The venerable chairlift has been the primary tool used to ascend hills on skis since the prototype appeared on the slopes of Sun Valley in 1936. Its ubiquity is embodied by the low-pitched hum emanating from the terminal that’s so ever-present, it’s hardly noticeable until it fades into the background. Sure, centuries of incipient skiers had to laboriously trudge towards summits, but several generations of recreational skiers have known little beyond navigating a maze of ropes and accepting a firm thud against the upper calf in exchange for a ride to the top of a crowded, groomed slope.
No more. Helicopters, snowcats and human-powered backcountry tours, once the exclusive realm of hardened experts and professional skiers with extravagant film-production budgets, are exploding in popularity throughout Utah as everyday skiers long to explore the mountains beyond the groomers, moguls and resort boundaries. There’s powder in them hills. Get after it.
No disrespect to Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude—resort skiing doesn’t get much better—but spend enough time looking across Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons and the mind starts to wander to those looming peaks in the distance. Powderbird heli-skiing gives unparalleled access to powder-filled slopes in the Wasatch by whisking skiers to the top in mere moments via helicopter.
Talk about luxurious convenience, but it doesn’t come cheap. An individual seat on a Powderbird helicopter starts at $1,600 per person. A private guided group with one to three people is $6,900 and four to eight will run $13,800. Get beyond that barrier to entry, and you’ll experience thousands of feet of powder skiing deep in incredible terrain throughout the Wasatch no matter if you start from their base in Park City or at Snowbird.
Don’t be intimidated by the thought of stepping out of a helicopter onto an exposed ridge with massive cornices. Powderbird guides are well-versed in tailoring terrain selection to suit each group’s abilities. Whether you’re a group of hardcore shredders looking to eke every inch of vertical out of the day or you just want to make some creamy powder turns with jaw-dropping scenery, you’re covered. The cost means Powderbird heli-skiing may be a once in a lifetime experience for many, and the exhilaration of riding in a helicopter and ripping untracked powder will make it exactly that.
8333 Bypass Rd, Alta, 801-742-2800, powderbird.com
Cat Skiing at Powder Mountain
When it’s dumping snow, helicopters are grounded. Snowcats, however, can get to the goods regardless of the weather. Add in a substantially lower cost than its airborne counterpart, and cat-skiing offers a far more accessible path to powder-filled skiing and snowboarding. Powder Mountain’s cat-skiing operation is uniquely affordable and flexible. With a lift ticket, you can purchase single cat rides for just $25 each—a $250 punch pass comes with a free eleventh ride.
Take a ride up the Lightning Ridge cat for powder-filled turns down Weber Bowl and Cache Bowl, or tackle some more technical terrain on Waterfall, Big Middle and Hair Raiser Chute. From the top of Lightning Ridge, hearty shredders can hike or skin to the top of James Peak to ski down from 9,422 feet. The Rain Tree cat accesses terrain west of the resort where untouched turns on moderately steep, tree-filled slopes linger long after storms pass.
All in, Powder Mountain’s cats access more than 4,800 skiable acres in a way that fits any budget and ability level. Powder Mountain also partners with nearby Whisper Ridge Backcountry Resort for full-day, guided cat skiing adventures for those willing to shell out for a more extravagant experience.
6965 E. Powder Mountain Road, Eden, 801-745-3772, powdermountain.com
Human-Powered Backcountry Tours
Get back to skiing’s roots with human-powered backcountry tours. Earn your turns by skinning to the top, all while avoiding the environment-destroying carbon emissions and solitude-ruining racket of helicopters and snowcats. There’s no better way to fully immerse yourself in the mountain environment.
Backcountry ski guide J.T. Robinson runs Vertical Integration, a full-service hosting company for human-powered backcountry tours. Robinson can help arrange lodging, transportation, gear and logistics, and he’ll take you deep into the mountains to safely see and ski terrain you wouldn’t be able to access on your own.
Robinson has permits to lead trips from the classics like Gobblers Knob in the Cottonwood Canyons to the North Face of Ben Lomond Peak near Ogden to the high Uinta Mountains where you can use snowmobiles to access remote peaks before heading to the top using your own two feet. Plus, he’s the only guide on earth with permits to ski on the backside of Mount Ogden—it’s private land. Tours with Robinson are fully customizable to meet varied preferences and ability levels, and they start around $250 per person, per day. Get in touch with Robinson through the Vertical Integration website to plan your perfect trip.
Vertical Integration: 801-940-1446, thevigroup.org
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