Backcountry Skiing in Park City,  Utah

Backcountry Skiing in Park City, Utah

Park City Utah

By John Di Rienzo
Augist 28, 2015


We’ve all seen amazing footage of skiers blowing through fresh, deep powder and imagined the joy and freedom of skiing down pristine, unmarked slopes.  

It looks like expert-only territory and, in many cases, it is. However, options exist if you have at least a solid intermediate skiing or snowboarding skill level. If you can ski blue trails with total confidence and are looking for something a little more challenging and wild than the groomed runs of the resorts, then a backcountry ski day may be the perfect add-on to your ski vacation.

There are several backcountry ski guides and service providers located in and around the major ski resorts of Park City and Snowbird in Utah. The skiing and snow in these parts are world class, and the backcountry tour companies offer various ways to get you into virgin terrain, from Skinning (not for the unfit) to Snowcat Skiing and Heli-skiing.

We reached out to a few providers to get a sense of their services, what factors to take into consideration, such as skill level and weather concerns, advance booking recommendations and cost. These profiles should give you an idea of what options are available to you and what they will cost you.

Basically all of these services emphasize safety, including avalanche awareness and a high guide to guest ratio. Be aware that access to the backcountry is ultimately based on the viability of conditions, and if there is any risk of avalanche or inclement weather, your reservation will be moved to another day when the conditions are safer.

Powder Cats - Park City, Utah  - Snowcat Skiing

Phone: 435-649-6596

Located just 25 miles east of Park City, Utah, Powder Cats is a company that specializes in Snowcat Skiing. For those not familiar with the name, Snowcats are those giant machines that run up and down the runs at resorts and groom the trails, making what some call “corduroy snow.”

Powder Cats requires that all skiers be expert or advanced level, meaning that you must be able to comfortably ski or snowboard black diamond trails in Western resorts and be comfortable with ungroomed conditions.

They operate backcountry ski  tours on a private ranch in the Uinta Mountains called The Thousand Peaks Ranch. The Ranch offers over 4,000 acres of skiable terrain.

These powerful machines are outfitted to carry skiers, and are heated and quite comfortable in the passenger compartment. The Snowcats that Powder Cats uses can hold up to 12 people.

Your Typical Day with Powder Cats

You will drive or take a taxi from the Park City area over to their base cabin, which is about a 45 minute drive, to be at an orientation at 8:30 am. You will need to bring your powder skis or snowboard.

At the orientation, you will get a brief safety talk from your guides and operators. You will also be suited with avalanche transceivers as a precaution.

Once you are all oriented and geared up, you will get in the Cat for a 45 minute ride up to a ridge for your first run.

After that, it’s 15 – 20 minutes between laps. You will ski where the conditions are most ideal,

What kind of skiing can you expect? You will be taken open bowls and through trees at higher altitude. If conditions are not optimal, meaning weak or poor snowfall, there is plenty of north face skiing where the snow conditions are typically better.

When to Reserve Your Tour with Powder Cats

In terms of reserving your trip, at this moment (the end of August), their calendar is fairly open. There are only two Saturdays that booked full in February. They advise that weekends during February and March book up quickly, and by mid-January, all weekends in February are full. Weekdays do offer more flexibility.

They do offer private tours, when you have 10 – 12 people, and private tours offer greater flexibility in terms of terrain. They can arrange more moderate skiing than the regularly scheduled group tours.

In terms of cost, it’s $489 plus tax, per person, per day. This also covers food for the day.

Powder Cats Summary:

Specialty:             Snowcat Skiing
Location:              Private ranch near Park City
Ability Level:      Expert for scheduled tours; more flexibility for private tours
Included:             General Orientation; Food; Avalanche Transceivers.
Skiing:                   Ungroomed Open Bowls; High Altitude Tree Skiing
Group Size:         12 max in each Snowcat
Cost:                      $489 per person, per day
Book By:              One month prior if flexible; weekends in Feb/March book up early.

Utah Mountain Adventures - Park City, Utah - Skinning 

hone: 801-550-3986

Utah Mountain Adventures is another established backcountry ski tour operator in Utah. They operate private backcountry tours in an area called Cottonwood Canyon, outside of the Canyons Resort near Park City, and near Alta and Snowbird resorts.

They specialize in getting you into the backcountry via climbing skins, which are straps of material that you attach to the bottom of your skis and let you grip snow and climb hills. There are special bindings that let your heal lift up like in cross country skiing, that lock into place when you are ready to take a downhill run.

