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Chicago Ridge Snow Cat Tour at Ski Cooper

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
Chicago Ridge Snow Cat ski trip 02/17/02

Sunny blue skies and easy temps. Some wind higher up late in the day as a front began to move in. Morning runs were a mixed bag of variable conditions, meaning some snow was perfect for wide open ripping powder turns while other sections (a majority unfortunately) were a bit like Russian Roulette: one never knew when the poor base would suck one under.

Our guide explained that the low snow pack allows for the moisture in the lower depths of the snow to be sucked out creating a very unstable base. One cannot identify this snow by looking at it. The best way to identify it is to hit it at high speed. Kerplow! And then one finds that though the snow pack may be low it is still deep enough to engulf a person and make them feel like they are trying to extricate themselves from bottomless quicksand. Exhausting.

After lunch we moved over to another basin which holds more predictable snow. This yielded 4 or 5 perfect runs of deep untracked fresh that was fast and fun. The runs begin above treeline then drop down through various tree stands and through areas of old mining clear cuts that left tall, weathered stumps of trees. Fun, beautiful terrain.

At the end of the day everyone was seriously worked over. Many thought that the morning snow was the most challenging they’d ever skied. Many diggers and tips diving on one strong skier’s straight powder boards. The XXX 188 handled it all very well. The wider shovel kept those babies floating. I’ll post a review of the ski in the Gear section.

The boarders had it hardest. If they slowed down or were stopped they were stuck in deep snow. And there are traverses from certain slopes back to the cat roads that were laid in by the guides while they were on tele or randonee gear. Not designed with boards in mind. This made for adventure or frustration, depending on how they looked at it. These traverses were even tough on skis as they shot through the woods and made hard blind turns etc. I would prefer to do without these but that is part of the game.

The views are inspiring. Many 14teeners in the Collegiate Range are just across the way. Mt. Massive is just over yonder. And past that we could see the Maroon Bells and part of Snowmass Mtn.

Cat skiing is a crap shoot. If you hit it on a good snow day it can be a grand experience. Or, if you hit crust or unsupportable snow…it can suck. Both times I’ve been to Chicago Ridge our mornings were very difficult. Last year it was wind crust. This year the unsupportable snow. On each trip the afternoons turned it all around with the powder runs.

At the end of the day I was happy. I’d had fun on a beautiful day in a great location. I had been challenged (can yousay “hack”?) and at times had to work through some frustration. I also had some awesome moments of soloing through some untracked glade, not a track or another person in view, with options for turns in every direction ahead of me. But, next year my friends and I will consider Berthoud and also El Diablo Snowcats down near Durango. Unless we decide to go for a best out of three and hope that we could hit Chicago Ridge on a full on good snow day. But that is always tricky and I don’t think we’ll make that bet.
post #2 of 11
Awesome! I really enjoy the Chicago Ridge experience. It's all low angle terrain but there's over 2K acres to play in. There's also lots of different facing aspects to choose from. If this one is wind scoured then we'll go over there in the trees and find a breakable surface.

Rocks, submerged stumps, streams and tightening glades are all part of the experience while seeking the freshest snow. Another thing to consider is the make up of your group. How was your group, Astro? Boy, one bad apple can spoil the day. I'm still surprised that fat boards aren't required. One time a few seasons ago, this guy showed up with kinda short bump skis. He kept the rest waiting quite a lot while The rear guide was constanly digging him out of his holes. Don't get me wrong, skiiny skis will work. But, fatties will make the whole experience much more enjoyable.

Who were your guides? I keep in touch with Russ every so often to get a report on the conditions.

I've found that the unconsolidated snow that is closest to the ground will get "human bombed" and "skier tracked" all through January and February. That leaves March as a better month to seek out their goods.

Although, like you, I couldn't wait either. I was skiing The Ridge last January 28th. It was kinda the same then as you described. Lots of unconsolidated snow underneath. Talk about being prepared for a sudden change of your skis flotation.

A Colorado Bears outing to The Ridge would be fun. We'd have the group thing dialed!!
post #3 of 11
AstroChimp - What was the cost? Do they supply powder skis or is it up to you to bring your own?
post #4 of 11
Check it out here...

Chicago Ridge Info

Skis aren't included.
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
This was the strongest group of the three I have been in on cat trips. I rented the XXX for $20. $234 for the day. Russ was our guide, along with Rodney, I think his name was, who is a rookie guide this year.

Russ had a few good tales from his days in Alaska as a dry suit diver.

