Two new owners are pumping a blast of fresh air into what was a flailing Whitefish cat skiing operation. Now with a new name, Great Northern Powder Guides has partnered with Whitefish Mountain Resort to make cat skiing easy for visiting skiers and snowboarders.

Retired pro skier Jay Sandelin and local entrepreneur Will MacDonald purchased the permit from the old Valhalla Adventures cat skiing company. Then, they built the new operation from scratch, adding cats, a bus, a cabin, an office, and new terrain. "Our goal is to do it right," Sandelin told OnTheSnow. "We put in 24 hours a day getting everything in shape. It's professional, and we're looking at the long term."

The pair purchased two cats, one for road building and winching and the other for carrying passengers. One of the machines came from Calgary, Alberta, where it was used to haul the Inception cast for filming snow scenes.

Sandelin and MacDonald also built a backcountry cabin and converted an old Montana Department of Transportation building into an office. The office, outside Olney north of Whitefish, serves as the site for safety and beacon instruction as well as the launch point for the 20-minute ride to the first run. "It's a fun ride," said Sandelin. "We run up the logging road and straight up the side of the mountain."

The terrain flanks 16 miles of Stillwater State Forest on Stryker Peak, spilling off on warm south-facing slopes and preserving powder on the cooler north-facing side. "We've got some great terrain in an area Valhalla never got into," added Sandelin. Skiers get in 8-10 runs that each average about 800 vertical feet; bag lunches made by a Cordon Bleu chef provide the fuel.

The 16-passenger bus purchased by Great Northern Powder Guides provides a new service for cat skiers. It picks up skiers at Whitefish Mountain Resort and several locations in the town of Whitefish to drive them to the office and returns skiers at the end of the day.

Cat skiing with Great Northern Powder Guides costs $350 per person per day. Lunch and bus pick-up are included. Season passholders at Whitefish Mountain Resort can get 20 percent off.

The company has also partnered with The Lodge at Whitefish Lake to make three- and five-day packages. The packages include one day of lift skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort, two or four days of cat skiing, and three or five nights of lodging. Rates run $1,050-1,900.

More information. Or call 855-SNOWCAT (766-9228).

Cat Skiing at Whitefish Mountain

Skiers ready to load the cat after a run with Great Northern Powder Guides in dumping snow. Dawn Gray Photo