Epic the word is so overdone these days. But cat
skiing in Idaho is just that. Picture
a private snow cat, your million dollar mountain limousine for the day,
delivering you and seven lucky skiers to slope after slope of open snow
bowls, gorgeous deep and steep runs amid a scenic national forest. Big fat
powder skis are provided so you can float over fresh powder with the least effort.
And best of all, you can bring your kids cat skiing - provided they are
expert skiers (15+ recommended).
As a pink tinged sun rises over the Salmon River Mountains, your two guides debrief about snow safety, avalanche peeps and protocol. All the while, the snow cat is rumbling up steep, un-skied terrain. No lifts, no lodges - just you, your ride and your two expert guides. 19,000-acres of the Payette National Forest is accessible from Brundage ski area's exclusive cat ski operation.
Our first few runs were about 800 vertical each of fluffy Idaho snow in open bowls funneling to glittery glades that we threaded down to a snow covered lake. Our cat fetched us up promptly, giving us time to rest, snack, and suppress our huge smiles till we climbed to another peak to repeat.
The rumble of the cat during each ascent was in stark contrast to the serene silence when we were left on top of panoramic Granite Mountain 8,478 and stunning Slab Butte 8,225. The sweet sound of a million snow crystals surrendering under skis as we descend in deep billowing snow was occasionally interrupted by the hoot and holler from our ecstatic ski buddies.
I can't describe to you each run (there were 10 all scoring 10), we bounced down beautiful snow soaked backcountry slopes, some steep and deep, others wide open with pitch just perfect for powder shot turns. I didn't intend to fly off that fluffy knoll but the landing was so soft I swore - in a good way. That last 1,800 vertical run remains top in my memory, as do the smiling faces of my cat ski friends. My son was beaming (and he witnessed Mom's big jump).
The camaraderie that developed within our cat clutch was unquantifiable. A desire for trust and a deep love of deep snow proved quick cement (okay bad choice of words in snow country). Previous strangers thrown together in an alpine-style tank miles from safety and civilization become allies in adventure and adrenaline. First track powder privileges circled politely through our group of five men and three women.
Idaho's magnificent mountains are outstanding, and the cat is where its at to ski the pristine powder beyond Brundage's ski area boundaries. The only downside to all this upcountry skiing is that snowmobilers are also stomping this snowy stash. Today's sophisticated sleds ascend seriously steep terrain. The Idaho Park Service is working to find a compromise between cat skiing and snow-machining, since this clash of winter sports could cause safety issues, never mind the obvious virgin snow wars.
Cat skiing is cool, its poor man's heli skiingŁ at $199 for a half day, or $299 for a full of day with a catered lunch in a cozy 7,800 mountaintop wood fired yurt. You can sneak a day into your Idaho ski trip without booking a big ticket heli-trip. Also, unlike heli-skiing, you can bring your kids if they are expert skiers (of course you run the risk of spoiling them with an expensive addiction).
Cat skiing in Idaho with fresh snow, new found friends and fantastic scenery - Epic.
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All Stories by Heather Burke
All Photography by Greg Burke
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