Everyone had XXX except for the one guy on his Atomic Heli Guides. Russ was on the new 185. Rodney was on a tele set up. Three of us rented the XXX. One guy seemed to have trouble with his...he kept coming down to the cat with more and more snow stuffed up his helmet. He had a hard day. But he never made us wait. The Atomic skier was a very good skier...those shovels just weren't wide enough.

My observation was that the snow that we had at times to struggle with in the morning reduced everyone's ability by several notches. If an intermediate skier went into that stuff they might not have come out. It was a bit brutal.

I would not go near the place without big floater skis. My first year at Monarch there was a guy on skinny skis. He was really having to work hard. I tried to talk him into renting fats at lunch but he didn't and got completely worked by the end of the day.

I love the backwater feel of Ski Cooper. The staff all seem to be very nice blue hair AARPies who have been there since world war two. A nice change of pace from the kids who staff the big resorts.

Re gray hair...the best boarder in the group and the first guy into each run after the guide was a gray haired 50 something snowboarder who was ripping up everything on his giant swallowtailed powder board.

I was so tired yesterday I left work early and went home to pass out. I'm much better today. It's hard work making tracks up there above treeline all day.
post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 
Oh yeah. I had a disposable camera along with me. I'll post some photos when I get them devloped.
post #7 of 11
In reference to previous comments about the unconsolidated "trap door" experience many have experience on Chicago Ridge this year. I know exactly what you are talking about. Sorry you had to experience the grusome effects of a poor snow year. For those who are scheduled later in the year, know that CRST received several inches over the last few days. This in turn will help the snowpack turn into whats called ET or Equi-Temperature. Which really means less trap door more supportable fun skiing. Expect more consistency in the snow pack for the rest of the season. Thats not to say however that Colorado will hit another dry spell and CRST as well as other tours will experience breakable crust, windslab, etc. All in all, this new snow means more consistency, higher drops, more vertical, and bigger smiles [img]smile.gif[/img] So in closing, I dont mean to rub it in, but today was face shots and pure bliss on Ski Cooper's Chicago Ridge Snowcat Tours!
post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 
Rub away!
post #9 of 11
Chicago Ridge Cat Skiing 2/21/02

To follow on the prior reports: about 9 of us went on the trip Thurs 2/21 and had, shall we say, an experience at both ends of the spectrum.
The bad: evidently, in returning from early morning avalanche blasting operations, the guide tipped CRST's new cat into a ditch, damaging it and costing us several hours of ski time, and costing him his job. This was agonizing for us, as it was bluebird day with a lot of new snow. To kill time, we skied a half a dozen runs at Ski Cooper on several inches of light fresh stuff.
The good: the cat showed up late morning, looking a little worse for wear (missing some parts, and wearing a coat of branches, needles and melting snow), accompanied by a very agitated owner/manager. To his eternal credit, he tried to make up the lost time for us, by staying on the mountain longer, and discounting the fee. He was a true professional about it.
The great: the skiing was extraordinary; they'd had about 20 inches of new over the last two days or so, and it was the best skiing I've had in years. We got in 8 runs in snow that was primarily dry powder (especially in the trees and on the north and west facing runs) with an occasional depth hoar thrown in to swallow us up and keep things interesting. The lean prior snowpack clearly carries trouble with it, but what was on top made up for that. Unfortunately, no one had a camera to record the gorgeous figure 8s on pristine hillsides against the deep blue sky.
Bottom line: on trips like this, you're at the mercy of the weather/snowpack, and the unexpected, but when its good, its great.
Also, kudos to Pat for turning a bad start into a great day.
post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 
Wow Doc. On our first drive up on the cat the thing could not get a grip on the icy cat road and began to slide sideways into the bowl. That was scary. I imagined it piucking up speed and maybe topling over and rolling a long way. I put my helmet on.

20 inches...at least I have had my issues with the funky snow confirmed. It was not just me or the group, it really was challenging.

This also affirms the crap shoot that is snow cat or any backcountry skiing. You get what you get. Glad you got great snow to make up for the delay.
post #11 of 11
Astrochimp: we, too, had the unsettling experience of the cat losing grip on the road (treads ate through the snow down to ice covered rocks underneath). It started to slide down into bowl, but the driver was prudent enough not to force the issue. We got out and had a few less vertical feet to ski on that run; small price to pay for safety. By the way, forgot to mention that the view from the very top is perfectly extraordinary: Maroon Bells, Collegiates, Elbert/Massive, Grand Mesa, Ten Mile, Copper Peak, Climax settling pond (yech!), Gores, etc., all in full view.
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