Day 54: Didn't cross any tracks other than our own.
I went up to Powder Mountain today to do their all-day snowcat safari with mbaydala, his friend George, Tim Roberts from Ski Utah and two-time Olympian and former U.S. Downhill champion Holly Flanders. Joining us for the day were Powder Mountain CEO Greg Greer, Marketing/PR Director Patrick Lundin, and a few others including their web designer, three patrollers/guides and Greg from Arnette Snowboarding. Holly's son, X Games Champion/Slopestyle World Champion/Snowbasin Dew Tour slopestyle winner Alex Schlopy was supposed to join us but Matchstick Productions called him over to Silverton for a film shoot. Dew Tour halfpipe winner Louie Vito was also supposed to be with us but ended up shuttling on a snowmobile for a film shoot instead.
Powder Mountain's cat skiing area encompasses 3,000 acres, including 1,000 acres added this season that they've leased from the La Plata ranch that sits to the east of Cobabe Canyon. They get $375 per person during the prime winter season for an all-day excursion including lunch and guides. You get your money's worth, for honestly the only tracks we saw all day were our own. And that figures when you realize that a cat holds 12 and 3,000 acres is bigger than Snowbird.
After orientation and waiver signing at the yurt in Powder Mountain's primary parking lot we boarded the cat and headed up to Hidden Lake's summit.
From there we pushed off into Lefty's Canyon, so named because it lies to looker's left of the Powder Country runs. This was south facing, and conditions varied from spectacular to somewhat crusty. It was, however, merely a means to access the north-facing runs on the other side of the canyon. They were divine, but short 600-vert shots through the trees from Bobcat Ridge to the canyon floor that we lapped for a half dozen runs. Each time we'd just move further left to escape our tracks from the run before.
Which leads me to an important point: Powder Mountain's Snowcat Safaris are the most laid-back all-day cats I've ever experienced. I'm used to a guide going first, having to farm my turns right next to the guide's, and another guide pulling sweep duty. Not here. Powder Mountain is more of a "Here's the fall line, stop when you hit the cat road...now go have fun" type of operation. We were given reasonably free reign of the lines we wanted to ski. We didn't have to stay behind the guides. In short, we simply had fun.
We planned to spend the afternoon in the new sector, in an area known as Thunder Dome where the runs are longer and far, far steeper. Rather than burn time eating lunch, we opted to eat in the cat as it rumbled over to Thunder Dome from Lefty's, passing an impressive looking Mary's Bowl en route.
Reaching Thunder Dome our guide Roger, who's also Pow Mow's Snow Safety Director, was a bit concerned about sloughing below a hanging cornice on the steepest line, so we started off more gently and worked our way to steeper lines. These are 1,400-vert north-facing shots that are consistent in pitch through a mix of open areas and tight trees. Vito and the photogs were running snowmobiles here.
On our second run, which upped the ante a bit over the first, Roger was explaining our line. "So, straight down the fall line from here?" I asked.
"Yup, down to the cat road in the drainage," Roger answered.
Everybody was still standing there. No one was going.
"So, OK to go?" I asked.
Everyone's was still standing there. "OK, you don't have to ask me twice."
Astounding. Not a track in front of me through thigh-deep pow. It just kept going, and going, and going...it was the run of the day. It was, at least, until the next run, where I worked my way to the ridge separating the two bowls and found wide open untracked that dropped in a series of stairs down to the canyon floor. Like I said, amazing, and well worth the price of admission.
As mbaydala pointed out, with this much terrain Powder Mountain offers an experience akin to a remote snowcat operation, yet it's still adjacent to a resort, accommodating families or groups where some members want to ride the lifts while others do the BC thing. It's a terrific setup.
Here's our GPS track, which gives you a sense of orientation of these runs in the context of Powder Mountain's in-bounds terrain: http://www.mountaindynamics.com/en/sdmap.php?tid=16646