cat skiing, snow, sled

This 400 horsepower snowcat will fulfill your skiing dreams

Words: Kate Erwin
Photo: Courtesy of Great Northern Powder Guides

Discover five epic locations to go snowcat skiing in untouched backcountry 

Great Northern Powder Guides, or GNPG, is the only cat skiing outfit in the North American state of Montana. They operate on state land in the Stillwater State Forest. Five percent of their gross goes back into the state, which is traceable straight into the Montana school system. They’re a family-run business owned and operated by Ky and Jay Sandelin.

When Jay first started the operation, he was worried about the terrain. “I thought I had average snow and average terrain, so my goal was to give guests the best cabins I can,” says Sandelin, who was a former speed-skier who fabricated his own helmets. He used his skill set to make custom cat cabins and now they have eight cats with custom cabins. But as it turned out, the terrain is spectacular and they’re always finding and preparing new areas to ski. 

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“We have runs for any individual and group from open glades, logged, burned, trees, pillows, rocks, 800 to 2,300 vertical (feet) per run. One thousand vertical per run is average,” says Sandelin. “Due to the amount of cats we have and the amount of terrain we ski, we can tailor a trip for anyone. We cater to all groups and to all ages and we have special trips set up just for teaching how to ski powder. We have cats to accommodate young, middle age, and older guests. We have had as young as 12 and as old as 82.”

On average a group will have about 10 to 12 runs a day. Their “Powder” cats do between 10,000 to 12,000 while the the “Steep and Deep” cats do between 12,000 to 14,000 vertical.

Park City Powder Cats

Park City Powder Cats is located 25 minutes from downtown Park City in the Uintas on 60,000 acres of a privately owned ranch. There are no ski areas in the Unitas, but down the road, there are a ton in the Wasatch range, also known as “Wa Angeles.” When owner Ron Bladis took over Powder Cats in 2004, he thought he was just going “come in and make it better, but it turned into a 24-7 job.” One of Bladis’ staff members, photographer Rebekah Stevens, echos the same sentiment. “We aren’t very big, we are a family. We don’t have a lot turnover,” says Stevens. “It is a really cool company to work for.”

park city, utah, snowcat

© Rebekah Stevens

“You do have to be an advanced skier, we quantify that as being able to ski non-groomed runs on a black diamond pitch at resorts out west,” says Stevens. “Although, if you book a private cat, you can bring all ability levels.”

In the morning, groups meet up in the lodge and have a safety talk. Then they head out to various locations. The PCPC uses four full-time snowcats as well as a groomer that allows them to get all of their ridgelines. “We have three iconic bowls - Giants Steps, No Name Bowl, Four Eagle Bowl - I would say one of my favorites and iconic run, is the Silver Tongue in No Name Bowl, it is a really long beautiful fall line, the snow is always beautiful in there,” sighs Stevens. Besides their epic bowls, they have gladed tree runs, steep north-facing lines to mellow low-angle glades.

Keefer Lake Lodge 
keefer, lake, lodge

© Courtesy of Keefer Lake Lodge

For all skiers, beginners to expert.

Located in the Central Monashee Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, in a town called Cherryville, Keefer Lake Lodge is one guide’s dream lodge and operation. Jeff Gostlin has been a ski guide for over 15 years. “From the first time my dad took me cat skiing, I was hooked. Watching the guides work, riding in the mountains all day long … I immediately decided this is what I want to do,” says Gostlin, naturally the lodge grew out of that.

Keefer Lake Lodge, which has a tenure on 36,000 hectares, offers terrain for beginners to expert. The lodge is unique in that everything is custom, like the cat cabins that comfortably seat 15 where no one has to ride backward and the boot room where the cat picks up and drops off guests each day (a novel idea, but not often put into practice, with guests having to tromp across other areas to take off their gear). The boot room also offers each guest an NFL style locker. Every inch of the lodge was designed from a guide’s perspective with efficiency and flow in mind. Gostlin also spared no expense to make sure the lodge was green, from using environmentally conscious paints and stains to using local organic Alpaca bedding from Crescent Moon Duvet Pillow Co.

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Aspen Mountain Powder Tours 

Aspen Mountain Powder Tours was originally called Deep Powder Inc. founded by avid skier Morty Gurrentz of Pittsburgh in the late 1960s. In 1986 the operation was bought by Aspen Ski company, the same year the mountain built its gondola. “Prior to the existence of the gondola, all cats would start their day at the bottom of the mountain early, drive up the mountain and then continue on to the cat skiing area,” recalls Bob Perlmutter, current manager of Aspen Mountain Powder Tours and employee for over three decades. “At the end of the day, you’d ski down, then later on after patrol would sweep the mountain, they would drive the cat down and drive it right into town to the local gas station to fuel up. Those were the days,” laughs Perlmutter.

Nowadays, on a typical day, clients ride the gondola to the top where they hop on the cats. Daily averages are around 10,000 vertical feet of ungroomed skiing with 1,100 acres. “Most of our terrain is intermediate in character, approximately 80 percent open bowls and gladed areas. The remaining 20 percent is advanced bowls and glades, we have no beginner terrain.”

aspen, powder, mountain

© Courtesy of Aspen Powder Tours

“Aspen is a ski town and Aspen is a mountain town. Always was, always will be. The essence of what we do is no different than what was going on 10, 20, 30 years ago. Which is simply the joy of powder skiing. It is all about people opening it up and having a good time,” says Perlmutter.

We do not guarantee any number of runs, nor do we limit the amount of runs. The average group will typically see 10 runs. Skiers must be physically strong intermediate skiers or boarders. In PSIA speak, a Level 7 or better,” says Perlmutter. Aspen also has some famous food. The running joke with clients is that they came for the skiing, but stayed for the lunches. “I put on weight every winter!” laughs Perlmutter. 

Retallack Lodge 
skiing, mountain, fresh, powder

© Courtesy of Retallack

Go big or go home, for the pros and advanced experts ONLY!

Ten years ago, two friends Chris McNamara and Phil Pinfold were sitting in the hot tub at Retallack Lodge when they decided to buy the lodge. The friends who were old rugby buddies from University of Kings in Halifax, Nova Scotia realized then and there that running the lodge was their calling, so they lead an acquisition to buy Retallack. Since then, they have molded Retallack into their vision and one or both of them are onsite daily. Retallack’s terrain, which is in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia, Canada,  lends itself to the “high-octane” crowd because of its many features. They are known for their big tree skiing, which can have massive 600-year-old cedar tree cathedrals that are homes to flying squirrels. “People can huck-off or do pillow lines or face shots in deep pow and more,” explains McNamara. “We cater more to the advanced expert skiers. People come to ski hard and party hard too, although safety is number one priority. Retallack is not the kinda lodge where if you want to go ski and then go read a book by the fireplace, we are sorta like a powder frat house,” laughs McNamara.

The lodge which turns 125 years old this year was first built by local miners, but started as a cat-skiing operation in 1996. They are now a favorite location for films and commercials having hosted Red Bull Cold Rush twice and Top Gear. They are now making strides to stay open and shredding year round with mountain biking services. The lodge has progressed from mining silver to mining powder and mining dirt. 

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