So Close, Yet So Far Away
Lose the lift lines, Park City Powder Cats gets you off the beaten track just minutes outside of town.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The temperature gauge on my truck reads negative 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The morning glow of sunrise hints on the horizon and smoke of woodstoves churn from nearby cabins as my truck hurtles towards Park City Powder Cats. The Uinta Mountains come into view and I watch the little fluorescent number drop further, hitting negative 10 before stalling there for a while. But it could be negative 20 for all I care. Forty inches of fresh fell over the past couple days in a week that unloaded five feet of snow, and I need a break from the post-holiday chaos in the Wasatch.
The email came the morning prior from PC Cats’ Rebekah Stevens, following a socked-in January week of absurd storm skiing at Alta. The forecast calls for a sunny and cold day, a bluebird reward after a series of storms that stacked the Wasatch and Uintas through February—totaling the wettest on record for the cat-ski operation. With a snowcat to spare before the weekend’s groups rolled in, PC Cats corralled a crew of skiers to shoot photos and video. The blower pow wasn’t going to ski itself, so I eagerly agreed and ditched my touring plans for the next day.
Park City Powder Cats can be a bit of a misnomer since it’s 45 minutes from downtown Park City. It’s a welcomed scene, however, from the glitz and buzz of the historic ski town. Approaching the cabin you pass under a sign that reads: Thousand Peaks Ranch. The feel is distinctly cowboy as you boot up in a wood-fired rustic old cabin while fueling up with breakfast for the day. The family-owned ranch raises sheep and cattle during the summer, and in the winter its peaceful stillness is a stark contrast to the neighboring resort skiing experience at Park City and Deer Valley. As the clients load into their cats, our group organizes—a motley crew of acquaintances from around the Wasatch, all of whom are stoked for the day. I top off my thermos with hot cocoa, place my skis into the loading basket, and clamor onto our powder wagon.
The snowcat churns along the flats, past a trickling creek and into the vast network of drainages, with all roads leading to corniced ridges of wide-open bowls gleaming in the bright yet ineffective winter sun. We warm up on one of the cirque’s flanks, and cut through a wide-open grove of aspens before reaching the next pick up—pinning it to the top of the ridge.
I’ve been lucky to ski at The Ranch several times, since a couple of my friends work there as guides. And while I’ve always skied soft snow there, a legitimate powder day in which the snow has yet to settle, blowing up in your wake as you arc down the mountain, was something I had yet to experience.
With 40,000 acres of varying aspects, the terrain enjoyed by guests of Park City Powder Cats can hold soft recrystallized powder on shady north-facing slopes or sun-warmed wind-boarded snow if it hasn’t snowed in over a week. However, playing the search-for-soft-turns game isn’t necessary on this day. The mountains are shimmering with a blanket of fresh snow with crystal-clear views across the Uinta and Wasatch ranges.
As I gaze out towards Wyoming on the right, our snowcat sneaks through the choke along the ridge before gaining the summit. One of the machines carrying the day’s clients unloads near the top, and we scoot by their group onto an adjacent and untouched bowl. Guide Patrick Reddish shows us the corniced entrance and we provide his eyes of safety as he carves off a piece of the white wave, followed by ski cutting the slope. We take turns airing off the lip onto the slope below. Finn, Patrick’s high-school-aged son who skis on the Snowbird Freeride Team, sends it deep. The snow is bottomless yet provides a launching bounce, propelling me into my next turn as I unload and reload GS turns down the face. We reconvene on a small outcropping of trees downslope and take turns skiing one at a time through an avalanche gully.
With enough time for a couple more laps we work the short but steep faces that spill onto the cat roads we drove up on. The late-day sun begins to linger near the horizon, dropping the temperature once again while we barrel into full-body face shots. The open fields drain into aspen forests, pitching once again before hitting the flats, and we all cackle like powder fiends. After yo-yoing through the lower elevation forest, our wagon whisks us back to the cabin for beers, snacks, and—fitting for our cowboy-esque powder day—a couple shot-skis of whiskey.
Getting there: It’s simple. Park City Powder Cats is 25 miles east of Park City on easily accessible roads.
Cost: Daily rates are $589 per person and include breakfast, lunch, snacks, an avalanche transceiver, and instruction on how to use it. PC Cats partners with Jans Mountain Outfitters, in town, for those who want to rent fatter skis.
Beta: Skiers should expect between eight and 12 runs, depending on the abilities of the group.