Outside magazine, December 1995
Skiing: Go, Cat, Go!
How to get heli-skiing's powder and vertical--for half the cost
By Clifford D. May
The ultimate in skiing is found not at Vail or Aspen, Whistler or Val d'Isere, but on backcountry peaks doused with virgin snow and reached effortlessly by helicopter. But the price you pay is hefty--upward of $400 per day. The alternative? Workhorse snowcats can reach similar remote peaks and untracked powder, giving you about the same vertical per run for less than half the
cost. True, they're bumpy and tortoiselike, and you won't log nearly the same vertical per day, but unlike helicopters, they can access high terrain even on cloudy and stormy days when powder is so fresh it's practically floating. All of which explains why a fleet of these machines is being put to work for more than just grooming.
Some 12 miles west of Crested Butte, Colorado, 10,700 feet up on Scarp Ridge, the rustic 24-room Irwin Lodge is so isolated that guests have to be transported in by snow machine. For skiing, one of 15 eight-passenger snowcats makes a run past the lodge every hour or so, allowing a rare amount of flexibility. Runs average 2,000 vertical feet. The daily per-person price of $250-$300
includes lodging, all meals, and skiing. Call 800-247-9462.
Jupiter Jones Steamboat Powder Cats
Among the best-known and best-run tours, this outfit has three state-of-the-art snowcats that cover about 15 square miles of bowls, powder fields, and tree skiing in Routt National Forest, two miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, reaching an elevation of 10,800 feet. With an average annual snowfall of 500 inches, the powder is hard to beat, and you'll get in 10,000 to
12,000 vertical feet of skiing a day. Cost is $175 per person per day, including breakfast and lunch at a secluded cabin. Call 800-288-0543.
Great Divide Snowcat Tours
One of the bargain basements of snowcat skiing, this tour costs just $100 for a full day (bring your own lunch), $75 for a half-day, and $20 per run. Based at Monarch Ski Area, on the Continental Divide between Salida and Gunnison, Colorado, these snowcats plow through plenty of powder (snowfall is 300-plus inches per year), taking you into backside bowls and, if the group is up
to it, some very steep glades. Call 719-539-3573, ext. 117.
Three "convertible" snowcats run up to Peaked Peak seven days a week with their tops down (in good weather), all the better to take in unforgettable wilderness views of the Tetons. But the real point is Targhee's legendary powder (average annual snowfall: 500 inches). The longest powder run is 3.2 miles, and skiers usually bag eight to ten runs per day. Most of the terrain is
intermediate, though you can access some steep areas with large cliffs. Cost is $160 for Grand Targhee guests; $185 for others. Call 800-827-4433.
This posh Utah resort offers guided snowcat tours (a round-trip, $5 per person, takes about an hour) to preview Empire Canyon, a 600-acre advanced area slated for lift-served skiing in the 1997-1998 season. You have to buy a $49 lift ticket for Deer Valley first, though, and then head to the top of the Northside Express Lift. Call 800-424-3337.
Selkirk Wilderness Skiing
A half-hour snowcat ride from the town of Meadow Creek, in southeast British Columbia, this spacious lodge in the Selkirk Range can accommodate 24 guests. With 400-500 inches of snowfall, the powder is here, and each day you'll waft through 12,000-18,000 vertical feet of it. All-inclusive six-day packages cost about $1,900 U.S. per person. Call 800-799-3499.