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Cat Skiing — Everyman’s Entry to the Backcountry

by Dan Giesin | November 30, 2021

There’s nothing like skiing or riding untracked powder, especially when there are acres and acres of unblemished snow for you to play in.

But unless you are willing to work for it (grab some skins) or take out a small loan (hello, heli-skiing), most people find the cost, both in sweat equity and financially, might be a bit to daunting.

There is a third option: snowcat skiing.

These snow plow/bus combos may not be as glamorous — or as fast — as being whisked by helicopter to the top of some remote mountain, but they do the job of hauling you up to the same mountain for roughly half the daily price. 

And they sure are much easier on the cardio-vascular system.

Luckily, many ski resorts — mostly in the West — have back-country snowcat operations in conjunction with their lift-served terrain.

The following is a small example of what’s out there:

Purgatory Snowcat Adventures

More than 35,000 acres of pristine powder are available in the San Juan mountains, courtesy of Colorado’s largest backcountry ski and snowboard operation.

Based out of the ski resort of the same name, Purgatory Snowcat Adventures (pictured above) supplies trips to the goods, offering 8 to 10 runs and up to 10,000 vertical feet of powder per day.

For $500 per rider, you get powder-specific boards, avalanche beacons and instruction, lunch, snacks and hot and cold beverages. There are also private trips available for up to a dozen people for $4,999.

Check catskiing@purgatory.ski for complete information.

Homewood Snowcat Adventures

With sweeping views of Lake Tahoe and the Desolation Wilderness as a bonus, Homewood’s snowcat operation gives riders 750 acres of steeps, trees, bowls and glades — mostly at the intermediate level — to play in above Tahoe’s West Shore. 

With up 1,824 feet of vertical off the Elllis Peak summit available, most groups of nine riders get 4 to 8 runs, depending on the group’s pace.

Group tours — Homewood is not offering single ridership this season because of COVID-19 risks — are $3,500 plus a $99 lift ticket to get you to the cat; lunch, beverages and avi gear are included.

For further information log on to skihomewood.com.

Burnt Mountain Cat Skiing

Sugarloaf resort in Maine is the only resort in the East that offers backcountry cat-skiing, which provides riders to the inbound Burnt Mountain and Brackett Basin areas.

Unlike most snowcat operations, Sugarloaf doesn’t provided guided tours through its terrain of tight trees and open glades; the vehicle is merely a way to get you there. Once you click into your bindings you’re on your own; hence, Burnt Mountain’s suggests that only experts need apply.

It costs $45 to get two rides on the cat, which only runs when conditions allow. There are also group rides available Monday through Friday.

Check sugarloaf.com for further information.

Selkirk Powder

On the backside of Idaho’s Schweitzer resort are 4,350 acres of National Forest land that is the playground of Selkirk Powder’s cat-skiing operation, which takes off from its own lodge at the ski resort’s summit.

Selkirk has 75 runs to choose from, and most of the 20 passengers on the cat can rack up to 10,000 vertical per day.

The $460 per seat cost — $4,400 for a private outing — gives you a guide, avi beacon and training, lunch, snacks, beverages and a one-use lift ticket. There is also a 10-day cat-skiing season pass available for $3,500, which, unfortunately is sold out for this winter.

More information is available at selkirkpowder.com.

Voodoo Mountain

Situated adjacent to the fabled Mt. Bohemia resort in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula sits the Voodoo Mountain area, which annually gets pummeled by up to 300 inches of lake-effect snow coming off Lake Superior.

This 1,800-acre playground is accessed by snowcat, which makes runs out of Bohemia’s base area on Wednesdays and Saturdays at $150 per person. Or you can make a party of it with 16 of your closest friends on Fridays with a private tour for $1,850.

Check mtbohemia.com for complete details.

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