Intrigued by a cat skiing trip but not sure you want to shell out the dough? There are several resorts that will give you a taste of the backcountry experience for less. Not to mention, you don't have to stray too far from the lift or gondola to sample the untracked pow—simply hop on the resort's cat and off you go. Mountains across North America offer this experience, but here are six of the best:
A skier enjoys untracked powder. Photo Courtesy Copper Mountain, Colorado
Catch Copper’s complimentary snow cats to slash powder in sweet high-alpine bowls and drop technical steeps and tree lines on the backside of the mountain. A 15-minute cat ride deposits you in a saddle on a ridge line where you can immediately harvest fresh powder in Copper Bowl or hike to the 12,337-foot summit of Tucker Mountain for access to more technical terrain. Catch a lift at the bottom then do it again. Quickest cat access: from the base area take the American Flyer lift then the Rendezvous lift. Follow the Otto Bahn trail to the snow cat meeting area.
Base of Copper Bowl: 11,498’
Summit of Tucker Mountain: 12,337’
Years in Biz: 17
Size of Tenure: 273 acres
Average annual snowfall: 282”
Size of Group: 12 people per cat
Guarantee: as many laps as you can muster
How they Charge: free cat rides with purchase of a valid Copper lift ticket ($89)
Big open lines await skiers at Keystone, Colorado. Photo by Jack Affleck
You will be stoked when bone-dry continental powder billows in your face while you crank turns in Independence Bowl. The wind commonly blows snow from nearby ridges into the reserved cat terrain to create bottomless blower powder for you and your crew. Seasoned guides will lead you to pristine pow stashes and big mountain lines in the venerable Bergman, Erickson and Independence Bowls. Meanwhile, Keystone’s Outback Shuttle snow cat (first come, first served) provides access to North and South Bowls for just $5 per ride, a great way for intermediates to get a taste of fresh powder in backcountry-like terrain.
Basic Package: lift ticket, powder ski rental and fireside gourmet lunch at Independence Bowl yurt (no snowboard rentals available)
Years in Biz: five
Size of Tenure: 1,138 acres
Average annual snowfall: 235”
Size of Group: Up to 12 people
Guarantee: Eight laps with 5,000 to 6,000 vertical feet
How they Charge: $240 per person for KAT or $2,640 for 12 people; $5 (cash only) for one Outback Shuttle cat ride or $50 punch card for 15 Outback Shuttle rides.
Getting to Grand Targhee is an adventure in itself, and you may want to stay forever once you arrive. Its isolation on the Western flank of the Tetons offers peace, solitude and bountiful powder snow. And the views, oh, the views—the Tetons are sure to strike a chord in most souls. The grandeur of the mountains alone make a trip to this base camp in the Tetons worthwhile, and the guided snow cat tours on Peaked Mountain enable you to repeatedly enjoy private reserves of the blissfully abundant deep and dry powder snow that epitomizes the skiing here.
Basic Package: Full day includes hot beverages, snacks and lunch; half day includes snacks and beverages; rentals are separate.
Years in Biz: 27 years
Size of Tenure: 600 acres
Average annual snowfall: 500”
Size of Group: two cats operating, 12 people per cat, three guides per cat
Guarantee: 14,000 to 20,000 vertical feet per day; average 10-12 runs per day
How they Charge: Full day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) $349; half day (1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) $199
Don't count out Brundage for big lines and deep powder. Photo courtesy Brundage Mountain
Dry powder and vast backcountry terrain awaits those who make the journey to this remote and rustic ski area in central Idaho’s Rocky Mountains. Brundage Mountain Resort’s two snow cats provide access to three distinct peaks in the Payette National Forest. Experienced and zealous guides lead you to big bowls, steep chutes and dreamy glades—19,000 acres to explore in all, making it one of the largest areas reserved exclusively for cat skiing in the U.S. A two-day tour option includes spending a night in a backcountry yurt. Brundage is truly a hidden gem, surprising given the primo terrain and snow.
Basic Package: snacks, buffet lunch, hot beverages, beacon, probe, shovel, skis or snowboard
Years in Biz: 20
Size of Tenure: 19,000 acres
Average annual snowfall: 320” at the base, higher on the summits
Size of Group: 10 per cat with two cats operating per day, two guides and a driver
Guarantee: Approximately 10,000 vertical feet per day
How they Charge: $239 per person or private cat for $1,600 (10-person max); overnight cat adventure: call for rates.
Phone: 208-634-4151, ext. 124
Big views and no lift lines await skiers and boarders at Kirkwood Powder Cat Tours. Photo courtesy Kirkwood Resort
Ideally you will want to land a Powder Cat Tour at Kirkwood right after a classic Sierra storm cycle, you know, the ones that can dump six feet of powder in a couple of days. Kirkwood’s guides lead you to the goods on snow-friendly North and West facing aspects. Located atop the Sierra Crest, Kirkwood gets pummeled by Pacific storms, and with a top elevation of 9,800 feet, the snow is generally drier than surrounding locales. This is the ideal cat tour for advanced to expert skiers and riders who prefer to charge hard in technical big mountain terrain.
Vertical: 2,000 vertical feet
Basic Package: includes four guided backcountry runs with beacon, probe and shovel; skis/poles and snowboard available if needed
Years in Biz: seven years
Size of Tenure: 400 acres
Average annual snowfall: 600”
Size of Group: 12 guests per cat with one cat operating
Guarantee: Four runs (more if time and conditions permit), up to 8,000 vertical feet
How they Charge: Martin Point $200, Red Cliffs $150; case-by-case basis for full day tours and packages, very flexible, call to set up unique tours.
Tight trees are part of Powder Mountain's added terrain. Photo courtesy Powder Mountain
Powder Mountain, in the Bear River Range of Utah’s Wasatch National Forest, had snow cat skiing before men walked on the moon—this is consummate snow cat skiing and riding. Snowfall here in Northern Utah averages 40 feet annually, and the diverse mix of backcountry terrain and features will not disappoint. Last year Powder Mountain added 1,000 acres of true north-facing terrain to its terrain portfolio that includes perfectly-pitched bowls amongst well-spaced aspens and pines, and chutes with 55-degree drops. The snow here remains deep and fresh for days virtually assuring excellent powder conditions. Powder Mountain is a no brainer.
Basic Package: lunch, beverages, snacks, beacon, probe and shovel
Years in Biz: Approximately 45 years
Size of Tenure: 1,050 acres for single ride snow cat skiing and over 4,000 acres for the Snowcat Powder Safari zones.
Average annual snowfall: 450” to 500”
Size of Group: 11 guests per cat and two guides
Guarantee: 9-15 runs per day, up to 18,000 vertical feet
How they Charge: full private snow cat $3,850; $385 per person from Dec. 24 to March 20; $200 per person from April 15 to closing (or as long as conditions permit)