Transport to Skier Dreams
Photo by Leisa Gibson
Courtesy of Keystone Resort
What is Cat Skiing?
Cat skiing delivers the skier’s dream – untracked, deep powder on long vertical drops with only those you came with to share.
Cat skiing transports small groups of skiers in heated passenger cabins on Snowcat snow grooming tractors. The goal, to safely offer access to the most challenging and remote perfect runs of untouched snow.
At resorts, cat skiers ride all the peaks, chutes and bowls you see from the ski lift and highway with no one on, but are out of bounds. Away from resorts, they glide through heaven-like, skiable terrain you didn’t know existed, run after run. Often in remote, ridiculously scenic locations. All without committing to the expense of a helicopter ski day. Or the stamina and time needed for the one run you might get hiking in on your own.
Strongly recommended and most always led by an experience back-country guide, cat skiing skiers live in untouched snow on whatever terrain fits their liking. All while the Snowcat descends to meet at pre-arranged pick-up spots for skier transport to the next run.
Where Do I Find Cat Skiing?
Cat skiing is offered at hundreds of locations throughout the world. British Columbia, Canada, where this ski adventure was pioneered, has the most concentrated services and vast amounts of well-beyond-resort terrain. The United States also has many cat skiing options – many of which will surprise you. U.S. resorts such as Keystone in Colorado bring cat skiing skiers to their famous Outback Bowls with only a minor upgrade fee to a valid lift ticket. Ask the resort when you visit if they provide this.
Both in the U.S. and internationally, independent cat skiing services away form the resort are more common. That’s a good thing since this is all about going where no skier has gone before, at least since the last snowfall. Look to our listings below or web search to find locations and terrain that best fit you.
Am I Skilled Enough for Cat Skiing? Is it Dangerous?
Cat skiing is usually not recommended to anyone who is less than an advanced skier, unless you’re just going along for the ride and scenery from the Snowcat. The exception might be through resorts and outfitters that know their back-country terrain so well and have their services so refined, they can accommodate intermediate skiers. But don’t assume as an intermediate you can handle all that’s ahead. Ask the cat skiing provider first about the skiing competency needed before booking any cat skiing pass or service.
Does Cat Skiing Require a Guide?
Most resort snow cat skiing services and virtually all private cat skiing companies require you go with a guide Trust us, you want one! The kind of terrain you typically encounter cat skiing can include lots of powder. It’s what you came for and awesome, but under a lots of powder lurks lots of hidden obstacles! The mountains you ski will typically be steep and may have some drops you can’t easily avoid. Just as unwelcome is discovering the bottom of a frozen pond while strapped into your skis. Or hitting your shins on a hidden, below-snow tree branch. Or finding cliffs you didn’t want to find.
Guides in cat skiing know their terrain – what to stay away from and what to ski. Having a guide will protect you from any outrageous risk, as they scout the mountain before the snow and know it inside and out. But cat skiing is at its root an adventure and has risks absolutely! If you read this paragraph and got excited you’ll probably love it. If you read this paragraph and are getting nervous, ask about what is ahead before signing up!
Affordable Cat Skiing?
Cat skiing prices can range from as much as $500+ per person per day to as little as $10 per run.
While less expensive than heli-skiing, cat skiing usually lives on the pricey side. It is most often a reserved day or afternoon with a private outfitter. And usually a luxurious day from your own private Snowcat complete with driver, guide, gourmet meals and drink. All at scenic, top-of-the-world settings.
Especially with resorts that offer cat skiing however, affordable options do exist if you hunt for them. Keystone Resort’s OutBack Shuttle in Colorado (see below) prices at just 10 dollars a run. Canada’s Mount Kirkup in Rossland, British Columbia also charges just 10 dollars a run.
To find the offering that best fits you, see below for our recommendations. Inquire if Cat Skiing is offered at your closest or favorite resorts or mountain. Or web search cat skiing in geographies you are most interested in exploring.
Cat Skiing vs. Other Options
Who doesn’t love getting hot chocolate for free at the top of the runs at Vail? And many times groomed snow is exactly what you need. But resort skiing on manicured slopes will never offer the challenge, difficulty, variety of terrain and quiet times with nature that Cat Skiing does. And you still most often get the hot chocolate on the drive.
