Have you ever ridden a lift to the top of the mountain, gazed out at the surrounding scenery and thought, ”Man, there’s a lot of untracked snow out there”?
But how to get to the goods?
Well, there are three options. One, is to skin or hike to the desired goal, but that’s a lot of work. Two, is to hop on a helicopter and soar to the distant snowfields ridge, but that’s a lot of dough.
The third option, however, is hit the back-country via snowcat.
Along with being cheaper than heli-skiing and easier on the heart than skinning or hiking, cat skiing and snowboarding rarely has weather-related delays and/or cancellations; often doesn’t venture above treeline, thus mitigating avalanche danger, and often entails a gourmet, back-country spread. The downside is a pretty bumpy ride and slow turnaround.
And it’s a great way to get a taste of riding the great ungroomed at pretty decent rate, and many U.S. lift-serviced resorts are offering this service to skiers and boarders who are comfortable if not proficient in riding ice, crud, chop, slush along with all that pow.
The following are 10 resorts that provide cat rides to back-country skiing and snowboarding (all outfits, except as noted, provide lunch, snacks, guides and safety gear along with access to all that pow):
Aspen Mountain Powder Tours have access to 1,500 acres of virgin terrain off the top Ajax Mountain for you to enjoy. The all-day, per-person rate is $519.
Brundage Mountain SnowCat Adventures will haul you out to 17,912 acres of prime Idaho real estate covering three separate mountain peaks and up to 2,800 feet of vertical. The all-day, per-person rate is $389 and that includes powder-board rental.
The Tucker Mountain Snowcat Access provides entry into Copper Mountain’s double-diamond playground known as Tucker Mountain and the ride is free (so, no lunch and you need to provide your own avi gear).
Besides offering outstanding views of Lake Tahoe, Homewood Snowcat Adventures will bring you to the top of Mt. Ellis for up to 1,828 feet of vertical over 750 acres of trees, bowls and steeps. The all-day, per-person rate is $499.
There are huge stashes of lake (Superior) effect snow around Mt. Bohemia and the cat skiing off the resort’s Voodoo Mountain,the only such service in the Midwest, is sensational. The all-day, per-person rate $150, Wednesdays and Saturdays only.
About 35 minutes north and east of Park City lie the Uinta mountains and Thousand Peaks Ranch where Park City Powder Cats’ fleet of three snow cats provide access to 43,000 acres and up to 2,000 feet of Utah’s finest product. The all-day, per-person rate is $629.
There are 8,464 acres in Powder Mountain’s permit area and a good portion of that is lift served. Much of the remainder can be accessed by the resort’s regularly scheduled snowcat service. The per-ride rate is $25, or $250 for a book of 11 rides, but lunch and gear are not provided.
Operating out of Purgatory’s base lodge, San Juan Untracked snow-cat service, the largest in Colorado, brings skiers and boarders to the boundless snowfields of the San Juan range. The all-day, per-person rate is $399.
The side country of Sugarloaf, a.k.a. Burnt Mountain, is a 100-acre gladed playfield with 1,400 feet of vertical and is accessed only by snowcat. It’s $30 per ride (lunch on your own) and the cat runs five times a day at regularly scheduled times.
More than 600 acres with up to 2,200 feet of vertical are dedicated to Grand Targhee’s cat skiing operation, which is located lookers right of the Sacajawea chair complex. The all-day, per-person rate is $475.