A Beginner’s Guide to Cat Skiing

Wildhorse Cat Skiing is one of Canada’s premier cat skiing destinations. But what exactly is it? For Americans and Canadians without backcountry experience, cat skiing might sound like a technique or style of skiing. While you may have deduced what this practice is from our previous post, we want to provide a more comprehensive look at this interesting and resourceful ski method.

Cat skiing began over thirty years ago at Selkirk Wilderness in British Columbia. The founders, Brenda and Alan Drury, figured out that the machines used to groom ski hills—snowcats—would make an excellent tool for increasing backcountry access. Sturdy, built for snow, and perfect for mountain traversing, these machines could access all types of backcountry terrain with a limited network of snow roads. In essence, cat skiing is a form of backcountry skiing wherein skiers and riders utilize a snowcat to access portions of backcountry terrain. They drive up with a guide, spend the day skiing, and drive back in the snowcat.

Since that original epiphany, cat skiing popularity has expanded each year—with the past ten years seeing an especially accelerated growth. Improvements in technology have made it a strong rival of heli-skiing (for our post on the benefits and disadvantages of both backcountry options, see here). Advanced snowcats are better at climbing through tough terrain, allowing backcountry enthusiasts to access steeper grades and exponentially more terrain. Cats can now drive more smoothly and quietly, making for a nice, relaxing drive up to the run.

When embarking on a cat skiing adventure, your group will likely consist of a lead guide, a tailguide, a driver, and around a dozen ski guests. As with all backcountry sport, the weather will determine the type of terrain used each day. Clear days can bring snowcats up into the alpine, whereas snowy or cloudy days will be spent in the trees and glades. A typical run of 2,000 feet of vertical will take about twenty minutes to ascent in a snowcat and a similar amount of time to descend on skis. Some cat skiing operations build in a picnic lunch out on the snow, providing a bit of comfort not usually experienced on backcountry expeditions.

What Makes for the Best Ski Resort Lodging?

We talked in a previous post about the relative appeal and trade-off between cat skiing and heli-skiing. And these two forms of extreme backcountry skiing can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But there’s also the other side of the coin when it comes to the Ski Wildhorse site. We also want to discuss and explore what makes fo the best ski resort lodging experience. Not just at Wildhorse Meadows in Steamboat Springs, but anywhere.

 

Access to Lifts and Slopes: Even if skiing isn’t the only thing you care about, if it’s even one of the things you care about, then you’ll want to consider how convenient the lodging is to get to the lifts and ski runs. True ski-in/ski-out access is, of course, the gold standard, but there are any number of variations on a theme. Some spots may be just ski-out access as you ski down a slope to get to the main resort lifts but then you need to find a way to get back up the hill to your lodging. Moreover, ski-in/ski-out access may mean that you’re more tethered to a single ski area than you might otherwise prefer. A more central, if remote lodging option, can give you reasonable access and transportation to multiple ski areas without switching your lodging choice mid-trip.

 

Comfort and Amenities: Après-ski is most often talked about in terms of dining and entertainment. However, in recuperating from your time on the mountain and preparing for the next day, the comfort and amenities of your lodging will play a huge role. It starts with a comfortable bed, reliable heating, insulated walls and guest policies to ensure you have a reasonably good night’s sleep. Other restorative and popular amenities for skiers include a hot tub, easy ski storage, and generally responsive hospitality services.

 

Private vs. Social Vibes: More than the individual room and amenities, the lodging site will have some type of vibe or character that you should consider. Standalone cabins, for example, offer superior privacy and intimacy for your group and experience. Standard hotel floor plans create more shared amenities and entertainment spaces. These types of ski resorts can deliver a more social vibe in which you’ll have plenty of opportunities to mingle and meet new people during the trip. Likewise, some resorts may skew more toward a family-friendly vibe, while others carve out more spaces and policies that are popular with young singles.

 

 

Cat Skiing vs Heli-Skiing: Which Provides the Better Experience?

This is one of the classic debates among serious and affluent backcountry skiers who are looking for the ultimate thrills and weeklong ski vacation that the industry has to offer. While modern-day ski lifts and air-tram technology is impressive on its own, new forms of mountain transportation are delivering higher powder turn and access to more remote mountain slopes and backcountry trails. But which offers the superior experience: snowcats or helicopters?

The snowcat provides a more natural and convenient shelter. You’ll have a built-in place to eat lunch. There’s more of a connection to the mountain and landscape. Snowcat skiing is also considerably more affordable—with sources quoting average prices of $4,000-$7,000 for cat skiing per week and $7,000-$12,000 for heli-skiing. These are for group experiences. Small private parties will pay more.

As such, in terms of overall trip experience and dollar-for-dollar value, most people vote cat skiing. On the other hand, in terms of daily vertical, heli-skiing offers a far superior powder turn for skiers are looking to get in as much top-notch skiing as possible. Even accounting for the extra cost, if the trip is all about the skiing for you, this might make more sense.

In the United States, there’s also a question of availability. Cat skiing is more popular in Canada where there are close to a dozen operators. The number has been growing in recent years but there are only about a handful of commercial cat skiing companies in the U.S. By contrast, there are a dozen U.S. heli-skiing operators in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. This difference also speaks to a larger cultural difference. Heli-skiing is for the affluent who are willing to put down a pretty penny in return for the exclusivity, powder turns, and sheer thrill that comes with heli-skiing.

 

Wildhorse Meadows in Steamboat Springs

Our other favorite Wildhorse skiing spot, the Wildhorse Meadows is located at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area and offers one of the best skiing experiences in all of Colorado. Especially over the last decade in which the Wildhorse Gondola has connected the lodge to the larger ski area, this spot has come to define convenience and affordable luxury. It used to be the only residential ski community with its own private gondola, but we’re not sure that’s still true anymore.

 

Homestead is the newest addition to Wildhorse Meadows with three and four bedroom new construction condominiums that live like single-family homes. Each residence includes access to all of the Wildhorse amenities steps from your front door, including the gondola, Athletic Club, grotto spas, game room, heated outdoor swimming pool, private shuttle and the Ranch House.

 

Where is Wildhorse Meadows?

1468 Bangtail Way, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487

 

Wildhorse Cat Skiing

Wildhorse Cat Skiing is located in the center of BC’s powder triangle with amazing road trip opportunities in all directions. Ymir is located 20 minutes south of Nelson, British Columbia on Hwy 6. It’s 10 minutes north of Salmo, which is at the junction of Hwy 3 and Hwy 6.

 

Multi day packages start with accommodation for the night prior to your first day of skiing. Accommodation options include the Ymir Palace or the Ymir Hotel in Ymir. Find the Ymir Hotel on main street and go one block uphill – you will see the large Wildhorse Catskiing sign. Ymir has a population of around 300 but historically is a turn of the century mining hotel when it boasted a population of around 5,000.

 

By Airplane:

Closest Canadian Airports – Trail, BC or Castlegar, BC, or Cranbrook, BC

Closest US/International Airport – Spokane, WA.(USA)

 

By Car:

Spokane, WA 4.5 hours south

Castlegar, BC 1.5 hours north

Vancouver, BC is 8 hours west.

Calgary, AB is 7 hours east.

Revelstoke, BC is 2 hours north.

 

Nearby Ski Resorts

Whitewater Ski Resort. 20 minutes

Red Mountain Ski Resort. 1 hour

Fernie Snow Valley. 3 hours east

49 North. WA. 1 hour south.

Schweitzer Resort – Sandpoint ID . 1 hours south

Other Attractions:

Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort – 45 minutes east

 

 

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