As the day continued, Kevin gave us the tour of the Anthony Lakes backcountry. Greg, Shawn and I had our “powder glasses” on as we looked at the cascading pillow lines, gladed tree runs and big open bowls. After run after run of some of the best corn we had ever skied, capped off with pole taps, high fives and bro hugs, it was unanimous that it is a must to come back on a pow day. Or any day for that matter! Four or five runs into the day, the sun was high in the sky and the temps were steadily rising, so Kevin decided that it was time to take the top off of the Ladybug. I have to admit; it’s pretty rad riding around in a t-top snow cat with the tunes kicking and eyes fixated on the seemingly endless terrain outside. With the confidence that we knew the mountain pretty well by now, Kevin cut us loose only telling us where our pickup area was. So in turn, we decided to crank up the fun with some two and three wide, spread eagle jumps, fun clothing and ripping runs through the glades. Completely worn out, we made our last run back in bounds and straight to the Starbottle Saloon (ski area bar) for the best Moscow Mules I’ve ever had while sharing stories from the past and adventures yet to come.
What I think I find most memorable about this ski trip is the quality of the people on the trip. Rather than be super negative and complaining about how there was no super sick powder and abundance of face shots, everyone, and I mean everyone, was pumped to get out of the cat and click in to their skis. Run after run we shredded corn snow, played follow the leader, hooped, hollered and cheered for one another and laughed our butts off. That’s the great thing about being in the mountains. You're amongst trees, rivers and lakes, soaking up the sun’s power. Not amongst cubicles, powerpoint presentations and deadlines letting fluorescent lighting soak up your power. It was an honor to share this day with the folks at Anthony Lakes and all of the Next Adventure photo contest winners and I certainly cannot wait to go back and hang out with my new friends!