Steamboat Powder Cats TR/Review
Cons: Perhaps a bit pricy, but that’s a matter of perspective. Slippery grips on the ski poles SPC provides.
Rates range from $375.00 to $450.00 per person per day and does not include gratuity, which is most certainly well earned. I was more than satisfied with the value that I received from my investment.
Pros: Almost everything else.
Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
This was my first experience with cat skiing, and I considered it a stellar primer. In fact, it’s an act that will be hard to top.
The Steamboat Powder Cats website is well designed and easy to navigate.
It provides almost all of the pertinent information that a potential customer could wish for, so rather than duplicate that information, I’ll simply provide impressions of my own visit.
Made my reservation a few months in advance. SPC gets a lot of repeat customers, and as soon as I made my arrangements to visit The Boat, I got on the phone and booked a space. I was fortunate to find a single seat. Spoke with a gentleman named Kent Vertrees, (what an apt name for a guy who makes a living skiing in Steamboat, a combination of “vertical” and “trees,”) had a delightful chat, and took a moderate hit in the wallet.
Stopped by their office the day that I pulled into town just to say hello, and, because of the paucity of snow, see if they were in fact running trips. Much to my joy, I was treated like an old friend and Kent informed me that the day of my arrival coincided with SPC’s inaugural trip of the year. Photos of that day’s trip were being displayed on one of the office television screens, and there were lots of images of happy people sliding around on fluffy snow.
The night before your trip, you are requested to stop by the office to check in, sign a waiver, make your final payment, and bring your boots so that they have the chance to adjust the bindings on your pair of demo powder skis. (Included in the price.) This year SPC has an agreement with Armada, so I was offered a pair of JJ’s to use for the day. No worries in that regard, as I’d yet to try a pair of rockered skis and was excited to give them a go.
On the morning of our excursion I made my way to the SPC office. They will pick you up at your lodgings should you so desire, but I was staying practically across the street. There you meet your companions and guides for the day, choose a pair of ski poles, (unless you’ve got your own poles with immense powder baskets the SPC folks insist that you use a pair that they supply,) eat a bit of breakfast that’s been provided, (fruit, the Colorado version of bagels, coffee, tea, and other assorted niceties,) before booting up, and loading the vans for the short drive to Routt National Forest. My own day got off to a rather inauspicious start as I inadvertently spilled a bit of coffee into the boot of one of my new comrades, Jeff. He was as forgiving as could be expected and I emerged from his physical and verbal assault with only some small bruises and a minor loss of blood. I was a single addition to a group of old friends and family, the Lee’s from California, who comprised the the company of “cat A” for the day. The nine of us were then introduced to our trio of guides, Mike, Todd, and Nick, given a short safety briefing, donned our beacons, and clumped across the parking lot, (well, Jeff made more of a squishing sound as he walked,) and hopped into the van that awaited us.
My first time boarding a snow cat provided a rather pleasant surprise. Each passenger had been provided with a fresh, full water bottle, (which will be refilled as needed,) a few snacky-bars, and more than adequate stowage space. In fact, I’ve been on several commercial flights across the Pacific that offered less comfortable seating arrangements. During our cat ride to our first drop-off, Mike laid out the law of the land as regards skiing procedures. Pretty simple stuff if you pay attention. Follow their ground rules, don’t get ahead of the lead guide, and you can enjoy untouched lines all day long, and not inadvertently ski off a cliff or into a stream.
I took the opportunity during the ride to ingratiate myself to my fellow adventurers by relating my infamous story of the one-legged bar-maid, the blind elephant, and the cub scout. After the telling of such a salacious tale, my fellows looked upon me in a new light, and I was treated like a long lost cousin for the duration of the day, even by Jeff. In actuality, by 10:30, I was made an official honorary member of the Lee Family. Such is the magic of bad jokes and good karma.
We offloaded the cat at the start point for our first run of the day, and clicked in to our skis. There was a moment of confusion as to who got which poles. Seems that the good folks at Armada have quite the sense of humor when it comes to selecting colors for their gear. After some debate about which poles were “salmon,” “fuscia” and “lavender”, we were set to go. This brief comic episode was, it should be noted, the single low point of our day. The only gripe that I had with the entire SPC experience, (and a minor one at that,) was in regard to these same ski poles. The handles, while sparkly new and way cool looking, are made of a hard, very slippery white plastic. I much prefer the rubber grips on my own sticks.
After we all passed in single file past Nick, (who will be our trailing guide for the first run,) who performed a beacon check on everyone, Mike lead off on our first run of the day. A wide, open meadow with moderate pitch proves a delightful introduction to the cat skiing experience. Everyone has paid attention to the briefing, and by each choosing our own line and not traversing much, everyone enjoyed untouched, boot-top high powder for about 1/2 of the run. Mike stops and we regroup near him as he and Nick access the groups’ overall skill and comfort level. There have been no falls, nobody has any complaints, and everyone is just aching to end the committee meeting and get back to skiing. So, off we go, following Mike’s lead for the second half of our run which ends at a road where we wait a few minutes for Todd to pick us up in the cat.
Mike and Nick concur that we’re a pretty strong group, (we had all opted for the “advanced” option on our applications,) so they decide to provide us with some more challenging terrain choices for the duration of the day. Second run has us in some widely spaced aspens. On the third run the trees get tighter. On and on, we hop from meadows to trees and the smiles just keep on coming. The guides change places, alternating between leading, trailing, and cat driving duty. Everyone gets to play.
