Often viewed as the “poor person’s” heliboarding, catboarding has seen a rapid surge in popularity over the past decade. The goals of riders who go catboarding are pretty much the same as heliboarding; that is to ride untracked powder without hordes of other people around!
However, there are several differences between the two, with each having their own advantages and disadvantages. Probably the major reason that someone would chose catboarding over heliboarding is the cost. Snowcats are much cheaper to run than helicopters. The other major advantage of catboarding is that it isn’t nearly as weather dependent as heliboarding. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of riders waiting 2 weeks in places like Valdez, Alaska for the weather to clear to go heliboarding, whereas those riders who chose to go with a catboarding company usually get some runs in since the areas that catboarding companies operate in usually have large sections of below treeline terrain which provides protection from the elements.
Most of the time you will get more runs in when you go catboarding, however the runs are shorter than the average heliboarding runs.
Even though catboarding has seen a huge increase in new operations starting up, these have been mainly restricted to Canada and the US. The Great White North has the vast majority of catboarding operators, most of whom are located in the powder haven of British Columbia. Quite a few base their offices out of a ski resort, so when you are sick of riding the groomers consider spending a day catboarding!
Often viewed as the “poor person’s” heliboarding, catboarding has seen a rapid surge in popularity over the past decade
Canada is home to the majority of catboarding operators. They’re pretty much all located in British Columbia except for a company that runs trips in the Blomidon Mountains in Newfoundland. There’s roughly around 30 different operators to chose from! There’s the more well known ones like Baldface, Island Lake, Powder Cowboy, Valhalla etc, but it could be worth checking out some of the smaller operations too, especially if they are newer and prices maybe cheaper.
This writer rode with Big Red Cats last winter and had a blast. Big Red Cats run out of the wicked Red Mountain Resort which is known for it’s snow and world class tree skiing. As a new operator (just a few seasons old) they are only just beginning to explore their +18,000 acres of rideable terrain. A cool thing that BRC does is hold specific “snowboard only” days! This enables riders to have a traverse free day where the guides will lead you to areas that have consistent fall-line. We went with a mixed (skiers/boarders) group and still had a blast…..especially after doing something like 8 or 9 runs for the day! www.bigredcats.com
There are quite a few catboarding operators in the US, mostly located in the states of Colorado, Idaho and Alaska, as well as a few in other western states like Washington and even in Nevada! Most of them are based out of an established ski area, with the notable exception being Alaska (though Chugach Powder Guides is).
A cool concept a few ski areas have done is combining catboarding with resort riding. For example at Big Mountain Resort in Montana you purchase a lift ticket and pay an extra $100USD and you get to ride the lifts to the top, then the cat will take you outside the normal resort boundary where you drop into ungroomed terrain and ride back into the ski area to do it all over again! At Grand Targhee in Wyoming, a full day will cost you $299 but this place does get on average over 12m of snow a year.
REST OF THE WORLD
There are just a few places around the world that offer some form of catboarding. In New Zealand there is Mt Potts which offers both heliboarding and catboarding. With the weak NZ dollar it is very affordable. Another operation in the Northern Hemisphere ‘summertime’ is Ski Arpa located in the Chilean Andes. Compared to most other operators around the world, prices are extremely reasonable, especially with +1,000m descents on the menu and amazing views of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas. There doesn’t seem to be any operators in Europe, except for a small company operating in Kitzbuhel, Austria.
So if you are even thinking about going catboarding, JUST DO IT!!! We promise you, you will not regret it!