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Selkirk Powder Cat Skiing Review

Some USA cat skiing operations that are attached to a ski resort are a bit ho-hum, but Selkirk Powder Company definitely isn’t one of them. We’re letting the cat out of the bag that this is one wickedly fun cat skiing operation. We had an amazing time!

Most cat skiing is fantastic, but not every cat skiing company is absolutely ideal for everyone. Our review covers different aspects of the Selkirk Powder Company outfit so you can determine if they are likely to align with your priorities. As a guide to the ratings below, a 5/5 equates to absolutely phenomenal, 4/5 is excellent, whilst 3/5 is still a very good score. You can check out our cat and heli ski ratings to see how Selkirk Powder fares against other mechanized backcountry operations. Whilst Selkirk Powder might not be in quite the same league as some of the BC cat skiing operators, for a USA cat skiing operation, it’s pretty impressive.

Pros
  • The easy access to the cat skiing terrain is a huge bonus. Rather than a long snowcat ride, it’s just a quick trip via a chairlift up the mountain to get to the top of the first run. 
  • The co-location with Schweitzer Mountain Resort also improves safety aspects because the cat skiing operation has the backup of the resort ski patrollers if required. However it’s not like some other US resort based cat ski outfits where it seems like it’s just part of the resort. You definitely feel that you’re out in the backcountry. 
  • The cat skiing terrain is marvellous for advanced skiers and boarders (and very strong intermediate riders).
  • The guides know the area and the potential terrain hazards like the back of their hand. 
  • The maximum group size is 10 guests rather than 12 or 14. The slightly smaller group size can equate to more freshies and a more personalized experience. 
  • If the conditions aren’t right, they don’t go out. Occasionally they don’t discover this until the first run, but they’ll still give you a credit for a 24 month period. So you won’t blow your dough on riding crap snow! 
Cons
  • The terrain size is reasonable, but at 3,000 acres it’s less than half of the average for USA cat skiing operations. Currently they only have one snowcat and they cite they can ski untracked snow for 11 days without new snow. However we found even after a couple of days we were skiing some tracked snow down in the lower parts of runs.  
  • As is very common in the US and even some parts of Canada, a portion of the cat ski tenure is not on private land so snowmobilers can poach away and have a field day ripping up the powder.
Powder Snow

The guides state that they receive about a third more snow than the ski resort, which puts their average annual snowfall at about 400 inches (10.2 metres) per season. This is the mean for USA cat skiing operators. They typically don’t get huge dumps of snow at a time, so you’re unlikely to ski nipple deep powder, but this makes it more manageable for those that haven’t skied an abundance of deep pow.

The quality of the powder is generally very good; not superb like you’d find in Utah, but far superior to that of coastal concrete. The area is renowned for sometimes getting rain or wet and icy fog layers, and on the plus side, the slopes are largely north and west facing terrain, so lots of sun doesn’t get in there to ruin the snow, and much of the terrain is also protected by trees.

When we headed out with Selkirk Powder Company, the snow was generally gorgeous silky boot deep powder that was just a dream to ski. The only dampener on our powder dreams was the presence of some snowmobile tracks on a few runs that were a complete nightmare to ride over.
Overall Terrain
The terrain was soooo much fun. It’s largely tree skiing and there is very good variety in both the pitch and spacing of the trees. And the logging gods have come into some areas, creating open fields where you can hammer it down.

The runs are reasonably short (relative to most Canadian cat ski operations) and some are interrupted by a few cat tracks. A huge amount of vertical is not covered each day (relative to BC cat skiing, but it’s about average for US cat skiing), so the terrain is most suited to advanced and very strong intermediate riders who don’t need to rack up a wealth of vertical.

Alpine Terrain
Selkirk Powder doesn’t have alpine terrain per se. They don’t have alpine chutes or massive bowls, but there are various areas that are very sparsely vegetated that are a lot of fun if you want to perfect your powder turns or go like Speedy Gonzales. Snowpack stability is not a major problem, so it would be pretty rare that these areas couldn’t be accessed.
Tree Skiing
The tree skiing is Selkirk Powder’s forte. They have loads of variety with regards to spacing and moderate diversity of pitch, and it’s super enjoyable! They’d score full marks if they also had really steep trees with more features and little drop-off treats.

