My yearly Hajj to Snowcat vahalla

According to the reports from the Ski Company, it’s snowed the last 13 of 14 days here in Aspen yielding over 2 FEET of new snowfall.  Yesterday the storm cycle broke and the sunshine and cold weather returned giving us one of the best powder days of the year.  Knowing the snow was getting ready to stop, I ventured over to the Aspen Mountain Powder Tours desk two days ago and made a reservation for 1 seat in a snowcat on the backside for a powder tour.  These seats are hard to come by, but if you plan in advance, you can join too.

DSCN0769Once signed up, you need to have a pair of fatty powder skis and some decent powder skills to negotiate the endless deep powder of the Richmond Ridge terrain.  You meet your snowcat and guides (they run 3 cats per day / 12 people per) at the top around 9am for a full day of skiing.  I’ve taken about 6 of these trips over the years and I’ve had as many as 14 runs and as little as 11 on a typical trip.  It all depends on the strength of the group.  Keep in mind each lap is over 1000 vertical feet in length so it makes for some winded runs.  You will have a front guide leading the way and a tailgunner doing a sweep of each run.  Safety is paramount as with any backcountry adventure.  There are even areas that each skier goes one at a time to ensure group safety.

DSCN0785Because of the avalanche danger inherent with backcountry skiing, most of the runs are on intermediate level terrain of less than 30% in pitch.  If conditions warrant, there is terrain in McFarlands and Black Diamond bowls that are much steeper and challenging for the advanced skier.  The above photo was taken on the western facing slopes in the Little Annie basin.  The previous nights wind made a little crust on top but I wasn’t complaining as it was still knee deep.

DSCN0795There is 2500 acres available to the powder tours for their exclusive use and while that seems like a lot, it does get used up in a hurry with 3 cats running.  As you can see, every run is uncut bottomless powder with a sustained pitch about equal to Snowmass’ Big Burn.  Some runs are steeper, but for the most part, this run is a typical example of what your on.

DSCN0798We made of mess of this pitch.  Let’s do it again and try harder to make it pretty.

DSCN0802Much better.

About mid-day you stop for lunch.  Now this is not just any lunch, it’s lunch Aspen style.  Yes, the cabin is rustic complete with outhouse but the lunch should have a Michelin star.  It’s brought in from the Aspen Mountain Club and every bit as good as you can imagine.  Now, maybe I’m biased as I was so hungry from 5 morning powder runs, I would’ve eaten Spam if asked.  Even if you don’t like powder, sign up just for the snowcat ride, views and lunch.  It’s that good!

DSCN0815As you can tell from the photo, we’re losing light fast and it’s getting towards the end of the day.  A last peek through the trees at our last run of the day.

The next time you’re in Aspen and want a backcountry adventure you’ll remember for a lifetime, sign up for a powder tour.  Yes, it’s pricey but I guarantee you, it’s such a good time you’ll want do it again.  And if you’re not sure you’ll like it, invite me along and I’ll be glad to show you the ropes.

I’m out.



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About Bobby Schafer

My first introduction to skiing was at a little mom and pop ski area tucked into a small corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. This was my second year of college. After graduation with a couple of bachelor degrees firmly in hand, I would regularly find myself daydreaming at work of being the next Scot Schmidt or Glen Plake. After a year of working a 'real job', I had had enough and decided to pull the pin and find a ski resort where I could ski every day. I sold everything I owned, loaded my favorite K2 TNC's on the roof rack and started driving my old Cherokee towards the Rockies. I had no idea where I would end up and after a month of driving around, I found Aspen. I've now surpassed my 20th year here in the Roaring Fork Valley and still love this place as much as I did on day 1. I had a good run as I was able to figure out how to ski 5 to 6 days a week by working evenings. I did that for 17 years. Things have changed a bit now as I have a family and priorities change. I'm currently on the mountain a few days a week with one of them dedicated to skiing with my five year old son. With so much time on our four mountains in the last 20 years, I would like to share my knowledge and insight with you as you plan your ski trip to our mountains. I hope you can ski vicariously through my camera lens and enjoy Aspen/Snowmass as much as I do.