You gotta love the mystery line. The lip I’m perched on drops away into a chute so steep, I can spy only my line’s first turn—the rest is a provocative secret—while my ski tips quiver over air. But training my goggles out into the distance, I can take in the whole string of craggy Zirkels, their summits sawing into the blue horizon.
Normally visibility here isn’t lost to steeps but to face-stuffing snow. Steamboat Powdercats typically plunders the mellow, 25- to 35-degree glades of Buffalo Pass, which are often pasted with the deepest, lightest snow in Colorado—520 inches annually. That’s about 16 feet more than Steamboat Mountain Resort sitting five miles south. Storms tracking from the west first pass over Utah’s Wasatch, a process that robs most of the extra moisture. So a downy, 20-inch dump is normal here, and sheltering pines keep snow soft for a week or more after a storm. Big snowfall means big avalanche risk, and danger can spike here as much as anywhere. But thanks to below-treeline terrain and deep and consistent snowfall, the danger is usually low.
I’m here during an atypical, 16-day dry spell. The guides suggest we take advantage of the stability and plumb elevator shafts so steep, so rarely safe, they’ve never skied them. Since I’m in the expert group (the guides divide skiers into ability levels in the morning) no one objects. I follow my guide, Pete Scully, off the top. We serpentine around a rocky arm reaching into the chute, clear the narrows, and open the throttle into a wide bowl of corn. Mystery line no more.
Unlike the intermediate group, which stops for a hot lunch of lasagna and chowder at a backcountry cabin, we eat cold ham sandwiches on the fly so we can keep gorging ourselves on fresh lines.
We farm the steeps until midafternoon, when storm clouds decide to end this dry spell, blotting out the bluebird and coating us in white velvet. Then we shift tactics and scream down low-angle boulevards cushioned by four new inches. “We’ll be choking on it tomorrow,” says Scully, nodding at the weather brewing beyond the snowcat windows.
That’s tomorrow’s promise. For now, we finish the day with the bucket of Coronas waiting for us back at the Powdercats office.
Lodge: No lodging. So stay at the western-themed Steamboat Grand. [steamboatgrand.com]
Food: Your day of cat-skiing starts with coffee, bagels, and fruit.
Lunch is sandwiches on the go if you’re in the expert group, hot entrees like lasagna and barbecue brisket if you’re in the intermediate group—though the sit-down lunch costs you some ski time.
Max elevation: 10,804 feet
Max vertical drop: 1,200 feet
Average daily vertical: 12,000 feet
Annual snowfall: 520 inches
Price: $400 per day