Due to the profusion of trees, the cat skiing doesn’t suffer from the same foggy visibility issues that commonly afflict Schweitzer ski resort.
Strong Intermediate Terrain

This cat skiing outfit can cater for very strong intermediates (skiers would definitely need fat skis). The trees are a little tight in places and intermediates would need to take it very slowly, but much of the terrain consists of widely spaced trees and open areas on moderate pitches where strong intermediates could happily play.
Advanced Terrain

This is a blissful paradise for advanced riders; just superb. Selkirk Powder Company would score full marks if there was a little more variety in the alpine, but otherwise it’s awesome!
Expert & Extreme Terrain

There isn’t really any extreme terrain at Selkirk Powder; no gnarly chutes, big pillows, or cliff lines. There are a a smattering of rocky drop-offs for those that love to leap, but if you’re looking for super steeps and pro-skier type terrain, you’d be advised to head elsewhere.

“Mere” experts won’t find the terrain challenging but will probably be adequately entertained whizzing around the trees and revelling in the powder. There is some potential you’ll be grouped with slower skiers and boarders, so if you want to churn up the powder, book the whole cat out with your like minded friends.
Guiding
Two of the lead guides are owner operators and know the terrain incredibly well; so intimately that I think they have a romance happening (not with each other)! Our guide provided really comprehensive directions about each run and any potential hazards to expect. Some may say the instructions were a little too detailed (for those of us with a short attention span!) and you definitely needed a “Kenabulary interpreter” to understand all the fabulous terms he’s got to describe the snow and terrain! He was tremendously funny, passionate, and has a myriad of interesting stories to tell, but most importantly we felt very confident that he had our backs with regards to safety.
Snowcat
The snowcat cabin had a really unique layout that worked pretty well. It had two bench seats that faced each other with a big table in the middle (which is why there’s a maximum of 10 guests only), which was handy whilst eating and for laying our gear out (and could double as a massage table as well!). Storage was also reasonably well thought out.

The set up was really conducive to chit chat amongst the whole group, but the only potential downside was that it was a little uncomfortable for those in the rear facing seats with the tendency to slide forwards when going uphill, and the side door arrangement with a step up onto the tracks made it a fraction harder to get in and out of the cat (but only for people like me with short legs!). The only other minor limitation was that the Perspex windows didn’t open, which could pose a problem if things got a bit hot and stinky!
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies

SPC outline some of their safety procedures on their website which are reasonably comprehensive, yet the safety protocols weren’t very evident to guests out in the field. The avalanche risk status wasn’t discussed, or any strategies the guides were undertaking to minimise risk. When we questioned the guides about the snowpack stability, they stated that it was very low and that they also see very few natural avalanches in their terrain, which may account for why their risk mitigations strategies were not overtly conveyed to all guests.

Only one guest safety backpack was provided that contained a shovel, probe, first aid kit and radio.
Safety Briefing

The practical component of the safety briefing only went for about a minute where we practised with the avalanche beacons.

The primary part of the safety briefing consisted of an 8 minute video. Other than what to do if you witness an avalanche, the video incorporated all required aspects including general backcountry hazards, avalanche safety, and considerations around the snowcat. Everything was covered really quickly, so it’s unlikely that most guests could absorb the information adequately, but many would see the quick briefing as an advantage so that they could get to the powder asap!

This is probably the best safety briefing we’ve seen amongst the USA cat skiing operators.
Frills

They keep it reasonably simple at Selkirk Powder with a focus on the skiing and snowboarding rather than the associated frills. Food consisted of sandwiches (which thankfully were not soggy), a packet of chips/crisps, and chocolate bars. There was no soup or hot drinks, and the water supply was a bit light on. They don’t provide powder skis, a photography service, or an apres ski session, but of course you can DIY all these aspects.            
Value for Money

The rates are well above the USA cat skiing average, but Selkirk Powder has more on offer than most of the cheaper cat skiing companies and they’ve reduced their prices in the last couple of years. All those delicious powder turns are definitely worth the money!

Notes Regarding Review The review is largely based on our experience, but also on discussions with staff, former guests, and information available on their website. Our review has some limitations as it’s not possible to ski every run and in all possible snow and weather conditions. Every guide is not the same and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only.

The photos are not taken using professional riders, but rather aim to show an example of a real experience.
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