Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cat Skiing the Ghee

In February of 2009, Jesper went to Grand Targhee in Wyoming with his Stick-it-to-the-Little-Man group of skiing buddies. The highlight of his trip was a day of Cat Skiiing the Ghee. Grand Targhee (the Ghee) is located west of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. They get a shitload of snow - over 500 inches - and the resort is off the beaten path, thus not crowded or skied out. The Cat Skiing operation is the gem of the Ghee.

For the uninitiated, Cat Skiing, or Snowcat Skiing, is like back county skiing without a chair lift and without the strenuous effort of skinning (not that we mind strenuous effort or skinning in particular - we love that stuff). The beauty of Cat Skiing is that you get to do run after run after run of unblemished powder all day long; many more than you could do skinning. The Cat is a special vehicle that rides on snow using tracks kind of like those on a bull dozer. Snow Cats are used for grooming ski runs; modified versions are also used for carrying passengers up to the good stuff. Grand Targhee resort dedicates an entire mountain - 600 acres - exclusively for guided Cat Skiing. No one else can go there and no lifts serve the area, although the resort blasts the area for avalanche control. The guides milk the powder so each group that is taken out is guaranteed fresh POW. Jesper had such an awesome day Cat Skiing with his buddies, he decided then and there he would take me one day.

Fast forward to the end of 2009. As an early Christmas gift, Jesper booked us a four day trip to the Ghee with 2 days of on-mountain skiing and one day of Cat Skiing. What a great present! However, as my Christmas gift trip approached, Jesper began to worry. Despite an early season jump, the Ghee received much less snow from October through early December than normal; they only had about a 4 foot base and much terrain was not open. In fact, the Cat was not running yet, a major disappointment to those folks who booked a day for early season Cat Skiing and a possible problem for us. A friend of ours who lives near Jackson, WY even called us to say we should try to reschedule. Unfortunately, we would only be credited with lodging or on-mountain skiing. Jesper looked at the forecast, which was predicting a massive snow storm right before we were scheduled to arrive. Banking on that forecast, we decided to go for it.

I think Jesper and I may be the luckiest people alive. We drove up through Colorado and then into and and west over Wyoming, with reports that the Ghee was finally getting dumped on. We arrived in a snowstorm that had already brought almost a foot of snow. It then proceeded to snow the entire night, dropping 9 more inches. Come Monday morning, our first day on the mountain at the Ghee, there was almost 2 feet of fresh powder!! We lucked out - the resort opened up the Cat Skiing that day.

We tried really hard our first day skiing to take it easy and save our legs for the next day when we would be Cat Skiing. We were not completely successful - it was just too much fun. It was also impossible to see anything! The entire mountain was engulfed in a cold snowy cloud. It was a complete whiteout up top until about midway down. You could barely see the chair ahead on the lift.

On the Dreamcatcher chair lift in a snowy fog

I could not see Jesper skiing down if he got more than 30 feet away. The fog was so thick, you couldn't tell if you were pointed up or down sometimes, creating a nauseous sensation of vertigo. We have since learned another nick name for the Ghee - Grand Foggy!

Jesper skiing fantastic powder in a whiteout

We skied some great powder, most of which we couldn't see, but the fog probably kept us from overdoing it more than anything else.

The fog dissipated lower on the mountain - Jesper floating through the trees

Me coming down in deep pow!

After a nice dinner in Driggs, ID, we hit the hay early to rest up, hoping the visibility would be improved for our day on the Cat. Jesper and I are lucky people! Tuesday dawned with better weather - perfect weather in fact. The clouds were much higher, well above anywhere we'd be skiing. We could see!

The Cat holds 12 customers, but ours was not fully booked and a couple people didn't show up (we have heard this is highly unusual). It was great only having 8 people, all of whom where good skiers/snow boarders. We were able to do a ton of runs, only limited by the speed of the Cat to come and get us.

Jesper and I posing in front of the Cat

The powder on each run was beyond incredible. As promised, we had freshies each time. The guides take care of everyone and also manage to make each person feel special, all the while keeping track of where to take us to guarantee fresh snow. I don't recall how many runs we did, but we started at 9, took a small snack break and then a short lunch break up in a patroller cabin and then skied until just after 4:00. It was a day I will not forget soon -I've never skied so many runs of pure powder! We didn't take many pictures, preferring to enjoy the experience without the distraction of taking the camera out. Jesper and I made it an early night, tired to the bone in a good way. But neither of us could sleep - we continued to have visions in our heads of skiing down deep, bottomless powder snow.

Jesper in the pow on a Cat run

Wednesday I woke up sore! I didn't realize the night before how hard I had worked the last two days. I guess we skied harder than I recalled through all that fun! Never-the-less, we hit the slopes almost as soon as the lifts opened to give our last day our best shot. Once again, thick clouds had rolled in, settling low on the mountain. We couldn't see shit. Then the temperatures rose and the snow turned to a fine misty rainish sort of thing. Rime began forming on our goggles, a double whammy with the fog! We were so glad we had had good visibility for our Cat Skiing the day before! We skied a couple runs, scrapping the rime off our lenses every few hundred feet, and decided to take an early lunch in hopes the conditions would improve. After lunch, it got a little colder and the rime turned to real snow, but the fog remained. The conditions after the rainy precip were challenging to say the least; a bit of crunch on top of everything. By 2:30, my legs were completely toast and Jesper was dizzy from the whiteout conditions. We decided to stop before we hurt ourselves, knowing that we had gotten plenty of great skiing in.

Jesper and I stayed one more night and then made the long drive home. We were so lucky to have just squeaked in on the start of the Ghee's Cat Skiing season and to have had the only day with any real visibility!

I can still feel the sensation of all that powder under my skis. I can't wait to go Cat Skiing again!


mtbjune said...

Woohoo!! So glad to hear that y'all got some good snow, the pictures look awesome :) Maybe one day I'll be able to ski that well, gives me something to work towards!! Hope y'all have a fun NYE and a healthy, happy 2010! As for us, we will start our year right in Beaver Creek :)

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