PC Snowcats, UT
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Max Elevation: 10,800
Max Vertical Drop: 3,400 feet
Average Vertical Logged Per Day: 10,000 feet
Prices: $399 per day January 1 through April 1; $299 before or after those dates. Price includes breakfast, lunch, and fat skis.
Getting There: From Salt Lake, take I-80 east to downtown Park City. Groups meet at the Yarrow Hotel.
Info: 435-649-6596, pcsnowcats.com
Beta: In 1979, a hyperkinetic ski patroller named Ray Santa Maria snagged a seat on the first heli recon trip to the Uinta Mountains. What he saw—the largest east-west mountain range in the lower 48, a dozen 13,000-foot peaks—and what he didn’t see—roads, people, tracks—stuck with him. Fourteen years later, Ray brokered a deal with the owners of Thousand Peaks Ranch, giving him access to 60,000 of the Uinta’s choicest acres—an area larger than Vail, Aspen, and Killington combined. Because the ranch is privately owned, you and your cat mates can have a day there—open bowls, 35-degree chutes, and undulating glades—all to yourselves. With skiable terrain on every aspect, 1,200-vertical-foot-shots last for weeks between storms. Just leave your ice ax behind: While a few 45-degree-plus lines are there to be plundered, the Uinta’s notoriously unstable snowpack means Ray rarely guides them.
“A lot of our terrain is in the 30-degree range, says Ray, who, at the tender age of 50, favors studded belts and boasts about having guided everyone from Cheech Marin to Jeremy Nobis. “We get all kinds of clients, he says with a raspy chuckle, “but mostly doctors or jonesers with a big wad of cash that reeks like marijuana.
The Uinta range averages 400 inches of snowfall a year, about a third less than the Wasatch to the south. That less frequent snowfall, when coupled with the range’s higher elevation and colder temperatures, yields a continental snowpack similar to that of northern Colorado (read: unstable). Visit [link avalanche.org/~uac] for more info.
The marquee attraction is Giant Steps, a 1,200-foot-long, 270-degree, above-treeline bowl that rolls over three Godzilla-size benches. If you pony up for the heli drop (See Bang for Buck, right), and the snow is safe, you can access the Dark Side—two 50-degree shots behind Giant Steps.
The Uintas average 200-plus days of sun a year, and their high altitude helps keep the powder famously fluffy. February and March are usually best for storms, but take a peek at the Weather Channel: Anytime the Tahoe area is getting it good, chances are Uintas will get pasted the next day.
All of Ray’s guides are level-3 avalanche certified, with an average 12 years’ ski-patrol experience. Ray, who lead-guides most days, has 24 years under his belt in the Uinta, Wasatch, Ruby, and Coast Range Mountains—and, for the past decade, has been an avalanche adviser to the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center.
There ain’t one. Head to Hotel Park City, at the tranquil base of Park City resort, for swank (hotelparkcity.com, from $299), or the Base Camp, on bustling Main Street, for dank (parkcitybasecamp.com).
Ray is proud of his cat-side lunch buffet, which includes thermoses of homemade cheese-and-broccoli soup, ham-and-turkey sandwiches with all the trimmings, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and (for atmosphere) a bouquet of plastic flowers.
Bang For Buck
Throw down an extra $150 for Ray’s Heli-Cat combo. By taking the bird in, you forgo the otherwise obligatory 40-minute cat ride from the cabin and can get dropped directly on any ridge or peak Roy pleases.
For another hundred bucks, Ray will whisk your party up the canyon in a white stretch limo.