San Juan Untracked, the largest cat-skiing operation in the United States, just might be the best cat-skiing in Colorado, and it's the second ski stop on our ultimate powder road trip. Under new ownership this year and previously known as the San Juan Skiing Company, San Juan Untracked boasts 35,000 skiable acres in a pristine location between Durango Mountain Resort, Telluride, and Silverton. Looking for deep pow, gorgeous scenery, and knowledgable guides? Read on...
Cat skiing is a fairly economical (compared to heli-skiing) way of scoring fresh tracks all day long. For $300-$400 skiers get between 8-12 runs of untracked snow without the hassle and exhaustion of hiking or skinning up. But there can be some problems: cats break down, the group isn't at similar ability levels, and avalanche danger can force operations onto terrain that isn't worth $30 much less $300.
San Juan Untracked makes sure that you get the most for your money. With three passenger snowcats and two Mattracks passenger vans to provide backups in case of mechanical issues, there's less of a chance you'll miss out on skiing. Your day starts at the base of Durango Mountain Resort where you'll check in, gear-up (powder skis available), and head out. A lift ride up the mountain followed by a longish cat ride to the first run and you are ready to roll.
You'll start on an obligatory mellow run to test everyone's skills. But after that you'll quickly discover that the best part about San Juan Untracked is the terrain. The website brags that those 35,000 acres consist of rolling glades, wide open bowls, cliffs, chutes, and perfect tree runs, and they're not joking. This variation means that when other cat operations can't ski their best terrain because of avalanche danger, San Juan Untracked takes it all in stride. On a recent early February trip, the avalanche danger was considerable, but Curbed Ski editor Megan Barber still scored killer powder all day long in the trees. Our group hit 10 runs of perfectly pitched steep trees with fresh tracks for everyone. With such unstable conditions open bowls were out of the question, but the snow (and terrain!) was so fun, no one cared. Time after time, skiers burst out of the trees with huge grins, struggling to decide which run was their favorite.
Good guides round out a stellar experience. There's nothing better than skiing with people who know where they're going, can save your ass if you're hurt, and would be fun to grab a beer with after. Safety is their first priority and all that jazz, but San Juan Untracked also hires people who are just plain cool. They try to learn your names, will pull you out of a tree well if you happen to get stuck, and have tons of serious backcountry cred.
Collectively, Curbed Ski has logged some serious miles in cats. This ranks as our best experience so far, and it's certainly worthy of inclusion in a road trip or as a stand-alone splurge.
Next up on this epic road trip? Silverton Mountain.
· San Juan Untracked [Official Site}
· Find Never-ending Powder on this Colorado Road Trip [Curbed Ski]
· Colorado's Largest Cat Skiing Operation Gets Facelift [Curbed Ski]