More skiers are looking for backcountry and cat skiing options to ensure they have a solid ski vacation planned for this winter.

We’ve all been anxiously waiting to see what the ski season will look like in 2021. Epic and Ikon have both announced their winter policies and plans to keep guests safe. Resorts in the US and Canada have been announcing their plans as well. It looks like some mountains will require advanced reservations, and others will simply have occupancy limits. Whatever the case, skiing at the resort will be much different this year than last, and for good reason. You might not be able to just show up with your pass and ski that day or expect to have day tickets available. Skiing will require more planning ahead. Distance will be key for keeping guests safe. Liftlines and base lodges will be the high-risk areas, and so resorts will be doing their best to reduce crowding.

Looking across the Uinta Mountains at Park City Powder Cats' Thousand Peaks Ranch.

Here at Heli, we think the best option is to avoid the crowds and lift lines all together.

We are already seeing that for our community of skiers in the US and Canada, there is an increased interest in Cat Skiing as a solid option for your winter vacation; and there are some good reasons why. Though there isn’t solid evidence that this is a growing trend yet, anecdotally we are hearing from more people looking to go into the backcountry instead of to the resort. Here is why we think you should ditch the resort this season and opt for a group cat trip with friends this year: 

Reason 1: Small Group/Private Cats Means Fewer People

With a cat skiing trip, there is more control over who you will be around. Most cats hold up to 12 skiers plus guides. They usually require a minimum of 4 skiers to run, but with a private cat, you can have any number in your group between 4 and 12. You simply split the cost amongst the group and you are good to go. You will only be interacting with the guides (mostly in outdoor spaces) and skiing with just your small group. This is a great option for those looking to avoid crowds but still spend quality time with a group of friends.

Dropping in with Jones Pass Guides, Colorado.

Reason 2: No Risk Of Sold Out Days

We’ve heard from some people that making a reservation to ski at the resort will be straightforward and easy. “Like booking a tee time at a golf course.” We hope that’s the case. But this will be the first year ever that ski resorts have used this new system. At some resorts, they may limit the number of day passes sold or hit their occupancy early. This could mean showing up at the resort only to be turned away. We expect some headaches and hassle as these places adjust to a new process. We will of course patronize and support our local resorts, but for a big trip with your group, it might make sense to opt for an operation that can book you far in advance and honor your reservation, regardless of demand.

Skeena Cat Skiing in Smithers, B.C.

Reason 3: Cat Ski Operators Tend to Have Clear Cancellation and Booking Policies

Ski resorts are trying to please a lot of different groups. Season pass holders and locals want one type of experience. Visitors and vacationers want another. With so much uncertainty, there hasn’t been much clarity around the question “what happens if I can’t ski?” Booking with a cat skiing operator means they are focused on one person – you and your group. Their cancellation policy is clear so you can rest easy. In most cases, your deposit can be used as a credit for a future trip or you can receive a refund in the event of cancellation or trip interruption. These trips are also insurable. The team at Heli can help you understand the policies for each cat skiing operation and select the best one for you. 

Fresh tracks with Park City Powder Cats
Fresh tracks with Park City Powder Cats

Reason 4: The Price of Cat Skiing Is Competitive With Resort Skiing

A season pass or day tickets at a top resort in the US and Canada can run you anywhere from $120 USD per day to $1,000 USD for a pass with “unlimited” skiing. Who knows what unlimited will look like this season. Cat skiing can range from $300-$600 USD per day per individual, depending on the group size and the operation. It’s a step up from the average resort ticket, but it’s not a huge leap for all the benefits you get. No crowded lift lines and it’s hard to put a price on untracked slopes and fresh powder turns. Some options even include lodging and food, making it a one-stop option for your vacation at a very competitive price.

Guided private cat skiing at Great Northern Powder Guides

Reason 5: Fresh Powder Turns

This is a no brainer. It’s what we are all chasing as skiers. Increase your chances of getting deep by choosing a cat ski operation over a resort vacation this year.  Cat ski operators with access to large amounts of terrain can find fresh turns days after a storm. This turns powder days from a once in a while occurrence into a regular thing. 

Cat skiing and staying at Sopris House in Crested Butte, CO with Eleven Experience