Snow Trax #4, 2002

The Ridge, Taos Sky Valley
Taos Sky Valley

by Daniel Gibson

This column on snow sports and related travel is posted bi-weekly. In addition to New Mexico, it covers the Southern Rockies of Colorado and occasionally roams further afield in the Western United States

Back Country Adventure
Cat Scratch Fever

As wonderfully new as skiing or boarding always seems to be (after all you just turn left, then you turn right, then left...), it must be said that skiing the same resort or conditions day after day can dull one's senses. If you are a decent skier, there may be an adventurous solution to blase' days-skiing or boarding with a snowcat ski service.

The southern Rockies are blessed with a handful of such operations. Private snowcats-most with heat, some with piped in tunes and always bursting with infectious ski comraderie-haul you up wilderness peaks and ridges and unleash you into powder nirvana. Some operations are open to intermediate skiers, but it must be said that advanced and expert skiers/boarders get the most bang for their buck on snow cat outings.

Ski Apache Gondola
Ski Apache Gondola

And while it isn't dirt cheap, I'd describe cat skiing as "helicopter-skiing without the heli price." Unless shut down by weather (which is rare-a plus over heli-skiing), participants average 12,000 to 15,000 vertical feet per day. That's a lot of rights and lefts, in knee to chin-deep powder. You'll never cross another track all day. It's just you, a mountain, a guide, and a select group of fellow lucky ducks with grins all over their faces!

Rates in this region range from a low of $125 a day at El Diablo Mountain Guides at Purgatory, to $234 a day at Chicago Ridge at Leadville. One operation comes with a remote, luxury lodge-Irwin Lodge, near Crested Butte. Here you are brought in on snowmobile for multi-day backcountry explorations.

Later this season I'll report on some "field research," but for now, here's the lowdown on regional snowcat operations so you can line up your answer to the same old turns....

Chicago Ridge Snowcat Tours, Leadville (719/486-2277 or www.skicooper.com): More than 2,460 acres of intermediate to expert terrain on the Continental Divide in the spectacular Sawatch Range is the draw here. Packages run $234 per day.

El Diablo Alpine Guides, (970/247-0998 or www.snowcat-powder.com): High terrain ranging from 10,000 feet to the summit of Sultan Mountain at a lung-testing 13,368 feet is featured in this operation in the eye-dazzling San Juan Mountains. $125 per day.


Irwin Lodge, Crested Butte (888-GO-IRWIN or irwin@crestedbutte.com); Comfortable accommodations for 33 guests indoors and some 600 inches of snow a year outside in the Anthracite Mountains. Trips range from three to seven days, and run $175-$225 per day per person.

Monarch Snowcat Tours, Monarch (888/996-SNOW or www.skimonarch.com): The steepest snowcat terrain in the nation is found at this little-known but superb resort atop the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range. More than 400 inches of fluff await you on some 900 acres. $180 per day.

San Juan Ski Company, Durango (800/208-1780 or www.sanjuanski.com): Running out of Purgatory near Durango from a base elevation of 8,800 feet, this operation is conducted on the largest snow cat permit area in the nation. $175 per day.


Resort Contact Information & Seasonal Schedule

Angel Fire: 800/633-7463 or www.angelfireresort.com, open Dec. 14 through March 24; Crested Butte: 888/463-6714 or www.CrestedButteResort.com, open Dec. 15 through April 15; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/982-6103 or www.durangomountainresort.com, open through April 7; Enchanted Forest (XC): 800/966-9381 or www.enchantedforestxc.com, open; Monarch: 800/228-7943 or www.skimonarch.com, open; Pajarito Mountain:505/662-5725 or www.skipajarito.com, opening as soon as possible; Red River: 505/754-2223 or www.redriverskiarea.com, open fulltime Dec. 14 through March 24; Sandia Peak: 505/242-9133 or www.sandiapeak.com, scheduled season Dec. 14 through March 17; Ski Rio: 505/758-7707 or www.skirio.com; Ski Santa Fe: 505/982-4429 or www.skisantafe.com, scheduled season Dec. 8 through April 7; Sipapu: 505/587-2240 or www.sipapunm.com, scheduled season Dec. 13 through early April; Ski Apache: 505/336-4356 or www.skiapache.com, open through March 31; Taos Ski Valley: 505/776-2291 or www.skitaos.org, scheduled season Dec. 14 through April 7; Telluride: 866/287-5016 or www.Tellurideskiresort.com, open through April 7; Wolf Creek: 800/754-9653 or www.wolfcreekski.com open through April 7.


SNOW REPORTS
Contact Ski N.M. at 505/984-0606 or www.skinewmexico.com for reports on New Mexico ski areas and to order a free winter trip guide; Colorado Ski Country at 303/825-SNOW or www.coloradoski.com for Colorado reports; or individual areas: Angel Fire--800/633-7463 x 3; Crested Butte--888/TO POWDER; Durango Mt. Resort: 800/525-0892, ext. 6; Enchanted Forest (XC)-800/966-9381; Monarch--800/228-7943; Pajarito--888/662-7669; Red River--505/754-2220; Sandia Peak--505/857-8977; Ski Santa Fe--505/983-9155; Sipapu--505/587-2240; Ski Apache--505/257-9001; Taos Ski Valley--505/776-2916; Telluride--970/728-7425; Wolf Creek--800/754-9653.

Daniel Gibson of Santa Fe (dbgibson@newmexico.com) is the author of four books, most recently Pueblos of the Rio Grande: A Visitors Guide (Rio Nuevo Publishers). His first day on "sliders" was 40 years ago.

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ski photo courtesy of Candor.com


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