Guide to Cat Skiing
Written by Greg and Heather Burke • Mar 03, 2014
Cat skiing has nothing to do with cats - first of all- no felines just fall line and freshies. With that clarification, cat skiing is a great powder experience, often far less costly than heli skiing, no pricey jet fuel or fancy A star helicopter. Other advantages of cat skiing over heli skiing is less concern over weather - you can cat ski in heavy precipitation, snow, wind and fog, when helicopters can't fly. The little secret about heli-skiing is in inclement weather you're grounded in some remote lodge in British Columbia's backcountry for example. More and more ski resorts in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and British Columbia Canada are offering cat skiing as a one day add-on for about $300-500.
The cat skiing cost usually includes your safety beacon (called a peep or transceiver), your guides, the cat rides obviously, and a catered lunch on the mountain typically. A good day cat skiing usually gets you about 10 runs, that depends upon conditions, the ski level and speed of your group, including loading and unloading from the snow cat, and whether there is more than one group assigned to each cat. Its best if your private cat is waiting for you at the base of each run, not you waiting for the cat. Fat skis are recommended but not always included so be sure to ask.
Because cat skiing is usually around tree level, there is less concern for avalanches than in helicopter skiing (there is still avalanche danger and snow stability concern in cat skiing, but it is less pronounced given the terrain). Your cat ski training is much shorter since there isn't as much instruction for climbing in and out of a snowcat as there is with a helicopter with blades spinning dangerously fast overhead. The safety protocol flying in a chopper, properly entering and exiting a helicopter, and skiing in more avalanche prone territory is serious business.
Cat skiing often has more lenient age restrictions, kids can cat ski at Brundage Idaho for example with their parents' permission, it's rare that heli ski operations allow children. Typically cat skiing operations allow children starting at 15 years and up. Skiers and snowboarders are usually both welcome and often mixed in most cat ski groups.
Typically you can sign up for a half day of cat skiing, or better yet, a full day of guided snow cat skiing. You will have your own private snow cat as your snow coach limo for the day, two expert guides, fat skis, and a catered lunch usually in the heated snow cat or in a mountain top yurt. Run after run of pristine powder awaits you, sometimes wide open snow bowls or steep snowy gullies followed by snow drench trees and glades are your playground for the day. Between each run, you rumble back up the mountain in the cozy cat cabin with your ski mates and your guide who explains your next descent. By day's end, you will also have new ski buddies and a powder eating grin. You can go cat skiing for a few runs or a day at Monarch, Grand Targhee, Copper, Brundage, Silverton, and Snowbird, or go for a 3 or 4 day overnight cat ski trip at Monashee Powder Cats.
The best part of a cat ski vacation at a ski resort that offers lift service also is that you have options, Revelstoke has all three opportunities: lift served skiing, cat skiing and heli skiing so you are guaranteed alpine ascents. If the snow is right, you can pay for a day of cat skiing to get off-piste, or you can be content skiing that resort's lifts and inbound terrain. Ski resorts like Copper, Keystone, Monarch Mountain, Purgatory at Durango - San Juan Untracked, Powder Mountain, Grand Targhee, Brundage and Revelstoke in BC have cat skiing that departs from the ski resort.
Cat skiing is very cool, and much less costly than heli skiing, often for the same quantity and quality of skiing. In fact, it is a great idea to try a day cat skiing before you buy into a big expensive heli ski trip. Read more about day trip cat skiing at Silverton Powdercats Cat Sking in Silverton Colorado, Brundage Cat Skiing in Idaho and Canadian Cat Skiing at Revelstoke then graduate to a cat ski trip with Monashee Powder Cats before stepping up to a Heliskiing Adventures.