The snowcat-a heated, CD-playing, cushy-seated cross between a school bus, alimousine, and a tank. At half the price of a heli day, catboarding delivers just as many powder runs with farless to worry about. Of course, catboarding isn’t new, but Mineral Basin Cat Boarding sure is. Maybeyou’ve heard of it under the name Mineral Basin Cat Skiing, but don’t let the official title fool you, these folkswelcome snowboarders with open bowls. Last February, after some serious difficulties with Mother Nature,Utah’s Snowbird Resort got the tracks rolling on its long-awaited snowcat operation in adjacent MineralBasin.
For those unfamiliar with Mineral Basin-the 400-acre, wide-open, double-bowled area just beyondthe top of the tram-it takes just one look to understand why people would shell out 275 dollars a day tofrolic in its pristine perfection. Just imagine-ten people, three guides, guaranteed fresh tracks … The daystarts by meeting your guides on the sunny deck outside the tram station at the top of the resort. Once theformalities have been dealt with-transceivers, skill-level discussion, guidelines for the day-and you’ve hadyour fill of coffee, muffins, and cookies, you strap in and drop out of the resort area into a godzilla-sizedstash reserved just for you.
That’s right, you get a run under your belt before even settling into the snowcat,which waits for the group down in the basin-a great way to warm up for the awesome day ahead. Afterducking the ropes into the basin, there’s nothing in sight but white. You enjoy three runs before lunch (soup,sandwiches, juice, and hot drinks supplied by your hosts), and three after. It’s a leisurely day that serves uploads of varied terrain-fun little chutes, loftable cliffs, plenty of room to open it up. Runs average around1,400 vertical feet, and the cat ride up is a mere fifteen minutes. Looking up at the boundary ropes on theridge above your tracks, you may see a resort-goer jealously eyeing the fresh lines the group is gobbling up.
But they won’t be jealous for long. Snowbird knew the cat operation’s days were numbered from the get-goas plans for lift service into Mineral Basin were in place long before the resort fired up the first cat. But itslimited life expectancy simply makes the cat service more appealing; riders can experience Mineral Basin ina way that won’t be possible in just a few short years. If you’re looking to go beyond the resort-ridingexperience but don’t have the experience to hike for it, and you don’t have the ducats or the stomach to flyfor it, snowcats are the answer. Terrain at most snowcat operations is generally pretty mellow. Luckily,Mineral Basin is graced with a few decent steep sections, offering skilled riders some challenging lines.
Treeriding is limited-no real glades exist in the basin-but frequent dumps, plenty of space, and goodwind-sheltering make Mineral Basin a precious cradle for the quality snow Utah is famous for. By now, thesecond season of Mineral Basin Cat Boarding is well under way, and those fortunate enough to get in on itwill experience some incredible terrain at a peaceful, unhurried pace. But time is of the essence. All too soonMineral Basin will be absorbed by the expanding resort; lifts will string their way up the bowls, hundreds ofsnowboarders and skiers elbowing their way down, and the cat operation will disappear forever. Seize theopportunity to ride Mineral Basin now, before you’re sitting on the lift looking down at a million tracks whilethe guy next to you describes what it was like before they “went and chaired it up.” Mineral BasinCatboarding generally runs from late December through late April, snowpack permitting. For 275 dollars,you’ll enjoy six runs (roughly 1,400 vertical feet each). That price also includes a full-day Snowbird liftticket, use of a transceiver, continental breakfast, catered lunch, and a T-shirt. For more information, call(801) 933-2222, extension 4182.