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Snowcat skiing high in Colorado.

Snowcat skiing high in Colorado

It's a downhiller's dream to schussthrough fresh, untracked powder beyond the reach of ski lifts--without paying the steep price of helicopter skiing. In Colorado, where the popularity of the Rockies has turned skiing into big business, four operators will give you a ride to the high country on a snowcat, the tractor-like machine used to groom the slopes.

The cost for a full day of snowcat skiingmay run three or four times the price of a lift ticket, but it's generally less than half what you'd pay to ski by helicopter. And for as little as $12 per person, the cats offer sightseeing tours of the peaks.

Private operators with permits take youonto national forest land, while ski areas run the trips in national forests or on their own undeveloped slopes. Half- and full-day outings are available, but limited seating makes reservations essential.

Guides trained in avalanche control leadskiers down a run selected for the group's ability, from intermediate to expert. The snowcat meets the group at a designated spot, then brings the skiers back up to the top of the run. Between 6 and 10 runs, each covering 1,000 to 1,400 vertical feet, are possible in one day.

The following private operators and skiareas offer cat service from now until late March, as weather permits. Rates given are for adults; inquire about lower costs for children and discounts for groups. Area code is 303.

Purgatory Resort, Box 666, Durango81301; 247-9000. Half-day snowcat sightseeing tours in San Juan National Forest near the ski area run $20. By special arrangement, the resort also offers moonlight tours, back-country barbecues, wine and cheese parties, and powder skiing.

Resolution Snowtours Inc., Box 2191,Vail 81657; 949-1763. Private company with permit to operate in White River and Arapaho national forests near Vail Pass. Cost is $85 for full-day cat skiing with lunch, $50 for half-day tours (up to 22 people). The company can also arrange transportation from Vail, moonlight dinners, and other special services.

Steamboat Powder Cats, Box 2468,Steamboat Springs 80477; 879-5188. Private operator in the Buffalo Pass area near Steamboat Ski Area. Offers full-day cat skiing for $110, including breakfast, lunch, powder skiing instruction, use of demo skis, and transportation from Steamboat Springs; operates two snowcats, each holding up to 12 people. Also offers night snowcat tour to Steamboat's hot springs for $30. Sightseeing for groups by special arrangement only.

Winter Park, Box 36, Winter Park 80482;726-5514. Offers all-day cat skiing ($350 for a group of up to 10 people) in its Parsenne Bowl area. Runs are on a 12,000-foot peak not serviced by lifts. Two-hour sightseeing tours for nonskiers costs $12 per person.

Photo: Delivered to top of Colorado Rockies by snowcat, group prepares to ski near Vail Pass
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Date:Feb 1, 1987
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