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Where the snowcats take you to high powder.

Snowcat skiing has been called the "poor man's helicopter skiing." Some people view it as the fastest way to learn how to ski powder, others as an adventure in wilderness skiing far from the crowded lift lines. Any way you look at it, snowcatting is catching on.

What's involved? You ride a wide-track, tank-like snowcat up the side of an undeveloped mountain (one without lifts or tows), follow a guide as you ski down through untracked snow, and rejoin the cat for another ride up. In some places, the day begins with an hour's ride to reach the base. Most operators offer downhill skiing, but some have telemarking and cross-country tours.

For decades, snowcats have been used as working vehicles at ski resorts; in some areas (such as Oregon's Mount Hood), they have hauled recreational skiers to remote areas not accessible by chair lift. Today's machines can carry up to 14 skiers and find their way over steep terrain.

Snowcat skiing ($45 to $200 a day) is less expensive than helicopter skiing ($200 to $300) and more dependable, since you won't be grounded by foul weather. But generally you spend more time shuttling up the mountain on a snowcat than you would riding a helicopter.

All operators include accommodations or can arrange them for you at nearby lodges for about $20 and up a night. Some outfitters will take skiers for a single day, others have minimum three- or five-day packages. Since snowcat and lodge space is limited, advance booking are essential. Snowcat skiing is not for everyone

All operators state that you must be at least a strong intermediate skier to get the most for your money. And you'd better be fit--you may ski up to 10,000 or 20,000 vertical feet a day. Youngsters over age 12 or so who meet the same standards are welcome.

Some operators will teach you how to handle powder snow and will divide groups into expert and novice units under different teaching guides. They may also rent you the correct skis (about $10 a day) for handling the fluffy stuff.

Even so, snowcatting may prove too much for you. On the day we tried it, poor visibility, steep terrain, and shaky technique combined to overwhelm several skiers confronting powder for the first time.

Here are 10 snowcat ski centers from Colorado to British Columbia and a word about their emphasis; these areas get 600 to 800 inches of snow a season.

Colorado. Deep Powder, Snowflake lodge, 221 E. Hyman, Aspen 81611; (303) 925-3221. offers downhill and advanced telemark skiing between 8,000 and 11,000 feet; nine-person snowcat reaches Aspen's back bowls south of developed ski resort. Season ends in April. Day trips only ($85); bring your own lunch. Rooms and apartments at nearby Snow Flake Lodge begin at $20. Seventeetnh season.

Steamboat Powder Cats, Box 2468, Steamboat Springs 80477; (303) 879-5188. Twelve-passenger snowcat operates between 7,000 and 10,800 feet from Bear Pole Ranch touring center, north of Steamboat Springs resort. Operates into May. One-day downhill and nordic packages ($90) include breakfast and lunch; two-day package (skiing, lodging, meals, transport) is $272 per person, double occupancy. Night skiing available. Powder ski rentals; free nordic and downhill instruction. First season.

Yellowstone National Park. Two outfitters take nordic skiers into the park for guided day trips and longer outing on 10-person snowcats. Both rent skis and offer lessons.

Yellowstone Alpen Guides, Box 518, West Yellowstone, Mont. 59758; (406) 646-9591. Day trips from Yellowstone's west entrance cost $65, three-day packages $140 and up. Specializes in tours to big-game winter habitats. Operates through mid-March. First season.

TWA Services, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. 82190; (307) 344-7311. Day trips from the park's north entrance (through February 26) and south entrance (March 11) cost $48; from the west entrance (March 11), $39. Rooms at park lodges begin at $27, cabins at $40.

Oregon. Mount Bailey, Diamond Lake Resort, Diamond Lake 97731; (503) 793-333. Ten-person snowcat service to downhill skiing continues into April. Ski between 5,400 feet and the 8,363-foot summit on the northwestern side of Mount Bailey, 9 miles southwest of Diamond Lake Resort. One-day rate ($55) includes lunch; accommodations run from $28 at diamond Lake Resort, where tours begin. Three-day midweek packages (lodging and breakfast only) begin at $34.50 per person, double occupancy. loaner powder skis (free). Fourth season.

Pelican Butte, 1545 Pacific Terrace, Klamath Falls 97601; (503) 884-5754. Twelve-person snowcat runs between 6,000 and 7,800 feet on the northwest slopes of Pelican Butte, about 25 miles northwest of Klamath Falls; into April. Outings start at Harriman Springs Resort on Rocky Point Road, 3 miles north of Tomahawk ski Bowl. Day trips cost $45; resort rooms in the area are $30 and up. Cross-country tours can be arranged for about $30 a day. Second season.

Washington. Equinox (formerly Methow Valley Guides), Box 21, Winthrop 98862; (509) 996-2507. Downhill and cross-country skiing between 5,200 and 7,200 feet near Hart's Pass on the border of the Pasayten Wilderness; through April. Helicopter flies visitors to cabins at 6,000-foot base camp. Ten-person snowcat goes to downhill ski sites, or you can follow a cross-country guide for day outings or hut-to-hut tours. Minimum three-day stay is $450, four days $600, seven days $1,050. Rents downhill and cross-country equipment. Third year.

British Columbia. Most guests arrive by car, but the first operator below will pick you up in Revelstoke (served by train) or bus you in from Calgary. The third will meet you in Castlegar, served by Pacific Western airlines from vancouver and Calgary (look for excursion fares; about $120 U.S.), and transport you to his lodge.

Great Northern Snowcat Skiing, Box 2763, Salmon Arm VOE 2T0; (604) 832-9500. Downhill skiing through late April between 5,000 and 7,500 feet in the Selkirk Mountains, about 50 miles south of Revelstoke. Will teach powder snow technique; rents powder equipment. Two-day packages (the minimum) range from $305 to $355 per person. Six-day packages begin at $835. Uses 14-person lodge, 1 mile from ski area, and 14-person snowcat. Fifth season.

Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, Meadow Creek VOG 1N0; (604) 366-4424. Operates through april between 5,000 and 8,000 feet in the Selkirks, about 60 miles north of Nelson, B.C. (a 4-hour drive north of Spokane). You can downhill ski for just a day on weekends ($100); five-day package ($750 to $950) includes skiing, lodging, and all meals. Will teach powder technique. Operates 12-person lodge, 2 miles from mountain base, and 12-person snowcat. Eighth season.

Valhalla Mountain Touring, Box 284, New Denver VOG 1S0; (604) 358-7714. Leads cross-country tours on alpine downhill equipment or telemark skis; you spend 2 to 4 hours touring north of Castlegar for every 1/2 hour of downhill skiing. Season runs through May. Approach to high country is by eight-person snowcat; based at mountain cabins, you tour between 6,000 and 8,500 feet, covering up to 6,000 vertical feet a day. One-day outings cost about $70 (including room and three meals); three days ($200) is recommended minimum. Sixth season.
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Title Annotation:downhill skiing
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Directory
Date:Feb 1, 1984
Words:1183
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