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The Beginner’s Guide to Cat Skiing

Although many snowboarders and skiers dream of being dropped into the middle of nowhere by a helicopter to take on some unchartered territory, it usually comes with a cost that most of us can’t afford.

Thankfully, cat skiing has been developed as a way to get the same benefits but at a fraction of the cost, and it’s a thrilling new way to hit the slopes.

What is cat skiing?

Cat skiing is a type of excursion that takes you to the backcountry using a snowcat, rather than a helicopter, as you would in heli-skiing.

The point of cat skiing is that you get away from the popular and controller ski areas to somewhere unique and untouched, but without spending a fortune.

After learning a little more about cat skiing, it should be on the top of the bucket list of any skier, regardless of your skills.

This guide will give you the basics of this unique version of winter sports so you can finally make it to the secluded areas of the backcountry you’ve only ever dreamed about.

What is Cat Skiing?

what is cat skiing

Cat skiing is a type of skiing that’s more about location than it is the activity and it lets you ski or snowboard in exclusive settings.

A cat skiing session will see you taken on a guided tour through untouched backcountry and onto purpose-built roads, with your only mode of transportation being a snowcat.

The cat skiing phenomenon started as an alternative to heli-skiing, the form of guided exploration that was only reserved for those with money. Rather than a helicopter taking you through the mounds of untouched powder and dropping you at your destination, you can do it cheaper and with more thrills when you take a snowcat.

A standard cat skiing tour is usually led by a guide who takes you on a predetermined path on special roads.

These sturdy vehicles can go through terrain that most can’t, and they’ll help you make your way to the very top to ski your way down, and then meet you back at the bottom to go back up.

Difficulty and Skills Required

Difficulty and Skills Required

As a more challenging setting than beginner’s slopes, cat skiing is recommended for confident skiers and snowboarders only.

However, you don’t have to be an expert to give it a go as it’s a great day out that allows you to build your skills as well.

The best way to determine whether you’re qualified is to speak to the tour operator, as each session will likely be categorized into skill and experience. Usually, these begin at intermediate and you’ll be grouped with others who are the same as you, so it’s not too intimidating being lumped with professionals.

A tour guide will explain what the different line options are you can take before you head off, so there’s no way you can accidentally take a track that’s too much for you. These will differ in angles with steep pitches and mellow gradients, as well as other challenging obstacles like cliffs and drops.

It’s important to be confident in the line you’re going to take and not overestimate your skills, so make sure you choose something that meets your skills otherwise it can be incredibly unsafe.

Should You Go Solo Or in a Group?

group on cat skiing tour

There are no rules in place as to how many people have to go on a cat skiing trip, but keep in mind that you’ll have to pay the full fee if you’re going alone.

This is an activity better done with friends or other fellow skiers, and as you join the group, you’ll be able to choose a buddy who’ll be yours for the entire trip.

The group will make their way to the destination and with their partner, choose a line and make their way down. Once everyone is back at the bottom, you’ll regroup and get back onto the snowcat, and head to the top again where the process is repeated.

A standard cat skiing outing will usually run between eight and 12 times, depending on the session and length of the run. There are lots of different ways to can cat ski with full or half day trips available, but to make the most of it, a whole day session is recommended.

Taking a Guide Along

group with qualified guide

Cat skiing is something that’s done best with a qualified guide, for many reasons.

Firstly, you’ll want someone that is dedicated to driving you where you need to go and who can meet you at the bottom to go back up again. Secondly, it’s a lot safer with a trained professional who knows the area and can find you the best places to go.

Using a guide is also helpful with answering any questions on the trip and showing you the basics you need to tackle the backcountry. For those with intermediate experience, having an expert on hand can be a godsend, and they can also show you how to use the equipment if you’re unsure.

As cat skiing becomes more common, you’ll find the activity is now offered at many of the major ski resorts for a much more affordable price than it used to be, with an experienced guide included.

You can expect to pay between $300 and $500 for a session, depending on certain factors, and when you compare this to the cost of a heliskiing adventure, it’s a lot more affordable.

Essential Gear

gear needed for cat skiing

A cat skiing trip requires a lot of planning to make sure you’re covered, and normally you’ll only need your regular skiing or snowboarding gear that you would take on backcountry routes.

However, it’s important to check with the cat skiing tour operator first as they might have specific requirements and for any safety concerns in the area.

Most of the time, a cat skiing operator will supply the rest of the gear, including avalanche equipment like a probe, shovel, transceiver, and avalanche airbag system.

This might be included in the price of the trip or for an extra cost, and if you have your own backcountry friendly supplies you’d rather use, that’s okay as well.

The Best Spots for Cat Skiing

Fernie, British Columbia

One of the great things about cat skiing is that it can be done just about anywhere regular skiing and snowboarding are enjoyed.

However, if you’re looking for a once in a lifetime experience and settings that seemed to be made for this type of activity, check these out:

  • Queenstown, New Zealand: Hit the backcountry kiwi-style with the beautiful untouched powder of New Zealand.
  • Selkirk Wilderness, British Colombia: This is the birthplace of cat skiing and as such, there’s no shortage of tours and operators that you can enjoy.
  • Fernie, British Colombia: There are lots of options for snowcat operators in Fernie and it’s got some of the most varied terrain of anywhere else.
  • Chugach Mountains, Alaska: The most popular cat skiing runs here span 10,000 feet and you’ll get an average of eight runs in a day.
  • Copper Mountain, Colorado: Get a try of free snowcat rides once you’ve qualified as expert level, which you can do after a fair bit of practice on the slopes.

Exclusive and Secluded Skiing

There’s no need to spend your life savings just to get an exclusive skiing session on some untouched powder, thanks to the wonder that is the snowcat.

By utilizing their ability to trek through snow without breaking a sweat, you’re able to experience an exclusive skiing experience that’s second to none.

Related Question

Cat skiing is just one unique way to test your skills in this snow sport, and if you’re someone who likes a thrill, you’ll be wanting to know what else is out there.

Read on for some FAQs and answers about other types of skiing and unique locations that might be of interest to you.

What is Nordic Skiing?

traditional nordic skiing

Nordic skiing refers to the traditional style of skiing where the toe is attached to the ski but not the heel, and it was this version that came first.

This is different from today’s popular alpine skiing style where the entire skiing boot is attached to the ski instead.

What Is the Most Dangerous Ski Slope?

There are some ski slopes rated highest on the danger scale around the world, including The Streif in Austria, Great Scott in Utah, and Paradise in Vermont.

Most of these slopes include steep gradients, lots of cliffs, and jumps that span for hundreds of feet, so they’re better left to the professionals.

Is Cross Country Skiing Hard?

Cross country skiing is considered a more rigorous type of skiing and is usually reserved for those with at least intermediate experience.

This type of skiing requires a lot of muscular strength and control, as you’re relying on your own physical stamina to make your way across the snow.



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