The early dawn light was barely breaking through the surrounding trees as I drove up Brundage Mountain. With each passing minute, I could see more definition on the white hillsides. By the time I reached the base the ski area, the morning light was just bright enough to reveal a few cars in the lot. Smoke was billowing from the lodge, and a completely white landscape of powder-caked trees appeared in the daylight. Over 15 inches of fresh snow had fallen in the past 24 hours, and the clearing sky overhead indicated that it would be sunny and blue. Today was going to be a good day.
I couldn’t have picked a better day for my first day of cat skiing. For the uninitiated, cat skiing (or boarding in my case) is not your average day on the slopes. It involves a snow cat transporting up to 12 people around a vast backcountry wilderness for the day for the sole purpose of skiing or snowboarding through untouched powder. At Brundage, two experienced mountain guides determine where to go and ensure everyone stays safe.
If you have ever felt the thrill of gliding through light, bottomless powder snow, you know how addicting the feeling can be. Unlike chairlift-accessed terrain, cat skiing takes you away from crowds to truly get the opportunity to be completely immersed in nature. Once the cat drops everyone off, all noises disappear save the sound of the wind brushing the treetops. The slopes serve as a canvas with your skis or board as the brush, leaving your signature behind for all to see until the next snowfall cleans the slate once again. The cat waits patiently at the bottom of the run where everyone loads up again and a new run is chosen, and this repeats all day.
We started out with an easy warm-up run to get the blood flowing and the legs working. From the moment I pointed my board’s nose downhill I wore a smile that didn’t leave for the rest of the day. The whole group shared the same thrill; aside from the aforementioned wind, the only other sounds were the yelps and laughs of the group scattered throughout the glades. We sounded more like schoolchildren out at recess than a group of adults.
As lunchtime came, the cat pulled up to a remote yurt that served as our backcountry lounge. Our guide Garrett immediately started a fire in the wood stove while Nicky, the other guide, and our driver Jake got lunch ready. Although the lunch had been sitting with us in the cat the entire morning, I had no idea what was inside the containers. To my surprise, out came a gourmet spread that made me feel as though I was on a movie set. The coffee and soup was steaming hot, and there was more than enough food for everyone. It was the perfect break to recharge for the afternoon.
With the sun out, we spent the rest of the afternoon seeking out the best conditions with nearly 18,000 acres at our disposal. The only time the pace slowed down was when we would get out of the cat at the top and take photos of the impressive spectacle around us. But once we were ready to drop in, it was a straight shot to the bottom, only stopping to catch my breath or to clear the giant clouds of powder spraying at my face.
All in all we did 15 runs; tying the record for most runs in a day. On the ride back with my new friends, we traded stories of our favorite moments as our worn-out bodies enjoyed some much-needed inactivity from a full-on day. The terrain at Brundage was as good as it gets, providing plenty of excitement through the ideally-spaced glades while also remaining safe enough to avoid a trip to the hospital. And the snow, well let’s just say that Brundage Mountain’s claim of “Best snow in Idaho” is more than a marketing slogan. Light, deep, and bountiful, I never crossed another track the entire day.
If you are at least an intermediate skier with a love of powder, you will want to invest in a day of cat skiing. Brundage is the perfect spot to try it out as you can complement the day in a cat with a few days on the resort for an exciting and affordable getaway in the middle of Idaho that lacks the hoity-toity glitz that accompanies other resorts. This year has been blessed with incredible amounts of snow, so get some of it while you can. You certainly won’t regret it!