This type of skiing is not for the unfit. It can be an exhausting slog for the uninitiated even for those in decent condition, especially when at altitude.

This outfit requires at least a solid intermediate skill level, which means it is perhaps more accessible to groups of varying ability. However, people should have some experience with powder skiing.

Your Typical Day with Utah Mountain Adventures

Your day with Utah Mountain Adventures starts at around 8:30 pm and will go until 3:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. depending on conditions and the group.

When you meet with the guides, there is an orientation and they will provide avalanche safety gear and packs, as well as the skins that you will attach to your skis.  They will also rent you skis and snowboards

In terms of guides, there is a maximum ratio one (1) guide to four (4) guests. So, if for example you have 6 in your group, there will be two (2) guides and the groups can split up based on ability level. 

What you ski, as with any other provider, depending on avalanche risk. In fact, this is one of the most important insights that you are paying for when you retain a backcountry ski guide. Providing there is low danger, nothing is off limits.  Once you are locked into a day, considering avalanche concerns, they will try to work around schedule and snow conditions

You will access terrain in two ways. You can either get dropped off and skin off to a drop point or hop a ride on one of the chair lifts at the resort to get into the high country. In this case, you’ll start at around 10,500 and tour back until end of day, which is typically 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

When to Reserve Your Tour with Utah Mountain Adventures

In terms of booking, they recommend a month in advance, with Saturdays in February being peak of peak touring period. However, the more flexible you are the more availability, with weekdays offering openings.

In terms of cost, it’s $350 for the first person and then $150 for each person after, plus tax.

Utah Mountain Adventures Summary:

Specialty:             Skin Climbing
Location:              Cottonwood Canyon – adjacent to Canyons Resort, Alta & Snowbird.
Level:                    Solid Intermediate skier and above (blue - black trails)
Included:             General Orientation; Food; Avalanche Transceivers.
Skiing:                   Varied
Group Size:         Max 4 skier per private guide
Cost:                      $350 for the first person per day, $150 for each additional
Book By:              One month prior if flexible; weekends in Feb/March book up early.

Powderbird - Snowbird and the Canyons, Utah - Heli-Skiing
Tel: 801.742.2800

The next operation specializes in daily heli-skiing. Powderbird is operates heli-skiing services near Park City and Snowbird. They offer two (2) pick-up points, on around Snowbird (Cottonwood Canyon) and one at the Canyons near Park City. Both departure points flying same terrain, the only difference is the departure location.

Skier and snowboarders should feel comfortable managing all kinds of terrain, including open bowls and trees. So basically this is really geared for the Expert level skier or snowboarder who is totally comfortable skiing any black diamond run. For snowboarders, it’s important that they be able to manage their speed to get through some of the flatter spots.

Your Typical Day at Powderbird

You arrive at 7:30 am arrival to the departure points. Your guides are there, and catering chefs will have breakfast available for you. You will have a heli-orientation, receive an avalanche transceiver, and, weather permitting, have a 9:00 a.m. departure. You will ski until 1 – 3pm afternoon. Basically, each day you can count on around seven flights and six (6) to seven (7) runs.

The helicopters hold four (4) passengers, a guide and a pilot. You will fly in groups of four (4) and ski in group on eight (8). If there is inclement weather and you are not able to fly on the day you reserved, your deposit and payment is 100% refundable.

Guides will help you choose lines and assist with your skis should you need help out in the terrain. Also, if needed, skis are available for rent in-house as are snowboards at $50 per day; all you need to do is bring boots.

When to Reserve Your Tour with Powderbird

Powderbird flies every day, from December 15th to April 15th, and if you have eight (8) total can make a private experience. If you have less than eight (8), you will grouped with other people. Peak periods for them are February to early March, so those tend to book up between October and December. You have more availability either later in the season and early December.

This is the most costly of the backcountry ski options. The cost will vary from $1260 - $1400 per day/per-person plus tax.

Powderbird Summary:

Specialty:             Heli-skiing
Location:              Near Park City Canyons and Snowbird
Level:                    Expert level (black trails)
Included:             General Orientation; Food; Avalanche Transceivers.
Skiing:                   Varied, bowls & trees.
Group Size:         Eight (8) skiers per group; two (2) guides.
Cost:                      $1260 - $1400 per person per day
Book By:              One month prior if flexible; weekends in Feb/March book up early.

This is basic information on setting up a backcountry ski trip in and around Park City, Utah. Of course, you will need to do your own research and determine which company is right for you and your group.

Now all you have to do is book the perfect ski home or condo with Exotic Estates!

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