The snow problems that have plagued the Front Range this season are fairly well documented at this point. While the snow has picked up somewhat in recent weeks, levels at the resorts are still below normal, and powder days have been few and far between. While the southwest portion of the state has gotten a lot of snow, as I wrote about at Monarch, Crested Butte, and Silverton, the snow track has left Front Range skiers starved for face shots. However, there is a solution, in the form of Chicago Ridge Snowcat Tours, operated out of Ski Cooper.
The Chicago Ridge Snowcat Tours has 2,460 acres of terrain to access. Over the course of the day, you can expect to get in 8-16 runs, depending on the strength of the group, and chase the good snow all over the mountain. You also get served a gourmet lunch in the yurt at the base of the skiing, and après ski beers in the Ski Cooper base at the end of the day. The guides provide everyone with avalanche transceivers.
On Thursday, under alternating snowy and sunny skies, we got nine runs in during the day with a full group of 12 (a minimum of six is required for a tour to go out). Every one of the runs was fresh powder skiing, with everything from wide-open bowls to mellow glades and tight trees. The snow was awesome, mostly deep powder, though we did hit a couple of rocks way up high on the ridge where the winds sometimes scour the slopes.
While the terrain at Chicago Ridge isn't mind-blowingly steep like at Silverton, the snow is fantastic and no hiking is required. The snowcat picks you up after each run and takes you up for another. The guides will set a line in any terrain where they feel avalanches may be a problem, and you simply ski to the side of the line directed by the guides.
Dropping a knee on telemark turns in deep powder in glades that seemed to be a prop from a movie was a magical experience.
Check out some of the pictures I shot, as well as two videos. Please excuse the jerky nature of the tree skiing one; I was hand-holding the camcorder while skiing through the trees!