On a personal equipment based tangent; There was sufficient room on the cat for me to bring along my own skis, the ugly black Gotamas aka “Tokyo Nights,” last of the pre-rockered Goats in 183cm. I switched over to them after the second run on the Armadas, also in 183. Didn’t look back. Much preferred my own skis as the JJ’s felt very short and the snow wasn’t deep enough to “need” the rocker I guess. There was one very tight tree run that I’d have liked to have tried the Armadas on, but was very happy with my own skis. On the up side, there’s one less thing on my “must have” list.
Lunch break has us pull up to SPC’s heated cabin in the woods. I generally don’t make a big deal about this meal on a ski day, usually satisfying myself with an orange, apple, or banana, granola bar, and some water. The Powder Cats however have a very different idea of what the mid-day meal entails. A SERIOUSLY wonderful meal is prepared and brought to the cabin where it’s served most graciously and almost elegantly. Our repast consisted of a wonderful, hearty soup, freshly baked muffins, a baked ham, and some steamed fresh vegetables. This was followed up with a cookie approximately the size of the tire from a Siberian dump truck. (Even with sharing it out over the afternoon, my cookie lasted for 4 days.) This amazing repast lasted for all of about 45 minutes, rest-room break included. The SPC folks have got this drill down pat, and there is no lolly-gagging or waiting around. Back to skiing for this crew.
Afternoon found our happy family back on the hill and in the cat going virtually non-stop until 4:00 when we finally had to call it a day, and met the van for the ride back to town. One spectacular bonus to the afternoon session was the addition of Pete, aka Beuford, to our rolling mob. Beuford was our SPC photographer for the day, and he took three runs with us before heading back to the office to prepare the days’ shots for distribution.
Once back at Mission Control, we were greeted by the office staff and handed some refreshing malt, barley, and hop infused beverages, some pretzels, a sticker or two, and were invited to take our time changing out of our boots, looking at the video monitors on which were displayed some of the images that Beuford made during the day, and sharing tales of mirth, daring feats, and our not so spectacular athletic endeavors. As a parting gift, (also included in the total cost,) we were each given a CD loaded with all of the images that Beuford made of our troop. The smiles were seemingly endemic, and laughter and good cheer permeated the little room until we all bid each other a fond adieu.
It was only later that night, while safely ensconced in my room, while my roommate snored gently, that I loaded the CD of Beuford’s photos into my computer and was amazed. This young man managed to do something that’s not happened in years. He actually made me look handsome. (Helmet and goggles probably helped.) Not only that, but over the course of three runs, he made at least a dozen highly flattering and all sorts of way cool action shots of every single member of our party. These were way beyond your standard Sharpshooters happy snapshots. These were some finely crafted photographs.
To recap, like much of the US ski industry this season, Steamboat Powder Cats has been adversely effected by the lack of snow. I was fortunate indeed to have the chance to run with them on my scheduled day. As I understand, they had to delay their inaugural trip for over five weeks, and the Expert terrain did not open for about one additional week. Was the terrain super gnarly? Certainly not, but that’s not what I expected from the Advanced trip. Was the powder waist deep? Again, the answer is no, but that just wasn’t in the cards on that given day. The powder was however boot high at least, and ran almost knee high in some of the trees. Only face shots that I got were courtesy of some very close brushes with low hanging, snow laden branches. Only other option to get snow on your goggles was to fall. Every single run offered the opportunity to make a top to bottom descent without having to cross another skiers’ tracks. In fact, there were only two specific instances where I crossed another skiers’ tracks and both were of my own volition; once when I played 8’s with one of my new buddies, and another time during a run through very tight trees where I determined that the most sensible line was a series of three or four turns that were made by the lead guide. Did I get to ski enough? Well, I never get to ski enough. SPC advertises a minimum of 8 runs per day. Our group made 13. It should be noted though that our group was comprised of some pretty strong skiers. No laggers, whiners, or complainers, and when someone fell, they were quickly back on stride so there were no instances that I can recall where the group had to wait long for any individual to catch up. Also, everyone listened to the guides’s instructions so nobody got lost, and as I understand, a lost skier can put a major dent in the day’s plan. Would I take another trip with SPC? In a heartbeat. My day provided me with a bounty of golden memories, and fuel for many months worth of good dreams. Oh yeah, I’ve also got some cool action shots and one photo of Handsome Baz.
You’ve made it this far through my rambling discourse, so as a reward, and in order to avoid having to see someone post the dreaded “This Thread Is Useless With Out Photos” emoticons, here are some photographs of the day. Please note that with the exception of the image of Beuford wallowing in the snow, all of these photographs were made by Pete Beuth, aka the aforementioned Beuford.
My new adopted family, bloated from lunch and ready to get back to business.
One of the resident lunatic snow dogs.
Baz on cruise control.
Look Ma. No moguls.
Into the woods in search of lions and tigers and bears.
Cousin Jenna, wearing an ugly jacket, exits the trees unscathed.
Cousin Keith adds another ding to his well scarred helmet.
Sometimes the guides treat each other with suave dignity and kind words. At other times they don't.
Showing my steeze in the trees.
Todd decides not to father more children.
Cousin Keith finds a mogul.
Uncle Jay's feeling good and skiing smoothly.
Might be time to concentrate a wee bit.
Beuford gets in deep.
Time for one last lap.
Beuford performs a minor miracle and produces the "Handsome Baz" portrait.