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Cat skiing...is it worth it?

post #1 of 87
Thread Starter 

Almost 400 for a one day trip. On the one hand, you have the promise of untracked powder, on the other, there is no guarantee of conditions and unless it is too dangerous to ski, they are non-refundable, without an insurance fee. It sounds intriguing. I don't have the money for a full heli-ski type of trip. Is this the next best thing? Anyone who has had an experience with snow-cat assisted skiing I welcome you to chime in.  

post #2 of 87
I think it depends a lot on which operation and the location. I have friends who do Chatter Creek every year and love it (or they wouldn't do it every year...Duh.) Also have had friends do the local guys last year and also loved it, but last year was a good year. Not sure if it'll be worth it this season locally.
post #3 of 87

There are some less expensive options tied into ski mountains.  I have used the one at Powder Mountain.  Do a search as to which mountains have them.  Kirkwood, Red Mountain, Brian Head and Revelstoke are ones to start with.  You could hedge your bets that way. 

post #4 of 87
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post

I think it depends a lot on which operation and the location. I have friends who do Chatter Creek every year and love it (or they wouldn't do it every year...Duh.) Also have had friends do the local guys last year and also loved it, but last year was a good year. Not sure if it'll be worth it this season locally.


I've heard those predictions too. Last year was pretty weak too, after a pretty good December, until March. How predictable is the forecast for next season?

post #5 of 87

Yes cat skiing is worth it with a couple of conditions 

- that you have the necessary powder skills to maximize the money/enjoyment equation

- that powder skiing is a rare or nonexistant occurence at your regular lift served hill

 

FWIW Cat skiing is a better bet than heliskiing from a reliability standpoint. I was on a 7 day cat package at Revy (before the

resort was developed) meeting in the lodge with heliskiiers. For days they waited for the weather to clear while we skied deep, fresh, falling snow in the trees. Plus cat skiing is much cheaper then heli so it's all relative.

 

Cat skiing at Castle

 

post #6 of 87
They haven't changed their minds for months for here. I'm expecting half the snowfall this year that we had last year. Even bought new groomer skis and considering trips elsewhere (never do that). I tell myself that after skiing the Poconos for 28 years that I should be able to put up with anything, but I've gotten totally spoiled after 11 years here.
post #7 of 87

Depends on when and where. Depends on the conditions and recent weather.  And your skill set.

 

We loved Powder Mtn Cats.  Good vertical and steeper than most of the inbounds terrain.  But if it's been snowing a lot and the hill is relatively empty, not much need for the cats until the in-bounds powder has been skied off.

 

Targhee cats accessed pretty boring terrain last time we skied there, but that may have changed.

 

Best cat skiing we did was Island Lake Lodge in BC but that requires a multi-day commitment and a lot of travel.  But well worth it.

post #8 of 87
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post

They haven't changed their minds for months for here. I'm expecting half the snowfall this year that we had last year. Even bought new groomer skis and considering trips elsewhere (never do that). I tell myself that after skiing the Poconos for 28 years that I should be able to put up with anything, but I've gotten totally spoiled after 11 years here.

I'm headed to California in December where I've never skied good snow. I'm not sure what it would take to get me back on a groomer and I hope I don't find out.

post #9 of 87

I have only had the good fortune to do this once. Heck yes it's worth it.

 

Can you get the same experience in-bounds, especially if you are willing to hike a little and are lucky? Yes. But not lap after lap for a whole day. Is it fresh powder tracks guaranteed? No, not really. Most of the outfits make you book in advance and there are good and bad condition days like anywhere. I went on a very low-snow year so we had to scramble over some bare spots etc., but still amazing.

 

The permit area for the snow-cat operation I went on was close to the same as the nearby resort and had 10 people in a cat versus thousands on the slopes nearby. you can imagine how different that experience was! You are skiing in wilderness not surrounded by the maddening crowd. Again, you can get that experience inbounds if you work at it and get lucky, but only for moments and never with consistency.

 

go for it.

post #10 of 87
Quote:
I tell myself that after skiing the Poconos for 28 years that I should be able to put up with anything, but I've gotten totally spoiled after 11 years here.

Then you know the answer to that question since you've had 4 mild El Ninos during those 11 years.  Whitefish data is limited to December-March.  2004-05 and 2009-10 were bad but 2002-03 and and 2006-07 were only slightly below average.  That pattern seems to hold for previous El Ninos at Whitefish, half of them seriously deficient, the other half only modestly below average.

 

The correct answer to the OP's question is this:

Quote:

I think it depends a lot on which operation and the location.

 

You need to be careful with:

Quote:

There are some less expensive options tied into ski mountains.

