Snowcats Prowl the Rocky Mountains
Snowcats are designed to take riders to scenic views they’d never get from snowshoes or skis.
But you don’t need to worry. Snowcats were made for this.
Some ski area snowcat tours are strictly for getting skiers to the back country for extreme skiing, but Winter Park Scenic Snowcat Tours provides a mountain experience for young and old, injured and non-skiers who still want to explore the slopes in an up-close and personal way.
“I talk about the valley, give a little history, explain how the ski runs got their names,” says Gary Stanfill, who has been driving tours going on 13 years.
There are stops for photos and a break at the Sunspot lodge and restaurant on the mountain. The snowcat has a set route, for safety, and crosses some runs even average skiers would never attempt. Stanfill especially likes the later-day tours, when the sun starts to set and the light becomes beautiful. That’s when everyone scrambles to take photos.
The snowcats hold a pilot and 13 passengers. Tours last about two hours. “Passengers say they never realized how big Winter Park is,” Stanfill says.
For information, call 970-726-1616 or 970-726-5514 ext. 1727 or go online to winterparkresort.com/events-and-activities/winter-resort-activities/scenic-snowcat-tours/.
Winter Park isn’t the only place that offers the tours. Here are some other tours within a couple hours’ drive that are worth checking out:
Chicago Ridge Snowcat Tours operate out of Ski Cooper in Leadville. This high-country exploration meanders around 2,400 acres of back country and can take you as high as 12,600 feet in altitude. Their scenic tours last 2-3 hours. Guests ride to a back country yurt for a program on snow safety and lore. Call 800-707-6114 or visit skicooper.com/snow-cat-skiing.
Tour guide Gene Bartzen says “the view from my office is incredible.”
Monarch Snowcat Tours are primarily designed to offer access to amazing back-country skiing, chutes and glades untouched by another skier. Tours include lunch. Call 888-996-7669 or visit skimonarch.com/index.php/generalinfo/snowcat-tours” skimonarch.com/index.php/generalinfo/snowcat-tours.
Snowcat tours usually begin in December, or when Mother Nature decides to bestow enough snow on the resorts. They run into spring, again determined by the weather and snowpack.