Snowmobile Skiing you’re dealing with machines that too often get caught in the wrong places, can’t carry the same gear for comfort and safety and have a much more limited meet you at bottom to ferry you to top potential. Heli Skiing, while admittedly epic, is quite a jump up in price and often grounded from weather that Snow Cats have no trouble navigating. And hike in skiing is just that, a vigorous work out, with tremendous amounts of time and physical work to reach one run that often needs another hike when finished to get back to where you started.
Cat Skiing ,Private Outfitter vs. Resort?
If you’re not as enthused as you once were about skiing the same mountains and runs you already know over and over again. Or even less enthused with crowds, this might be your best time to try cat skiing through a private outfitter.
Private cat skiing Outfitters often set up in remote locations far from the resorts. They offer all types of arrangements where you can come in for the day or stay onsite in accommodations. Though more expensive than resort lift tickets, they have plans where you can pay by the run, hour, or day. And some even have unlimited passes.
Best of all, everything is custom and crafted around you and your ski dreams. You ski private mountains and runs,with a private guide and snow cat driver who often double as ski valets. Their personal attention to your skill level and wants and every detail, really builds the ski experience.
Proper Ski Gear for Cat Skiing
Unlike resort skiing, cat skiing is highly weather variable. It often navigates much, much heavier snow, so it pays to be prepared to fully enjoy the experience. When skiing, there are not many things more annoying than soggy socks and a wet bum during an otherwise great day on untouched powder.
For cat skiing, choose outerwear that is not only completely toasty, but completely waterproof as you’re going to get face shots of snow and covered in powder. Make sure your pants have both outer and inner gators to keep snow out of your boots. Bring a water proof face mask for use when needed. Ski boots should fit snugly but not hurt (like a proper hand shake). Same as they are for all skiing, if ski boots hurt when trying them on in the store, they will not feel better later.
Ski gloves gives you a bit trickier decision as waterproof gloves best keep the wetness out. But when skiing as hard as cat skiing demands, they also keep the sweat wetness trapped within. Whether waterproof or water resistant gloves suit you, go with high end gloves for sure. Temperatures cat skiing can get well below freezing and hand movement is critical. Hopefully with ski gloves, you have experience and already know your preference.
Finally, always wear a properly fitted helmet. Cat skiing opens you up to many more possible headbangers than resort skiing. Plus it keeps the heat from your head within and makes things cozy.
Best Skis for Cat Skiing
Modern powder skis are a must. Using an older or outdated model of ski will only lessen your cat skiing day and put you behind on your ability to float and carve. Not the experience you’ve signed yourself up for.
When tightening your bindings, turn them all the way up, or at least ask your guide’s advice on this. You don’t want to lose an expensive ski under the powder on a remote chute or ridge.
Top Five Resorts for Cat Skiing
The Powder Expedition at Powder Mountain, Utah is aptly named as it absolutely can compete with the best cat skiing experiences anywhere. If the name doesn’t convince you, consider you’re in Utah, world famous for powder snow that feels akin to flying through a cloud. The Powder Expedition service is a nine-hour skiing frenzy, That’s right, nine hours. The day comes with two extremely seasoned guides, use of avalanche gear such as beacons (which we trust and hope you’ll never have to use) and a full catered lunch and beverages. This is a great expedition for those who love tree skiing and glades, so remember to bring your fat skis or rent some. LEARN MORE.
How often have you been guaranteed fresh tracks of untouched snow that you and your crew will always be the first ones to ski? That’s exactly the guarantee Aspen Powder Tours offers along with a gourmet lunch and amenities. Reached from the town of Aspen, Colorado, they are easy to access, completely customer service oriented and tailor your experience to your party, taking into consideration each skier’s ability and desired terrain. Cat skiers with Aspen Powder Tours can expect to descend at least 11,000 feet on Aspens back bowls per day. LEARN MORE.