First, those operations usually don't get any more snow than the nearby resort. Second, the amount of terrain can be on the modest side.  Thus booking far in advance can be risky.  If you're there and you know there has been recent snow, then you might go for it.

 

At any operation you will spend some time with avalanche safety drills on the first day, which is the only day with a day operator.  Also, guides will be conservative in terrain choices until they see how everyone skis.  By my experience it is rare to get more than 10,000 vertical on that first day. 

 

Quote:
Best cat skiing we did was Island Lake Lodge in BC but that requires a multi-day commitment and a lot of travel.  But well worth it.

The best experiences will usually be on multiday trips like that.  I have been with Island Lake 4 times.  Their terrain, level of service and efficiency are top-notch.  You get a lot of vertical there if it's open top-to-bottom.  However it's in the same mountain range as Fernie and thus can get rain on its lower terrain.

post #11 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post

Quote:
There are some less expensive options tied into ski mountains.

First, those operations usually don't get any more snow than the nearby resort.

Well, yeah...but significantly, the snow is untracked. Which is the whole point.

Quote:
Second, the amount of terrain can be on the modest side.  Thus booking far in advance can be risky.  If you're there and you know there has been recent snow, then you might go for it.

At any operation you will spend some time with avalanche safety drills on the first day, which is the only day with a day operator.  Also, guides will be conservative in terrain choices until they see how everyone skis.  By my experience it is rare to get more than 10,000 vertical on that first day. 

My experience with the snowcat operation that's loosely tied with Purgatory/Durango Mtn Resort was much different. They have 35,000 acres of permit area, and didn't do avy safety drills though there was discussion on the way to the area, and weren't real conservative in terrain choices. So, as noted earlier in the thread:
Quote:
I think it depends a lot on which operation and the location.

To address the OP, IME/IMO it was well worth it. Hey, it's only money after all.
post #12 of 87
Most definitely yes.....Next question

Seriously if you can afford it it's a no brainer.
post #13 of 87

Yes!  And, I'll second this recommendation:

http://sanjuanuntracked.com/

 

I have maybe five days with the previous owners and the snow on every run looked pretty much like this:

 

 

I've been to a couple others in Colorado and had a good time, but will keep going back to the operation out of Purgatory.

post #14 of 87

IMO if you get good weather/conditions, it would be worth it.  If you don't, it's not (hint: I didn't).

 

Note that I've only been cat skiing once.  Well, technically I've been on a cat skiing trip twice, but the first time the conditions were so terrible (very bad freeze/thaw crust) we rain-checked and came back again the next year.  And we still didn't manage to have very good conditions.

 

If you can afford it, go for it, just don't expect it to be the "trip of a lifetime" because it could be amazing but could be a bust.  With how far in advance you need to book normally, it's a pretty big and expensive gamble.

post #15 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Lee View Post


Well, yeah...but significantly, the snow is untracked. Which is the whole point.
My experience with the snowcat operation that's loosely tied with Purgatory/Durango Mtn Resort was much different. They have 35,000 acres of permit area, and didn't do avy safety drills though there was discussion on the way to the area, and weren't real conservative in terrain choices. So, as noted earlier in the thread:
To address the OP, IME/IMO it was well worth it. Hey, it's only money after all.

 Are you saying that they just gave you a beacon, probe and shovel and then did not practice its use? Both Cat Ski ops that I have skied with, on the first morning had the guests find a buried beacon and then probes and shovels to uncover the buried beacon.

 

Did they show you how to switch the beacon from send to receive? Did they check each skier before the first run to verify that they had the beacon correctly set at "send"?

 

I have only Cat skied in Canada, so maybe the regulations are stricter, but regardless if there was an avy death and if it was revealed during an accident investigation that there was no training in the use of avy gear, then the Cat op might be guilty of negligence or possibly the more serious gross negligence. I wouldn't ski with these guys...just sayin.

post #16 of 87

FWIW the cat ski operation out of Purg changed hands last year with the new owner conducting operations starting last season, but I do not know what their avi protocol is now.

post #17 of 87

Do the cat operations usually ski during the storms or do they wait it out?

post #18 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanoT View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Lee View Post

Well, yeah...but significantly, the snow is untracked. Which is the whole point.

My experience with the snowcat operation that's loosely tied with Purgatory/Durango Mtn Resort was much different. They have 35,000 acres of permit area, and didn't do avy safety drills though there was discussion on the way to the area, and weren't real conservative in terrain choices. So, as noted earlier in the thread:

To address the OP, IME/IMO it was well worth it. Hey, it's only money after all.

 Are you saying that they just gave you a beacon, probe and shovel and then did not practice its use? Both Cat Ski ops that I have skied with, on the first morning had the guests find a buried beacon and then probes and shovels to uncover the buried beacon.

