If you've always thought the only powder transportation you'd ever be able to afford was a chairlift, think again. How about running laps on a track-free backcountry peak behind an 800cc snowmobile for $150 a day? At least one operation, Snowfarmers in Valemount, British Columbia, will make that option a reality this winter by becoming an incorporated outfitter offering paid pulls to skiers and snowboarders.
"We deliver vertical," says Tony Parisi, owner of Snowfarmers. "I can give people a couple thousand feet of vert in less than three minutes. It's a great alternative to cat skiing."
Obviously, using snowmobiles to haul skiers is not a new idea. Sledheads in mountain towns have been towing their buddies into the high country for years. But with a day of heli-skiing running roughly $600, and with recent improvements to so-called "powder sleds" greatly enhancing their ability to get higher into the mountains, it was only a matter of time before the idea went mainstream. Parisi plans to charge half of what cat-skiing operators charge and deliver the same-or more-vertical.
It's safe to say that part of Parisi's plan in offering the commercial towing service is to make a point. He feels too much of the public land accessible to 'bilers is under permit to heli-ski operators. "Mike Wiegele has thousands of acres under license," Parisi says. "He's just going to have to adapt."
Any outfitters thinking of offering the service in the U.S. would have plenty of financial, federal, and environmental obstacles to overcome, including acquiring permits from federal land managers. "I guess it would depend on where they wanted to do it," says Dave Ozawa, snow ranger for the White River National Forest, near Vail. "But the snow gets chewed up so fast around here already (by other snowmobilers), that they'd have to get their clients up by 5 a.m."
Unlike a snowcat or chopper, snowmobiles are relatively affordable-and sales are red hot. "The new 800's and 900's are incredibly powerful," says Ray Spencer, winter sports administrator for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Yellowstone National Park. "Up here, it's mostly the buddy system, and we're seeing a lot of those people buying snow machines specifically designed to access areas for skiing."
The most daunting obstacle facing potential snowmobile-assisted skiing operators may not be competition or government bureaucracy but Mother Nature. "Our biggest concern is avalanche awareness," Spencer says. "We get tons of reports of partial burials."