A cat track, or catwalk, is often a service road in the summer, or a series of switch backs down a steeper run on the mountain. It's an easier way to get down for those who might be less experienced.
Little kids love it as it isn't too steep. You sometimes can pick up some speed, and if you're lucky, there are little jumps or "whoop-de-dos" along the side. Cat tracks are comfortable to those learning to ski. When my youngest was five years old, it's all she wanted to ski.
Trish O'Connell has spent plenty of time on cat tracks. She's taught kids to ski for 25 years at Steamboat. The big thing is to slow down. That goes for kids and adults.
O'Connell says to try to stay in the middle of the trail to give people a passing lane on either side. "The other thing is to be predictable. Don't make sharp turns. Try to hold a straight line as best you can. Kids are going to snowplow, so keep them in their predictable ‘S' turn. Don't make it sharp."
Stay on the side, if your kids are hitting the bumps along the side. "Don't all of a sudden give up on the side and cut back in."
O'Connell's big thing is for adults and bigger kids to remember that cat tracks are where little people go. "This is a beginner run. Ski accordingly."
Finally, the mother of four says to be courteous and friendly. "When passing, say, ‘Passing.' Also say hi, and thank you, and then pass."
Katie White also has four ski racing children. She grew up in Aspen, and then Vail, and now lives in Steamboat. When her kids were skiing "and still in diapers," she says, she was afraid of them popping out of the woods onto a cat track. Her big fear was the kids forgetting to look uphill. She made it fun by telling her littlest ones to say, "Beep, Beep, Beep," as they came onto the trail. You definitely heard them coming and could avoid a potential collision.
Her other tip is to put your kids in really bright clothing. "Even if it is a neon stripe or a red coat, you can see it."
Brent Okita is with the Ski Patrol at Crystal Mountain in Washington. He says when the cat tracks take you across bigger runs, always look uphill before entering or merging. Also, don't stop in an area where you can't be seen from above and always stay in control.
Make sure your kids aren't on a cat track that is too steep. "Some parents will actually ski or ride behind their kids, as a first line of defense," says Okita.
When they get tired, recognize that and take a break. "Certainly at the end of the day, we see ambitious parents bringing tired kids up to the top of the mountain, knowing that there is a cat track that they can go down. Often, it's over the ability of the kids, mentally or physically. They might just be too pooped."
Okita adds to be prepared for anybody doing something unexpected in front of you. "A kid can catch an edge or make a weird turn such that the adult needs to be in a position where they can avoid any unexpected move."
Dick Taylor is the director of the Boyne Highlands Ski Patrol in Michigan. He says it's important to stay on the groomed trails because, "those are the ones that are maintained for safety. When one gets off the trails, they're in the woods and no telling what they'll find."
He says the edges of the cat tracks may hold surprises, especially for beginner skiers. "If it's ungroomed, the snow may be breakable, deep and heavy. These are odd conditions that you can get when you get off the groomed trail."
It's a perfect spot to teach the littlest kids to love the sport. Be aware and be careful and you'll have lots of fun.