Did they show you how to switch the beacon from send to receive? Did they check each skier before the first run to verify that they had the beacon correctly set at "send"?

I have only Cat skied in Canada, so maybe the regulations are stricter, but regardless if there was an avy death and if it was revealed during an accident investigation that there was no training in the use of avy gear, then the Cat op might be guilty of negligence or possibly the more serious gross negligence. I wouldn't ski with these guys...just sayin.

I had my own beacon, probe, and shovel, and I was skiing with a group that had just skied Silverton for a couple of days before we went to Purgatory. It was a while ago and I don't recall what they did with the people in the cat that weren't with my group, but I'm sure we didn't do any drills. I wrote in my post that there was discussion on the way to the permit area about avy stuff - I don't remember much about that other than partnering. Edit to add: We did beacon checks to see that they were working and on Tx.

Interestingly, there weren't any drills at Silverton either, though beacons, etc. are required there. I'd be interested to hear from people that had a different experience, either at Silverton or at San Juan Snowcats.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mudfoot View Post

FWIW the cat ski operation out of Purg changed hands last year with the new owner conducting operations starting last season, but I do not know what their avi protocol is now.

I noticed on the website that the outfit had a different name. I can only speak to my experience some years ago.

Quote:
Originally Posted by core2 View Post

Do the cat operations usually ski during the storms or do they wait it out?

It depends on the storm, but cats aren't grounded just because it's snowing.
Edited by Bob Lee - 8/25/14 at 7:01am
post #19 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanoT View Post
 

 Are you saying that they just gave you a beacon, probe and shovel and then did not practice its use? Both Cat Ski ops that I have skied with, on the first morning had the guests find a buried beacon and then probes and shovels to uncover the buried beacon.

 

Did they show you how to switch the beacon from send to receive? Did they check each skier before the first run to verify that they had the beacon correctly set at "send"?

 

I have only Cat skied in Canada, so maybe the regulations are stricter, but regardless if there was an avy death and if it was revealed during an accident investigation that there was no training in the use of avy gear, then the Cat op might be guilty of negligence or possibly the more serious gross negligence. I wouldn't ski with these guys...just sayin.

 

I have cat skied at three ops in CO, and they only distributed beacons, not shovels or probes. They do tell you how to operate, and give a brief safety spiel, but no actual drills. I was ok with it because the terrain we skied (especially at the first two) was pretty mellow. The third was more snow and steeper terrain, but they actually control their permit area to mitigate slides. They set off a big one while we were there in fact (on terrain we weren't skiing, of course.)  I haven't been on a truly huge snow day, so I imagine it is different then. Safety records are just fine, ie I am pretty sure they said at Steamboat that in 30 years they've never had a buried customer.

post #20 of 87
A little thread drift here: Do they do avy drills at Targhee? Has anyone ever done them at Silverton?
post #21 of 87

I have gone cat skiing with Big Red Cats out of Rossland, BC.  Definitely worth the money!

post #22 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Lee View Post

A little thread drift here: Do they do avy drills at Targhee? Has anyone ever done them at Silverton?

Only been there once, and no drills. I was unguided, though, on a high-risk day, and not very much terrain was open. A patroller friend had to be dug out that day during a route. (His head wasn't buried, just up to the neck.)

post #23 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by Castle Dave View Post
 

Yes cat skiing is worth it with a couple of conditions 

- that you have the necessary powder skills to maximize the money/enjoyment equation

- that powder skiing is a rare or nonexistant occurence at your regular lift served hill

 

FWIW Cat skiing is a better bet than heliskiing from a reliability standpoint. I was on a 7 day cat package at Revy (before the

resort was developed) meeting in the lodge with heliskiiers. For days they waited for the weather to clear while we skied deep, fresh, falling snow in the trees. Plus cat skiing is much cheaper then heli so it's all relative.

This ^^^^^.

 

In general, if Dave's two conditions hold, I would believe it's worth it. It will be an experience you won't forget, and it's probably not much more per day than a luxury all-inclusive in the Caribbean.

 

Powder may happen. Or not. It can't be guaranteed, and you need to understand that. Most operations do a good job of distributing their skiers over large amounts of terrain so that the powder lasts quite a while, as long as it doesn't warm up.

 

With all that said, I have to say that I rarely go cat skiing, even though I live in Cat Ski Central and can cherry pick my days, since I don't have to travel. It's because of the second condition. My regular lift-served hill often has powder and it has relatively few skiers.

 

I have to ask...How do you fulfill the first condition if the second condition holds?   :dunno

post #24 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by jhcooley View Post

 

I have to ask...How do you fulfill the first condition if the second condition holds?   :dunno

 

Oh, quit thinking like an engineer... ;)

post #25 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by jhcooley View Post
 

 

With all that said, I have to say that I rarely go cat skiing, even though I live in Cat Ski Central and can cherry pick my days, since I don't have to travel. It's because of the second condition. My regular lift-served hill often has powder and it has relatively few skiers.

