Only two short months ago, Powder Addiction cat skiing quietly opened its doors to provide guided cat access to Jones Pass, some of the greatest terrain along the Continental Divide.
When we got the call from our friends at Backbone Media (backbonemedia.net) to join them for a â€œfield testâ€ of this new operation, we were happy to oblige. The fact that Backbone wanted us to test next yearâ€™s lineup of skis from Black Diamond and Kastle was the icing on the cake.
Powder Addictionâ€™s main headquarters are located in Winter Park, but the operation also picks up skiers and riders at a base area just off hwy 40 past the town of Empire. Get this â€“ the drive time from our offices in Boulder is just over an hour. It takes less than an hour to get there from Denver. Less than an hour and youâ€™re climbing into a cat to access the goods on Jones Pass. Truly amazing.
But be warned, a somewhat poorly marked turn off hwy 40 leads to the Jones Pass trailhead where the cat operates. Miss the exit and youâ€™re atop Berthoud Pass heading to Winter Park (yeah, I missed the exit).
This region of Jones Pass has some incredible terrain, much of which has been accessible for years by snowmobilers, snowshoers and similar. A small cat operation even accessed the terrain years ago, but Powder Addiction is the first legit commercial operation in the area. And legit it is.
Powder Addictionâ€™s head guide and manager (aka Ski Boss) Jamie Wolter is an expert when it comes to backcountry terrain. He patrolled and managed Berthoud Pass ski area before it shut down, and heâ€™s been guiding in the backcountry longer than many of us have been skiing. Jamieâ€™s expertise and familiarity with the terrain ensure both safety and access to some incredible terrain.
When we hit it up, snow conditions were too unstable to access any of the really steep terrain, but there was still plenty of good snow and some 40-degree pitches. What drew me in were the myriad possibilities afforded during stable snow pack. With a little bit of easy hiking (albeit at an oxygen-deprived 11,000-12,000 ft) skiers and riders can access some hairball terrain with sustained pitches well over 40 degrees.
And while some of this terrain is avalanche prone, thereâ€™s also a ton of mellow, glade runs that are more akin to what youâ€™d find on an advanced/expert run at a Colorado resort, without all of the people and tracked out snow.
Ample powder always makes the difference, and the operation typically has fresh snow because of their location, which gets storms from all directions. The northern exposure and an elevation of about 11,000 feet ensures that snow remains cold and fluffy rather than the typical melt/freeze crust mix.
But like all cat skiing, the cost can be somewhat intimidating. A seat in the cat will run you $350/day until March 22; $300 thereafter. For that, you get guided access, lunch, powder skis, and basic avalanche safety gear. You can also rent the entire cat for the day at $3,500 thru March 22; $3,000 thereafter. Not a bad idea if youâ€™ve got a group of rippers who all want to access, and can handle, the most expert terrain.
If youâ€™re looking to escape to the powder and solace of the backcountry, Powder Addiction provides just that avenue. And at only an hourâ€™s drive from Denver, it could just be the best day-trip youâ€™ve ever taken.
For more info check out their website at powderaddiction.com or call them at 970-726-5442.
Special thanks to the crew at Powder Addiction and Backbone Media for another rough day at the office!