Sometimes cat skiing can seem like you’ve been duped into overpriced hippie wiggles. These ops are not those ops.
Cat skiing lures you in with the promise of a day’s worth of powder skiing, blower snow so deep you’ll need a snorkel. But what often happens is two-turn ridgeline descents, waiting around because that one guy, and skiing snow that has morphed into frozen chicken heads and sun-crusted mank. You can sure feel like a dope for coughing up all that cash. Cat skiing is not cheap and typically accesses terrain that, well, a snowcat can access—extremely low-angle intermediate slopes that are often uninspiring. But that’s not always true, and there are easy ways to ensure you get to the goods. These six ops deliver great snow, stellar terrain, and commitment to getting after it.
$400/person, $3,750/private cat
Silverton Powdercats operates just outside of Silverton, Colorado, in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, which has some of the best skiing in the lower 48 (arguably the entire continent). SP’s terrain of steeps, chutes, bowls, and glades ranges in elevation from 11,000 to 13,000 feet. Sure, when the snowpack is sketchy, their guides will take you to cocktail-turn powder fields. But when conditions are prime, SP offers cat-assisted hike-to terrain and trips that access steep, big lines. Get your burly buds together and customize your trip with Silverton Powdercat guides in advance. Enjoy an average of 12 runs on legit terrain that holds 350 annual inches of snowfall. Even if the faucet has turned off, SP guarantees fresh lines and deep creamy turns. And, sign up for their “Last Minute Deals” email list. It’s worth it.
Whisper Ridge and Park City Powder Cats
$450/person, $5,400/private cat, $549/person, negotiable/private cat
Whisper Ridge opened up shop last year outside of Ogden, Utah, so there’s not a lot of cultural buzz yet about the op. Ogden local and pro ski photographer Cam McLeod says they have the best terrain in the state. That is most likely a true statement since WR boast 60,000 acres (yes, that is correct) of privately owned acreage. If you can’t find the gnar on that amount of land you’re probably standing in a Kansas cornfield.
Similarly, PC Powder Cats operates on Thousand Peaks Ranch, a privately owned 32,000-acre estate. It’s safe to say you’ll be hard-pressed to find tracks other than yours on the wide-open bowls and within the aspen glades. Scream down the steeps, send it off cornices and cliffs, it’s “choose your own adventure” skiing. Shredding the famed Utah champagne powder—just a measly 400 annual inches—is pretty good too.
Eleven at Irwin With Irwin Guides
$650/person, $6,500/private cat
Okay, okay, it’s super pricey for a single day adventure. But before you roll your eyes at the cost and scoff at the snowcat’s leather interior (yes, leather), the flatscreen TVs and surround sound inside the cab, and the gourmet lunch at an on-mountain chalet named Movie Cabin (your guess is as good as mine), think about the number 600—as in, average annual snowfall. Irwin, Colorado, experiences a winter weather anomaly known as orographic lifting. Basically, a storm will slam into the Elk Mountains, rapidly cool as it ascends, raise the relative humidity, and start to nuke tons of super light snow. Although the town of Irwin is only 10 miles away from Crested Butte ski resort, it typically receives three times as much snow every winter. A hefty day-trip price tag is probably worth 10 or more runs in powder up to your eyeballs and skiing on craggy mountains with 40-foot cliff hucks.
Monashee Powder Snowcats
Starting at $600/day, package prices starting at $1,285
This cat op is out of a skier’s dream. Smack-dab in the middle of the best snowbelt in British Columbia, Monashee Powder Snowcats has access to 17,000 acres of insane terrain; old growth trees, open bowls, steep chutes, and undulating powder fields. Oh, and it kind of snows there…more than 60-feet of super dry powder every winter. Ten runs in a day equates to 18,000 vertical feet, of which more than 4,000 are in a single run nicknamed Take It Or Leave It. MPS has the pow ski day schedule down: get to enormous terrain early, ski neck deep angel feathers all day, eat 5-star meals in an 8,000 square foot guest cabin, sleep, and repeat for the next 72-hours. A multi-day cat skiing trip is a great idea. Ya know that feeling at the end of a powder day—the pulsating joy that accompanies hours of face shots with friends? Yeah, a weekend of that would be just fine.
Starting at $2,543
This is another all-inclusive destination cat op, but with a twist. After arriving at the Nelson, B.C. airport, Baldface guests are flown via helicopter to the lodge. From a bird’s eye view, you can see the 32,000 acres of Baldface’s skiable terrain that sit in the Selkirk Range of the Kootenay Mountains. Skiing starts early but 15,000 daily vertical feet in trees, glades, and chutes that hold 500 annual inches of snowfall is well worth a 6:00 a.m. wakeup call. Every night before dinner, the stoke factor is fanned with a slideshow of powder slashes. Yep, a pro photographer tags along with your group every day. The cost is a little exorbitant but consider the in-house chef, message therapist, fully stocked bar, and the fact that they’ve got an effing helicopter. Plus, how many opportunities will you have to ski a 3,100 vertical foot run named Nocturnal Mission. There’s probably a good reason why Baldface is almost completely booked for the 2016/17 season while the leaves are still on the ground.
Your Pre-Trip Checklist
Have a chat with your guide. Tell him or her that you want to ski the best terrain available. Guess what? They do too.
Always tip your guide(s) and the cat driver, because, well, money talks friends. Finishing that pre-trip chat with a greased palm will greatly improve technical terrain options.
Rent the whole cat! Round up your crew, pool your cash, and ski all day with pals of similar ability. Otherwise be prepared to constantly wait on the guy who was cutting price tags off of his beacon and AT boots in the parking lot.
Photo by Ars Electronica