 

 

Me too -> Wahoo!!!:yahoo:

post #26 of 87

While I don't have a specific recommendation, cat skiing can offer 20k vertical or better in a day of fresh lines.

 

Dick Dorworth wrote a compelling account of White Grizzly that has me considering a trip.

http://www.mountaingazette.com/features/ski-good-or-eat-wood-white-grizzly-adventures/

 

They even have appropriate skis for you.

 

In the land of deadly tree wells, I would be asking the guides on their protocols regarding that hazard.

post #27 of 87

For the OP, for what it's worth, we have a number of video pieces from cat, heli, and resort skiing areas on our Epic Ski page, here: http://www.epicski.com/peak-travels

 

Also, Freeride has a number of video stories on his, as well: http://www.epicski.com/freeride-media

 

White Grizzly is one of the featured areas but Big Red Cats, Mustang Powder, Monashee Powder, and others are there, too.

 

As to the question, 'is it worth it?'. Only if you like this kind of skiing... :D

 

071215selkirkt 192cc (3).jpg

post #28 of 87
Quote:
Originally Posted by GoldMember View Post

 

As to the question, 'is it worth it?'. Only if you like this kind of skiing... :D

 

071215selkirkt 192cc (3).jpg

 

What you meant to say is: "Only if you get these kinds of conditions."

 

I know I already replied in this thread once... but as someone who most definitely did not get those kinds of conditions the two times I tried to go with Big Red Cats, I want to make sure the OP knows that you aren't guaranteed to get anything close to that.  You may actually get conditions worse than your average day on the hill, depending on where you usually ski.

post #29 of 87
Quote:

Dick Dorworth wrote a compelling account of White Grizzly that has me considering a trip.

http://www.mountaingazette.com/features/ski-good-or-eat-wood-white-grizzly-adventures/

I was on that same trip and share Dick's enthusiastic review. http://www.firsttracksonline.com/2012/09/10/snowcat-skiing-with-white-grizzly/

But do not even think about choosing White Grizzly as your first cat trip unless powder skiing steep trees is second nature to you. 

Dick Dorworth wrote:

Brad puts it this way: “I’d rather have eight skiers with the skills and experience to enjoy what we are offering here, than have eleven where three of them struggle and hold up the group because they aren’t fit for the terrain … We screen our guests because we aren’t willing to take those risks on the mountain. It’s about finding a balance. I value safety because I want to keep on doing what I do, and we only bring in guests that love steep powder, so my reward is being with them on the mountain every day.”

 

Quote:

While I don't have a specific recommendation, cat skiing can offer 20k vertical or better in a day of fresh lines.

I have 63 days of lifetime cat skiing. Exactly one was in excess of 20K.  I have averaged 15,800 in 13 days at Mustang and 14,200 in 11 days at Island Lake.  The White Grizzly trip averaged 13,100 though the last 2 days were 15K+.

 

My other 35 days of cat skiing averaged 10,700.  As I said before, on a one-day trip with safety briefings you'll be lucky to get 10K. 

 

Quote:
I want to make sure the OP knows that you aren't guaranteed to get anything close to that.

Very true.  The most common condition is consistent "settled powder,"  which is still damned good untracked vs. cut-up snow in most lift served resorts.   For the super deep snow like that pic, you need the snowfall to have been recent and substantial.  In a prime location that gets close to 500 inches, that's probably in the 20% range of days.

Quote:
You may actually get conditions worse than your average day on the hill, depending on where you usually ski.

4 of my 63 days had truly awful conditions.  Another 3 had no powder but decent skiing.   Probably 20% had a mix of good powder with some more variable conditions. So overall let's say 20% awesome, 50% good consistent powder, 20% mixed good and not so good, 5% mediocre and 5% bad. 

 

Keep in mind the above range of conditions were based upon my choices, and I'm obsessive about trying to avoid historically questionable locations or times of year.

 

Quote:
White Grizzly is one of the featured areas but Big Red Cats, Mustang Powder, Monashee Powder, and others are there, too.

Big Red is in a location that gets only about 300 inches and is low altitude.  Their terrain and service rep is excellent, and as jaobrien6 alluded, they are more generous than most about giving you a rain check when conditions aren't good.   That said, I wouldn't commit far advance $$$ to anyplace without 400+ inches of snow and substantial acreage.


Edited by Tony Crocker - 9/30/15 at 1:48pm
post #30 of 87

The cat operation off of Aspen Mountain only goes if they think the conditions are good enough to be worth it.  And they cancel quite a few days that they think are marginal...

 

Mike

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