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What's the best bang for buck, heli- or cat-skiing?

Ask Dr. Flake
posted: 05/31/2005

Hmm. Bird or cat, Tweety or Sylvester? Let's look at a couple of Colorado outfits. A chopper ride to the come-to-Jesus alpine LZs of the San Juans with Telluride Helitrax will run you $795 a day (about five or six runs). Meanwhile, Steamboat Powdercats charges between $259 and $359 for a day of below-timberline descents around Buffalo Pass. Blame the $500 difference on the high cost of helis, maintenance, and pilots. Naturally, a heli-skiing experience is more spectacular than a cat-ski trip, for the obvious reason that helicopters (which ascend in minutes what a snowcat may take an hour to chug) can go just about anywhere and are perenially macho and cinematic and cool. Snowcats, on the other hand, need established tracks, which can limit your descent options. But unlike helis' which require moderate weather and good visibility?cats go out in any conditions. So, when deciding whether to go Tweety or Sylvester, ask outfitters for their vertical-feet guarantees, because vert is what ultimately determines the better powder value.

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