Pacific Crest Snowcats is California’s only snowcat skiing operation with a private stash
Story and photos by Brennan Lagasse
Looking to score fresh tracks all day in your own private Sierra playground? Then Pacific Crest Snowcats may be just what you are looking for.
Based out of Truckee, PCS is a oneof-a-kind snowcat operation in the Sierra Nevada serving skiers who love fresh tracks and are willing to pay for the privilege ($325 per day with two-week advance booking) of cat-accessed, guide supported skiing in a private playground of untouched lines. Climbing skins not required.
PCS is the only major snowcat operation in California with exclusive access to over 3,000 acres of terrain situated along the Sierra Crest between Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley USA. During the winter months, two snowcats will usually be in operation daily, chauffeuring up to 12 clients and two guides each.
The area in which Pacifi c Crest operates is terrain that barely sees any outside traffic besides the guests and employees of PCS. Having the ability to select the aspects and slopes that are skiing and riding the best allows Pacifi c Crest guides to fi nd the best ski conditions day in and day out. With such a diversity located within its acreage, PCS is able to spread out amongst seven distinct zones, meaning there’s nearly always quality skiing and riding on tap.
A typical day with Pacifi c Crest Snowcats starts with a meeting at the trailhead. After meeting with your guides for the day, ensuring you have the necessary avalanche equipment for a safe, enjoyable day out in the fi eld (provided by PCS if needed), you are ready for a briefi ng on backcountry skiing and snowcat-transit protocol.
As soon as the safety briefi ng has concluded, it’s time to load up the cat and travel the unplowed road to fresh snow. The initial snowcat ride takes a bit longer than the turnover you’ll experience after each lap, but the ride gives you an opportunity to relax, meet your fellow powder hounds, and follow up with your guide on any avalanche protocol or other questions you might have. As you continue deeper into the heavily forested network of snaking trails you’ll eventually arrive at the top of a feature and your first run!
Take in the serene beauty of your surroundings, maybe grab a photo or two, and get ready to inscribe your best artistic impression on a blank canvas of anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 vertical feet. After your group and guides have all followed suit, the snowcat will likely be waiting right at the bottom of your run ready to whisk you up to your next lap.
This is the cycle that doesn’t get old. Drop in. Ski a beautiful fresh line. Watch your friends do the same. Get back in the warm comfortable snowcat, and do it all over again in a new spot.
After four or fi ve laps, chances are you’ll be hungry, but there’s no need for you to pack your own lun ch: PCS takes care of it and lays out a spread to keep you adding the vertical feet until the last run. After refueling from a solid morning of skiing, it’s time for round two: another four or five laps to cap off a day of untracked skiing or riding in the Sierra. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy a brew on the way back to the trailhead as you bask in the afterglow of 10,000-14,000 vertical feet.
In fact, it’ll probably be so memorable you might be begging guide and owner, Dave “Happy” Rintala, to let you do it all over again the very next day. Then again, you may want to take your adventures a little bit higher and jump into the latest premier offering from PCS — heli-skiing.
Pacific Crest Heli-Guides opened their doors two seasons ago and started a new chapter in the rich lore of Sierra Nevada ski history. With access to over 100,000 remote acres north of Interstate 80, Pacific Crest’s heli-operation is the only air-lift skiing in the Sierra Nevada.
“In our first two seasons, the helioperation barely scratched the surface of the terrain available to our operation. Guides and clients skied many new lines, but there’ll be a great deal more exploration and fi rst descents this coming winter.”
As California skiers and riders make plans for what some are predicting to be a huge winter, the option to treat oneself to maximum vertical terrain via snowcat or helicopter is pretty tempting. As they say at Pacific Crest, “Why ride used snow?”
For more information about Pacific Crest Snowcats, check out www.pacificcrestsnowcats.com. If you are interested in learning more about guided heli-skiing, check out www.pacificcrestheliguides.com for more information.
Snowcats at Your Favorite Resorts
Northstar Snowcat Access to Sawtooth Ridge
This season, snowcat accessed skiing and riding will be offered for the first time on Sawtooth Ridge at Northstar, giving unprecedented access to a popular gate accessed area of terrain that was previously only open to advanced skiers and riders when snow conditions permitted. Visit NorthstarAtTahoe.com or call 1 800 Go North for more information.
Bear Valley’s Bear Tracker Snowcat Adventure
Through a partnership with guide-outfit Mountain Adventure Seminars, Bear Valley offers a three-hour snowcat skiing experience to “sidecountry” terrain that is often closed and quick access to some of the best snow on the mountain. New this winter will be access to “King’s Realm” with 300+ acres of terrain for intermediate to advanced skiers and riders. The Bear Tracker Snowcat Adventure is $120 with lift ticket; a private snowcat is $650 for three hours and up to 10 people. For more information go to the MAS website, www.mtadventure.com, and click on the “Sidecountry Ski/Board” tab, or call (209) 753-6556.
Kirkwood Powder Cat Tours
Led by Expedition: Kirkwood, these four-run sessions are held at two iconic
sections of the steep terrain that encircles the Kirkwood Valley — Martin Point and
the Red Cliffs. Avalanche safety gear is provided if you don’t already own it, and
these sessions cater to advanced and expert skiers and riders. You’ll share this beautiful
day out with up to 10 other powder hounds, or you can choose to book out a whole cat as
a private party. Costs: Martin Point $200, Red Cliffs $150. Advance reservations are encouraged.
For more information, go to Kirkwood.com and click on Expedition: Kirkwood’s
backcountry programs. Their advice: “Keep an eye on the long-range weather forecast
and book accordingly!”
Sierra-at-Tahoe Backcountry Snowcat Skiing
Also on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, Sierra-at-Tahoe has added guided backcountry snowcat skiing. Starting at $79 per person, the tours will take advanced to expert skiers and riders straight to the top of Huckleberry Canyon, bypassing the hike out to “The Gates.” Huckleberry Canyon offers a bounty of cliff and cornice drops, steep chutes, open bowls and gladed runs. Holding up to seven people, each snowcat tour will include a guide who will educate riders on backcountry safety, teach them how to use avy equipment, and a lunch. The tours will run on select days throughout the season from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information go to www.SierraAtTahoe.com. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (530) 659-7453 x 150.