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.

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