Carving powder all day long is every skiers and boarders dream, and if it isnt, its probably because you havent done it before.
That powder dream can come true with a little help from Mother Nature and a big dent in your wallet.
Catskiing and heliskiing arent cheap trips. A day in the backcountry in a cat will cost more than a season pass at Bogus Basin. A day in a helicopter will cost about the equivalent of a top-shelf set of skis or a new board and bindings.
Snowcats get you deep into the backcountry, but at a slower pace than with a helicopter. They typically hold about 10 skiers and boarders and a few guides.
You typically leave from a ski area and travel out of bounds onto nearby mountains. Your guides lead you down the slopes and the cat picks you up and takes you to the next stretch of untracked snow.
Every trip starts with a safety orientation. Avalanche transceivers are supplied and worn by every skier and boarder. Youre confined to where the guides allow you to ski to ensure you dont get into trouble, but there's plenty of room for each person to cut fresh tracks down the mountain.
Plan $200 to $400 for an all-day trip. These trips usually include a hot lunch, snacks and drinks on the cat. They might also include powder ski rentals, which are recommended.
Some ski resorts also offer sidecountry trips, typically just outside the ski area boundaries. These trips are typically cheaper than full-day outings.
Before booking a trip, talk to the resort and see how they operate and how many runs and vertical feet are common on a trip. Remember that weather, snow conditions, skiing or boarding skill of the party, and other factors determine how many runs you will get.
Ask how long the trip is to the area where you will be skiing. Cats move about 5 miles per hour, so you can expect some transit time to and from the slopes.
Here are some places that offer guided catski trips
Brundage Mountain, brundage.com.
Grand Targhee, grandtarghee.com
Soldier Mountain, soldiermountain.com
Anthony Lakes, anthonylakes.com.
This is as good as it gets for backcountry skiing.
An experienced pilot flies you deep into backcountry and drops your party and guides on a ridge or a peak. You carve the powdery slopes, and the helicopter is waiting to whisk you to the top in minutes to do it again.
Sun Valley Heliski offers the only helicopter skiing in Idaho, and the oldest heli-skiing operation in the Lower 48. A trip will cost about $1,100. For details go to epicquest.com.
Sun Valley Heliski has 750,000 acres of terrain available, and a trip is based on seven runs, which typically totals at least 12,000 to 15,000 vertical feet of skiing.
If you get fewer than seven runs because of the weather, you get a refund based on how many runs youve completed. If you want more than seven runs, it costs more.
Dont feel like you have to be an Olympian or skied in a Warren Miller film to go heliskiing. If you can ski all day at a resort and ski in powder and mixed conditions, you can heliski. Guides will pick terrain suitable to the group's skill level.
Snowboards are fine for heliski trips if you can ride powder, cross gullies and make traverses.
If possible, book a trip with a group with similar skill levels. If people are constantly falling down and having to dig themselves out of the powder, it slows the whole group.
Plan to spend a couple days at the resort. A backcountry trip is exhilarating, but tiring. You dont want to add travel before or after. Many trips include a day of lift-served skiing.
Book trips in advance for prime powder months, but if you can go midweek, youre more likely to get a last-minute trip after a big storm.
Use powder skis. Even if youre an experienced skier, it just makes the day more fun.
If youre a snowboarder, dont lead. Its better to use ski tracks to build up speed, then jump out and carve turns.
Get several days inbounds to build endurance before heading into the backcountry.
Make sure your board or skis are waxed for the temperatures youre going to encounter.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors