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.

SKI - - TRAVEL - By Erme Catino // Photos by Re­bekah Stevens

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.

Skiers wind down the day as the sun sets over Windy Ridge.

Park City Pow­der Cats Lead Guide Johnny Adolph­son goes deep on Big Cat Ridge fol­low­ing a storm; tak­ing a breather be­fore board­ing the cat for an­other run.

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