Snowcat Skiing – An Awesome Alternative

snowcatAccessibility: ‘Cat operators are easier to find and get to than heliskiing operators – big resorts like Colorado’s Aspen and Steamboat, Utah’s Deer Valley and Wyoming’s Grand Targhee all offer snowcat trips, as do numerous smaller outfits.

Shred factor: By definition, a snowcat, sort of a lumbering giant snowmobile, can’t cover as much ground as a helicopter. That means more waiting and access to less terrain. But you won’t mistake the experience for waiting in a lift line at a resort, because a good snowcat operator can provide access to 15,000 or so feet of untracked powder on a good day. That’s plenty challenging, trust me.

Weather factor: OK, they’re slower. But snowcats, unlike helicopters, operate when it’s snowing or socked in. This is huge. There’s nothing more glum than a helicopter lodge on a bad weather day when the birds are grounded.

Danger factor: Avalanches are always a risk in the backcountry. A good operator will provide transceiver safety training and an experienced guide.

Do it if … you want to ride deep snow to the limit of your abilities without waiting in line or spending your rent money. You shouldn’t get on a ‘cat if you’re a total beginner, but if you’re comfortable on ungroomed slopes, you’ll have a great time. Lower prices keep things mellower; some operators even let you pay by the run.

Don’t do it if … you don’t like ungroomed snow. Snowcat skiing is an unbelievable deal. If comfortable backcountry access intrigues you, there’s no reason not to try a half or full day of riding.

Tip: Prepare for your day with a powder clinic, or at least a day spent on ungroomed slopes. Snowcat skiing is also a perfect warm-up if you’re considering investing in a heli-tour, but you may well find it to be a satisfying end in itself.

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