Purgatory offers the largest cat skiing operation in North America and quite possibly the world, with 35,000 skiable acres accessible. Explore the San Juan back-country and enjoy an endless array of chutes, bowls, tree skiing, cliffs, and powder. One of the more affordable options in resort based cat skiing, full day outings include lunch, drinks, avalanche gear, ski/snowboard rental and expert guides. You can expect some sore legs the next day as Purgatory Snow Cats features several 2,500 foot vertical descents on untracked snow. LEARN MORE.
Teton powder falls as the dry, airy snow of legends. What contends to be as pure as any powder on earth. So while Snowcat Adventures at Grand Targhee might not add up to the most skiable acres at 18,000, it’s not small and delivers on powder. Grand Targhee offers the only cat skiing we could find in Wyoming. If you’re looking for the purest snow off the beaten path, but still want all the amenities of a top resort, try and find better. You can’t. LEARN MORE.
Keystone is home of the ten dollar cat skiing run (if you have a valid lift ticket). While not relied upon as an everyday cat skiing spot as it’s truly weather dependent, wait until there’s a fresh dumping of snow and for the price it can’t be beat. Launching from mountain peaks at more than 12,000 feet into terrain not accessed by the resort’s other skiers, this makes Keystone a fit in your travel plans and the perfect place for a cat skiing introduction. LEARN MORE.
Note: There are many more resorts offering cat skiing. When buying lift tickets or passes at any ski resort, don’t hesitate to ask if they offer a snow cat service.
Top Cat Skiing Services
Ever wanted to know what it feels like to star in an epic ski film? To drop into shoots or navigate trees while endless snow falls all around amidst a rugged, thrilling, edge of the world backdrop? Welcome to Baldface.
This is not a place or trip for intermediates and surely not for beginners! Baldface is absolutely as thrilling and daring as any cat skiing experience that exists. With a day’s worth of runs that will total more than 20,000 vertical feet. And most bookings being for four days of back to back skiing. Baldface keeps all six of its piston bully Snow cats running constantly. It’s up to you to keep up.
Baldface boasts a beautiful lodge with the best in accommodations, including of course sauna and massages to aid the weary adventurer. Ski here on mountains most people have never seen outside of the ski movies. Immerse yourself in the ultimate winter challenge and playground. Book now as they are often sold out a year in advance. LEARN MORE.
Described as Colorado cat skiing at its finest, with Steamboat you get the area’s famous “champagne powder” snow at no extra charge. Powder Cats offer skiers some of the fastest snow cat service available. You’ll ski more than sixteen runs a day if you have the endurance, totaling more than 15,000 vertical feet. As one of the only cat skiing outfitters to provide full moon skiing, do it if you’re there. It’s a ski experience not to miss. And make sure you bring your moon goggles. Three guides, Armada powder skis and snowboards, lunch, breakfast, snacks are all included. Also, an après ski highlight replay of your adventure screens for you each day. LEARN MORE.
Mustang Powder’s snow cats navigate 443 kilometers of snow roads to find that day’s best runs. That means if you’re up for it, eight to nine hours of skiing each day. And as much as 24,000 vertical feet on fresh tracks.
If you’re not inclined to go for all 24,000 feet, Mustang is happy to let you rest your tired legs for a run or two as needed. In fact until you build up to the maximum physical demand they offer, they recommend it. The snow fall in this region of the Monashee Mountains tops 700 inches per year. That gives this cat skiing service near endless runs of fresh snow.
Mustang offers beautiful accommodations in its 12,000+ square foot lodge, accompanied by fine dining and four course meals. And no need to worry if you will ever get hungry in the middle of your nine hour ski-a-thon days. Mustang’s gourmet chefs prepare meals you can also take along to eat in the snow cat between runs. While Mustang might not have the wildest cat skiing terrain, they more than make up for that in amenities. They cater to a broader, not-needing-to-be-so-extreme-in-their-skiing clientele. LEARN MORE.
Hope you found this info useful. If you haven’t already, we hope you enjoy cat skiing soon. Good luck, and feel free to shoot us a note for how to improve our Ultimate Guide to Cat Skiing!
By Rory Reily, the Cat Skiing Authority
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