Heli-skiing is a sexy sport that gets a lot of press.
But down-to-earth skiers will find snowcat skiing to be a user-friendly alternative.
“Actually, many of our customers are ex-heli-skiers who, because of down time or the regimentation, have decided they like snowcats better,” said Allen Drury of Selkirk Wilderness Skiing.
Drury and his wife, Brenda, started their snowcat business out of Meadow Creek, British Columbia, 18 years ago, and maintain one of the most successful operations in North America.
Last year, Steve Matthews and Terry Rengstorff started a more basic snowcat operation out of Cataldo, Idaho. They offer ski-by-the-day snowcat services with no accommodation packages.
Both operations take skiers beyond the lifts to virgin snow.
Both offer big advantages to heli-skiing.
“Helicopters are expensive to operate,” Drury said.
“To make money, you have to keep them working all the time. That means you generally have to have two or three groups on the mountain and you have to keep the skiers going on long runs.
“On some days, we might take advantage of short runs and ski nothing but supreme powder rather than skiing a little bit of powder and a lot of crud just to get down to the helicopter.
“Many of our clients are rushed with deadlines on their jobs. They don’t want that atmosphere when they’re on holiday.”
Drury noted that bad weather can ground a helicopter, but it rarely stops his snowcat.
“We have timbered slopes that are ideal on those days,” he said.
“If you’ve only got a week to ski, it’s better than sitting around the lodge.”
One client said she preferred snowcats because she doesn’t like to fly.
“Snowcats are safer,” she said. “And if I get tired, I can sit out a run and warm up in the cab.”
Moreover, snowcats are about half the cost of heli-skiing.
Selkirk Wilderness Skiing continues to offer a state-of-the-art experience, with new, comfortable Bombardier snowcats and up to three expert guides per group of 12 skiers.
Peak Adventures uses an older but workable snowcat that will take up to nine skiers or snowboarders with two guides.
Because they are already at a high-country lodge, Selkirk skiers are only 30 minutes from their first run each day.
Peak Adventures trips begin at Cataldo, right off Interstate 90.
Skiers then pile aboard for a 90-minute snowcat ride to the St. Joe Baldy area for the first run.
Selkirk Wilderness Skiing guests drive to Meadow Creek, which is north of Nelson.
Then they are snowcatted to a remote lodge at elevation 4,200 feet, where they are fed and pampered almost to the point that the skiing is a bonus.
You’ll know why you came when you step off the snowcat the first morning out.
You’ll be at nearly 8,000 feet in the Selkirk Mountains and you’ll likely sink deep into Canadian powder.
You’ll have a moment to scan the 15 square miles of untracked snow to which two groups of 12 skiers have exclusive rights.
“We run two snowcats a day and each group of 12 skiers has two or three guides,” Brenda Drury said.
“That way we can give a private instructor to people who are just getting into deep-snow skiing. This is really helpful to people who have hesitated to get into snowcat skiing because they feared they might hold up the group.”
Given decent basic skiing skills, a bit of coaching, a reasonable level of fitness and perhaps the use of fat skis for better flotation, even skiers new to snowcats usually are skiing with the group by the second day, she said.
“How you look isn’t important up here away from the crowds,” she said. “It’s how much fun you have.”
This sidebar ran with story: SNOWCAT INFORMATION For more information about snowcats: Selkirk Wilderness Skiing - Based in a splendid mountain lodge in the high country above Meadow Creek, British Columbia. Features home-style lodging and remote powder skiing. Five-day packages including accommodations, food, skiing and guides cost about $1,900 in U.S. funds. Prices are slightly less from mid-March through mid-April. Telephone (604) 366-4424. Peak Adventures - Based out of Cataldo, Idaho, specializes in day trips, complete with lunch, to high country skiing or snowboarding near St. Joe Baldy for $125 per person. Telephone (208) 664-8687.