Our Review

Our Review

SEABA Heliski
Wagner Custome Skis

Powderhounds' Reviews of Steamboat Powdercats

Powderhounds.com received the cat call to head to Steamboat to review Steamboat Powdercats and to prove that powderhounds can be very good friends with powdercats!

Cat skiing is an amazing powder skiing experience, but no single cat ski operation is absolutely perfect for everyone. Our review covers different aspects of the cat skiing experience so you can determine if Steamboat Powdercats is likely to align with your priorities.

Whilst Steamboat Powdercats might not be quite as awesome as some of the Canada cat skiing operations, in summary our review has rated Steamboat Powdercats as the best cat skiing in the USA! We meant it when we said on the Steamboat Powdercats overview page that this is “the crème de la crème of Colorado snowcat skiing”, the “ultimate cat skiing experience” and “first class”!

Pros
  • Steamboat Powdercats is a very professionally managed and tight operation, and the guiding is very impressive.
  • The quantity and quality of the powder is a major drawcard.
  • The variety of terrain is very good and the presence of steep terrain is a huge bonus. An even bigger bonus is that they form three different groups by ability level, so you can ride the terrain that’s most appropriate for you.
  • For a US operation, the size of the terrain is considerable.
Cons
  • As is somewhat commonplace in the USA, the cat ski operation has to rub shoulders with an ever growing number of ski “tourers” that access the area via snowmobile. Thankfully there are no concerns about snowmobilers high marking slopes because they have to stay on the snowcat trails. Our guides didn’t have any problems finding fresh tracks, but these “tourers” still provide the potential to poach virgin snow.
  • As is very typical of USA cat skiing, the runs are not particularly long when compared to BC cat skiing or Chile cat skiing. The runs are super sweet, but unfortunately the fun is over all too soon.
Powder Snow
Buffalo Pass (aka Fluffalo Pass) gets bigger dumps of snow than the Steamboat Resort and with an average of over 500 inches (12.7 metres) per season, this is more than standard for a USA cat ski operation.

The Steamboat area is renowned for its fluffy champagne powder, and we were impressed with the snow conditions, especially considering it hadn’t snowed in a while. The only factor that may lessen snow quality is the elevation of the terrain. It maxes out at 3,292 metres (10,800 feet) which is low by Colorado standards. On the plus side, because all the terrain is below the timberline, the trees protect the powder reasonably well from the elements.
Overall Terrain
The terrain is a reasonable size for a US cat ski operation (10,000 acres versus an average of 6,600 acres), and it doesn’t appear too problematic that snowmobiling skiers share the area. Even though the terrain is all below the treeline, it has really interesting features and good variation in pitch and tree spacing. They score points for the division of guests into three ability groups (strong intermediate, advanced and expert), but lose some ground for the short runs (500 to 1,200 vertical feet versus the typical 1,500 to 2,000 feet with BC cat skiing).
Alpine Terrain
The terrain is pretty much below the tree line, although there are some south facing areas that could be defined as “alpine” where the trees are very very sparse. The pitch is equivalent to a black run and these slopes provide a lot of merriment.
Tree Skiing
Ahhh heaven! The tree skiing is superb and there are options for all ability levels. It ranges from well gladed areas to tight trees, and mellow to steep lines, and the terrain has a mix of pines and aspens. The level 3 terrain has some sweet treats in the trees in the form of little rocks and cliff-ettes to add to the fun.
Strong Intermediate Terrain

Steamboat Powdercats cater really well to skiers and boarders who are relatively new to riding powder, or prefer to stay away from the gnarly steeps. In part this is due to the dedicated snowcat for Level 1 guests, and the guides can provide a few tips on powder skiing/riding. They also have the terrain to back it up. The terrain consists of mellow meadows and gentle runs with a smattering of trees.
Advanced Terrain

Bonanza! The terrain for advanced riders is almost perfect considering the variety of aspects, tree spacing and pitch. If only the runs went on for miles and miles…..
Expert & Extreme Terrain

The pitch hits 40 degrees in places and the Level 3 terrain has some tight trees to keep experts on their toes, as well as little cliffs and rocks to pop off (or launch if you so desire!). There are no couloirs or crazy lines that would make you cry for your mummy, but considering the delicious powder, most experts will be kept pretty happy.

Otherwise experts will be entertained with small cliffs that are sprinkled through parts of the terrain.
Guiding
Legendary! All three guides were outstanding (they have a lead guide, tail guide and snowcat driver, and switch these roles between runs). One guide in particular was really excitable, but all of them had vivacious personalities and with all their whooping and cheering (and even weird dog noises!), you couldn’t help but be excited and have an absolutely awesome time. Charisma and sense of fun aside, the guides were very professional and their instructions were incredibly clear.

On some runs there was a photographer who essentially complemented the guiding team.
Snowcat
The three snowcats all have different cabins. All cabin formats had very slight cons but generally they had a very good layout to optimize comfort and socialization between runs. All their snowcats have rear steps for straightforward entry, they’re well insulated, and “Felix the cat” has windows in the roof to maximize appreciation of the vistas. Generally the snowcat could get to the bottom of the run at the same time as the riders, and there were no problems with power.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies

Steamboat Powdercats probably put a lot of effort into minimizing avalanche risk, but this wasn’t particularly apparent to guests out in the field. And whilst their website outlines the required certification of their guides, there is no information about their avalanche risk mitigation strategies or avalanche forecasting. Nevertheless, their approach is better than other USA cat skiing companies we’ve reviewed, but it’s still not up to the standards evident with BC cat skiing.

In addition to the safety gear carried by the guides, two guest packs with a shovel and probe were provided.

They are contributing to leadership to establish a USA cat skiing association which will introduce safety regulations and minimum standards. This is very commendable and an important step for the Colorado cat skiing industry. This speaks volumes for the emphasis that they want to place on safety.
Safety Briefing
The safety briefing was very good for a USA cat skiing operation. A written safety sheet was provided to guests to supplement the verbal briefing provided by the guide. The latter didn’t incorporate what to do in the event of an avalanche, but it included an overview of the hazards of the snowcat. There was no practical component to the safety briefing such as shovelling techniques or probing, and no beacon search practice. Their approach to the beacon was to show us where the off button was, in case one of the guides needed to do a search!
Frills

Steamboat Powdercats provides a first class experience and takes care of all the little extras. They provide transport to and from your accommodation, they sort you out for fat skis, provide a light breakfast, and keep you fuelled up in the cat. The level I and II groups get a hot hearty lunch in the cabin, whilst the Level 3 crew are kept very happy with a gourmet focaccia in the snowcat.

One of the most impressive frills is the presence of a professional photographer who does a pretty snappy job!! Sure, some other cat skiing operations have a photographer, but they either charge for the privilege of the service and/or the photos or disc cost a bomb. With Steamboat Powdercats this is all included in the price!

A collection of the photos are screened during après drinks, which is a very fine way to finish a marvellous day out powder skiing.
Value for Money

It costs a little more than many other US cat ski companies, but you get a lot for your money with great terrain, lovely snow, and all the little extras.

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 or board every run and in all possible snow and weather conditions. Every guide is somewhat different and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only.

The photos and video (coming soon) are not filmed using professional riders, but rather they aim to show examples of a “real” experience.

Check out our cat and heli ski ratings to see how Steamboat Powdercats fares against other backcountry operations.
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