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Behind the scenes of a PSA Snowcat trip!

A PSA group having a fun trip

(Christian and Isaac with the Purgatory marketing team took a trip with Purgatory Snowcat Adventures! Check out their experience below.)

The day of our Cat Skiing Trip had finally arrived! Driving up 550 North to Purgatory Resort, we could tell it was going to be an awesome day. The storm was producing at its peak, and the accumulation of snow was more than expected. The stoke was growing as we parked and gathered our camera gear!

Snowcat getting ready for opening at Purg

As each new guest arrived at the Purgatory Snowcat Adventures office in the main village plaza, the level of anticipation slowly grew. We gave our formal introductions, signed our waivers, and were each fitted with avalanche beacons. The group sat sipping warm coffee and paying careful attention as our lead guide, Karl, walked us through the backcountry safety instructions and how to use the avalanche beacons properly.

A group preparing for their PSA snowcat tour

Once the orientation was complete and we got all fully geared up and ready to go, we headed out into the snowy morning. For the first part of the adventure, we boarded Lift 1 and rode up amid swirling snowflakes. Karl and our other guide for the day, Becky, then led the group over fresh fluffy snow to the “cat house” where we would catch our ride for the day.

Our snowcat operator, Friday, was already waiting with the cat warmed up and ready to go. We loaded our boards and skis on the track and climbed into the warm, welcoming passenger box, happy for a momentary break from the wintry morning. 

Snowcat tour guide

With everyone on board and accounted for, we headed out toward the Cascade zone for a day of adventure, out of bounds and away from cell service. 

A group of people on the snowcat ride

After a short 30-minute ride we arrived at our first drop location. We re-adjusted our layers and prepared to leave the comfort of the snowcat. The reward would be well worth it! As we climbed out into the snowy winter wonderland, our guides retrieved our skis and boards from behind the snowcat. We gathered our equipment and started strapping in, and the snowcat headed off down the mountain where it would meet us at the bottom of the run. We were starting just above treeline, the highest point of the day, and Karl yelled out instructions for our first run over the howl of a February wind. 

Pro tip: What to wear

A single base layer (or 2 if you run cold) under
A down insulator with
A shell on the outside (Many ski jackets are waterproof, breathable and compact, allowing lots of layers underneath.)

Synthetic underwear (NOT cotton)
A base layer (or 2 if you run cold) under
Waterproof pant shell
Ski socks (liners optional)

Gloves/mittens (Plus possibly extra gloves. Everything gets soaked on a heavy snowfall day.)
Helmet! (Plus a warm hat or ear warmer if you want to take your helmet off between runs.)

First, he cut a trail for all of us to follow down the run. He set a skier’s-left boundary line, meaning everyone was meant to stay to the right of his tracks and not cross over the boundary to the left. With the lines set, the instructions given, and the wind urging us down below the tree line, the only thing left to do was go for it! We took turns heading down the pristine powdery slope in groups of two or three. The moment we jumped out of Karl’s initial tracks on a steep enough pitch to hold speed, the reality of the snow depth hit like a wall. Whoop’s and yeww’s carried across the hillside as each group disappeared into the deep powder. 

The first run was on a lower angle pitch, allowing the group to warm up and get a feel for the conditions.  The group rendezvoused back at the snowcat. Huge smiles peeked out from snow-covered faces and the stoke was high as we loaded back into the warm cabin for a short ride over to the next run.

A group getting ready for their powder filled run

We all agreed that we needed to find some steeper terrain due to the amount of snow. The fluffy stuff was slow going on the lower-angle pitch we’d just finished. Friday steered the cat over to a zone of old-growth trees that were more spaced apart on a steeper hillside. We climbed out of the passenger box once again and were grateful to find that the wind had died down significantly. Huge, fat flakes were tumbling straight down around us as we talked through the next run and the guide set a right-hand boundary this time. 

Isaac and I decided, with the improved conditions, that we could capture some content on this run so we headed out first, following the boundary tracks to an open gully. We got in position with cameras ready and yelled a “Hoodie Hooo”. The groups started coming down in pairs, skiers and riders disappearing into the snow at each turn’s apex only to reemerge as if floating on clouds. 

This zone proved perfect for the conditions so we decided to take a few runs here skiing further right each time, exploring new untouched terrain. 

Between runs, we all gulped down water (reminder to bring a water bottle!) and refueled on pocket snacks to keep our energy up for the next trip down the mountain.

Pro tip: What to bring

  • Snacks (You’ll be burning more calories than you’re used to at the resort)
  • Water Bottle
  • Extra Lenses, 2nd pair of goggles or cleaning clothes (goggles often fog or fill with snow)
  • Hand / Toe Warmers
  • Stoke! 

After several more laps, we decided it was time to explore a new area and we rode the cat to the top of another zone. As we all piled out onto the mountainside, the storm broke for a moment and everyone stopped in amazement. The blue skies shone brightly against the grey overcast sky and the powdered slopes sparkled all around us. 

The next run was the best of my day. I carved out perfect turns, weaving in and out of the old-growth trees and launching off smooth pillow drops. The sunlight illuminated each of the other skiers and riders as they picked their unique lines down the slope, and it was nothing but smiles all around. 

With spirits high, and bodies tired we met back at the Snowcats for sandwiches, chips, candy bars, and a much-needed rest. The group eagerly took our lunch selections, half heading into the warmth of the snowcat and half staying out to enjoy the break in the storm.  Our guides refilled our water bottles and reminded us to keep staying hydrated.

Skier enjoying their break in the warm and comfy snowcat

Some of the group decided to extend their lunch rest, legs tired and unaccustomed to so much incredible powder. The rest of us willed our bodies to keep on seeking out the fun. We listened to our guide’s instructions and then dropped in for one uninterrupted, top-to-bottom run. The face shots were plentiful and our legs were burning, but we were floating on a perfect, powdery cloud nine.

Skier on fresh powder

Having the snowcat nearby was a nice luxury for those of us not used to so much strenuous activity. The group was able to push themselves or take a rest in the warmth of the cab. It was amazing to notice how much of backcountry skiing is about plain fitness rather than skill, although the deep powder definitely required a good level of both.

From the snowcat road, it was immediately apparent why the final zone of the day is called the playground. Various snow pillows, trees, and an open gully provided the foundation for innumerable unique lines down this steep pitch. We took several choose-your-own-adventure runs, spraying up snow waves and yelling out “WHOOOPS” as we gassed out the last of our legs power and busted through as many untouched powder pockets as we could find.

Snowboarder making turns in fresh powder
Moments before being buried in a wave of snow!

As 3:30pm finally approached we climbed back into the cat for the last time and made our way back toward the resort. It was nothing but exhausted smiles all around the cabin, and many of us wondered how our legs could possibly carry us down one more run from the cat to the base of the resort. We all made it through and gathered in the PSA office once again to return our gear and reflect on an epic day we’d just had. We shared cold beers and recounted the highlights then eventually had to say our goodbyes. We couldn’t have asked for a more incredible day out there and after sharing such an amazing experience our group felt bonded to one another. There really is nothing like an adventure in nature, to bring people together and forge the bond of shared fun.

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