Sometimes, I see something that shakes me up (in a good way) and inspires.
This video produced by Visit Montana featuring Great Northern Powder Guides is one of those somethings.
The images and sentiment make me want to immediately board a northbound plane.
But what makes this video extra special is that it features a family.
Cat Skiing For All
When my sons were in Middle School, we had a hankering to try cat skiing. Accomplished ski racers, the boys had strong legs, willing hearts and superlative technique. Yet every time I’d reach out to a resort or operator, they’d say “catskiing is not for families.”
I understood their concern. Still, I’d laugh to myself, thinking I “If they only knew that parents are often the weak links, not the kids.”
Thus it was totally refreshing to see this video of a mom, dad and two teenage daughters ripping it up.
A family owned and operated business, Great Northern Powder Guides welcomes families. According to owner Ky Sandelin, close to 50% of their business is families, with about 25-30% of these families having younger kids.
Explains Sandelin, “We don’t have a minimum age, but it is imperative that all guests, kids included, listen to and respect the guides. No one on a cat trip can do their own thing. This endangers the entire group.”
Sandelin emphasizes that Great Northern Powder Guides has trips for all abilities and welcomes first-time cat skiers and first-time powder skiers, while expert skiers and riders should check out their Steep and Deep Cat trips.
Tips for Family Cat Skiing
1. Book a trip just for family and friends. Cat skiing is a group activity and the speed of the group is set by the slowest skiers.
2. Be physically and mentally fit. Cat skiing is vigorous and demanding, in the very best ways. If you or your kids aren’t up for the physical exertion, this may not be the best family activity. There’s a mental component as well. You’ll be learning safety techniques. You must pay attention and follow your guide’s instructions. You may push yourself beyond your typical level of comfort.
If you and your family are good with all of this, it can be the experience of a lifetime.
3. Drink water. Eat snacks. Eat lunch. It’s important to stay well-fueled so you don’t burn out. If you’re exhausted, there is no shame in sitting out a run in the cat. Take time to recharge.
Big State, Big Skiing
In 2015, my oldest son and I skied Big Sky. It was everything we’d hoped for — steep challenging chutes, wide flowing groomers, kind folks, stunning views, plenty of snow, blue skies and few people. While it’s the only place we’ve skied in Montana, we’ve got a hankering to go back.
Wanting to learn a bit more about some of Montana’s fifteen ski areas and resorts, I reached out to friends.
Here’s what Cora Helm, a ski mom from Helena, has to say.
“The most notable reasons for skiing Montana are affordability, short lift lines, varied terrain and laid back attitude. Some of the smallest areas have the most variety – from double and triple black diamonds, to intermediate rollers, to tree skiing, to terrain parks, to ‘no grooming zones’ for powder. You do not see the latest fashions on our hills, nor do people care. Just get out there, wear your bargain bin snow pants and have a blast.”
Parry appreciates the variety of terrain found across the mountain, that makes it easy for families to ride the lift together, split up on runs and meet again at the bottom of the lift. She especially likes the “wide-open ‘ski boulevards’ that let beginners and intermediates feel confident and comfortable.”
Her favorite part of the mountain however, might be Lone Peak. The Lone Peak Tram takes advanced skiers and riders to the top of Lone Mountain, with “incredible 360-degree views”.
“From here, the mountain is your playground with some of the most challenging terrain you’ll find. Last year, I experienced one of the best powder days of my life off the top of Lone Mountain!” shares Parry.
For après fun, she recommends the Kids Club for ages 4 and up.
“The terrain is varied and great for all ages, the atmosphere is friendly and trusting and I know I won’t be the only one skiing with a baby attached to me and/or with kids under 2 on skis.
“The lifts are easily accessible and the hill funnels everyone back to the base. We also love the bunny hill with a chairlift that lets kids practice loading and unloading from the very beginning.”
Great Divide Ski Area: Great Divide is small ski area that skis big. With over 1500 skiable acres, “it’s a playground like no other,” shares Cora Helm. Much of the skiing is technical, with tree skiing, moguls, terrain parks and acres of untouched snow.
While long, groomed runs to cruisers are few, “if you learn to ski at Great Divide, you can ski anything.”
Lost Trail Powder Mountain: Lost Trail is surprisingly big (1800 skiable acres on two mountains) and affordable, shares local skier Mike Stebbins.
Stebbins appreciates Lost Trail for the “best and most reliable powder in Montana” and the relatively low elevation of 8,200’ feet at the summit.
Judy Grasser, who works at Lost Trail, stresses the family-friendly atmosphere and Powder Thursdays. Lost Trail is open Thursday through Sunday, making almost every Thursday a powder day.
Whitefish Mountain Resort: Randall Zuckerman is a local dad who skis Whitefish with his family. Here’s what he says.
“Whitefish has a laid back, old school feel. There are no crowds, awesome terrain, great snow and a real ski town feel. The ski school is excellent and winter in Glacier National Park is breathtaking.”
Eric Wagnon concurs, especially on value, pointing out that winter is the region’s off-season, so prices are especially good.
Wagnon’s “don’t miss” suggestions include tree skiing, skiing the backside/north side of the mountain on spring mornings, and enjoying nachos at Hellroaring Saloon.
Do you ski Montana? Please share your favorite ski area and why it’s good for families (and everyone else)!
Thanks to my friends who shared their opinions about skiing in Montana. Also, thank you to Ky Sandelin for answering my questions and to Visit Montana for the video. The video is one in an excellent series. Check out Alpen Glow.
More Montana and Cat Skiing:
- Big Sky, Montana: Two People.Two Days. America’s Biggest Skiing. February 16, 2015.
- We Asked. You Answered. More Of North America’s Best Tree Skiing, December 7, 2016.
- North America’s Favorite Powder Day Resorts, March 7, 2016.
- A First-Timer’s Guide to Cat Skiing at Monarch Mountain, Colorado, February 24, 2014.
- Why I Ski and Ride Retallack, BC, July 16, 2012.
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