THAT’S A HELI-CALIBER RUN! I’D DO THAT EVERY DAY UNTIL I DIE. remote, offering skiers a chance to escape the crowds and descend open slopes of untracked powder. In a way, it’s like heli-skiing—without the weather delays and for about half the price. (Whisper Ridge trips start at $550 to ski and $930 for the all-inclusive yurt package.) And the cat-skiing industry has been booming lately, mirroring a rise in backcountry skiing overall. Assessing other successful operations, Lockwood quickly realized he had the prerequisites in spades: lots of space; ample, highquality snow (500-plus inches annually); and access to Utah’s deep bench of backcountrysavvy guides, many of whom jump at the chance to work for Whisper Ridge. “It’s badass,” said one guide I spoke with. “We basically get to start a ski area from scratch—cut roads, name runs, open new zones—which just doesn’t happen.” When I arrived at the 1881 trading post that serves as Whisper Ridge’s base camp, snow was falling and there was a quiver of fat skis lined up along the back wall. The next morning, six inches of fresh fluff covered the ground.
CAT SKIING NORTH AMERICA
“You’re about to have the best day of your life,” said Pat, a towering, bearded New Yorker, who had been there the previous winter. As we loaded up into the cat for our first run, the guides walked us through a safety briefing. “We should have nice skiing all day,” said the lead guide, John. And he was right. The runs kept going like that first one, each in the 1,000- to 1,300-foot vertical range, and all with the same nice rhythm, changes of pitch, well-spaced trees, and variety of features. By early afternoon, the skies had cleared, and it was obvious that this was a day for the ages—so good that I soon noticed the guides getting a little restless, gently urging us to get through the loading and unloading transitions faster so we (and they) could maximize our runs.
BALDFACE LODGE, NELSON, BRITISH COLUMBIA This backcountry lodge, which offers every conceivable comfort, including an in-house masseuse, is reached via helicopter and sits in the middle of 32,000 acres of pristine terrain in the Selkirk Mountains. Three-day trips start at $2,000.
BURNT MOUNTAIN CAT SKIING, SUGARLOAF, MAINE This year, Sugarloaf is debuting New England’s only true cat skiing, a side-country experience on Burnt Mountain’s 1,400 feet of vertical. And there’s no need to commit to the whole day: You can book a single cat ride, at just $20 to $30 each.
At night, crash in style at Whisper Ridge’s yurt village; during the day, tear up its 60,000 acres of terrain.
“That was a heli-caliber run!” John said after one good one. “I’d do that every day until I die.” The run of the day, called Gina’s, came midafternoon. A little longer than the others, it was accessed by traversing out a ridgeline, past a few wind-sculpted cornices, until the terrain opened up in front of us, revealing a low-angle run, followed by a section of trees, before the hillside steepened and opened. Halfway down, I stopped to take photos and soon saw Pat, who emerged from most runs with his beard caked in snow like a superstoked sasquatch, basically cartwheel off a small cliff drop, crater, and pop right back up smiling and whooping. By the end of our day, we had tallied 11 runs and nearly 14,000 vertical feet. Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ was blaring through speakers in the cat, and everyone was buzzing. “That was beautiful, wasn’t it?” John said to second guide Ryan. “I don’t know if I can liken this to anything I’ve ever done,” said an East Coaster named Marta, who had been nervous about skiing backcountry powder. “It’s like a different sport.” Later, we crossed paths with Lockwood, and I mentioned Marta’s change of outlook. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of, if we can open up cat skiing to people who were intimidated by it,” he said. “You don’t have to be a Red Bull athlete to do this.” That night, as we packed up to depart and cracked beers, that feeling of floating in deep powder still pulsed through our legs. Pat was exultant: “I’m going to spend all my days until next winter thinking about these lines.” Q
CASCADE POWDER GUIDES, STEVEN’S PASS, WASHINGTON Just 75 miles east of Seattle, this cat operation lies deep in the Cascades on nearly 2,000 acres, with the option of overnighting in its backcountry yurts. Just be sure to plan ahead: It typically operates only 20 days a year. Rates start at $465 per day.
VOODOO MOUNTAIN, UPPER PENINSULA, MICHIGAN Launched last year, Voodoo Mountain offers 700 feet of rolling vertical terrain with stunning views of Lake Superior, which helps blanket it annually with nearly 300 inches of dry, lake-effect snow. Rates start at $150 per day.