The Best Cat Skiing in Colorado: An Updated Guide

snow cat skiing colorado

When it comes to powder skiing, you can either elbow your way off the chairlift while battling all the other resort goons, or…

You can go cat skiing.

Safe to say, if your budget allows it, hitching a ride with the snowcat (those large tractor like machines that claw their way up the mountain to places nobody else can reach) is usually your best bet.

And when it comes to betting on cat skiing in Colorado, here are all your best options.

But First, The 3 Types of Cat Skiing in Colorado (Explained)

Cat skiing in Colorado comes in three forms:

  1. Guided backountry cat skiing: These are independent operations servicing areas completely unattached from existing ski resorts.
  2. Guided cat skiing attached to resorts: Typically, these operations pick up from a Colorado ski resort and then transport you to side-country terrain that’s near the mountain but still fully removed from normal lift tickets.
  3. Unguided shuttles: These are basically replacements for chairlifts. The snowcat shuttles you to what would otherwise be hike-to-terrain, and then you’re on your own to find some pow!

Here are your best providers for each type.

1. Guided Cat Skiing in Colorado Backcountry

If you’re looking for a fully guided expedition in the remote acres of Colorado backcountry, these are are some of the best cat skiing options in Colorado.

The best for a wide range of abilities: Steamboat Powder Cats

Steamboat Powdercats is widely considered one of the best snowcat operations not just in Colorado, but all of North America.

A big reason for that is their incredible terrain. They maintain a national forest permit for Colorado’s Buffalo Pass. Located 30 minutes north of Steamboat ski resort, Buffalo Pass is a place known for nuking snow all winter long – often over 500 inches of snow a year! Plus, with more than 10,000 acres to choose from, the guides can manage the tours to ensure the powder stays nice and fresh!

But maybe the most unique feature of their operation is the three different snowcats they run daily, which allows them to separate groups into ability levels ranging from novice powder skiers to expert powder shredders. (In world where most cat skiing caters exclusively to advanced skiers and above, this is a really cool feature!)

  • Location: Steamboat, Colorado (30 minutes from the resort)
  • Price: $750 per day
  • Terrain size: 10,000+ acres
  • More info: Steamboat Powdercats

Best along I-70: Vail Powder Guides

Vail Powder Guides is the only snowcat operation permitted to operate in Vail Pass.

Despite the name, they’re not affiliated with Vail Resorts and instead ran by a husband and wife team with over 20 years of experience as backcountry guides in the area.

Currently, they’re only booking by the whole snowcat, meaning you’ll either need to organize a large group to join you or otherwise have some pretty deep pockets. But if you’re able to buy out the cat, you’ll be rewarded with a full day of guided backcountry skiing in the iconic Vail Pass.

The operation picks up at a rest area approximately 20 minutes from Vail Ski Resort. From there, the cat will whisk you away to over 4,000 acres of pristine bowls, trees, and glades.

  • Location: Vail, Colorado (20 minutes from the resort)
  • Price: $6,400 per snowcat buyout
  • Terrain size: 4,000 acres
  • More info: Vail Powder Guides

The closest guided cat skiing to Denver: Jones Pass Guides

How does it sound to go powder skiing just 45 minutes from Denver? For mile high locals or visitor alike, Jones Pass Guides is one of the most convenient snowcat operations in town.

True to their name, Jones Pass Guides operate their snowcats through 2,600 acres of Jones Pass. The pass is located just off I-70 towards Winter Park. As such, the mountain range is subject to similar weather patterns (and benefits) as the nearby resort, including high elevation and similar quality snowfall.

  • Location: Empire, Colorado (30 minutes from Winter Park)
  • Price: $650 per day
  • Terrain size: 2,600 acres
  • More info: Jones Pass Guides

Best backcountry cats in Southwest Colorado: Silverton Powdercats

Silverton Powdercats is a fantastic cat skiing operation in Southwest Colorado. Located in the heart of the San Juan mountains, just a few miles from the town of Silverton (and its ski area), this snowcat takes advantage of the Molas Pass’s incredible snow and legendary views.

Silverton Powdercats prides itself on their experienced guides, who take advantage of the terrain’s many aspects to find the perfect snow conditions for the group. Speaking of which, their benchmark is advanced intermediate skiers and above, and they encourage anyone with questions to reach out and discuss further.

  • Location: Silverton, Colorado (25 minutes from Silverton Mountain)
  • Price: $550 per day
  • Terrain size: 6,000 acres
  • More info: Silverton Powdercats

2. Guided Cat Skiing Attached to Colorado Resorts

If you’re already visiting a ski resort, there’s no better way to take your trip to the next level than adding a day of cat skiing.

These guides begin their service directly in the resort itself, before the cats sweep you away in search of untracked lines.

The biggest terrain in Colorado: Purgatory Snowcat Adventures

Formerly known as San Juan Untracked, Purgatory resort purchased this respected snowcat operation in 2016.

Since then, Purgatory Snowcat Adventures has been wow’ing visitors with its mind blowing 35,000 acres of cat skiing terrain. This is by far the largest cat skiing acreage Colorado, and to put it into perspective, that’s a number about 8 times as large as all of Vail!

If that wasn’t enough, all that terrain is located in the San Juan mountains, a place that just might bring the most stunning mountain views in all of Colorado.

The day starts at Purgatory Resort. After riding up the Purgatory Express chairlift, you then catch the snowcat for a 15 minute ride into the vast backcountry area.

Per Purgatory’s website, this trip is best for advanced skiers. Specifically, they should be comfortable on steep black terrain, deep powder, and tight trees. From there, the guides will choose the most appropriate terrain from your group, with average runs ranging from 500 to 1,500 vertical feet. (You can expect to rack up 8-10 runs per day, which is pretty consistent with most operators.)

Did I mention they receive 300+ inches per year of perfectly dry, S.W. Colorado powder?

The most high end: Aspen Powder Tours

Aspen Powder Guides just does it right.

This guided tour picks up at the Aspen Mountain Gondola. From there, they usher you off to the remote Richmond Ridge area, located behind one of the most iconic ski resorts in the world.

Best of all? They only go when the conditions are ideal, so you can be sure your money is only going towards the most dream-worthy, untracked snow.

They also have one of the most flexible payment policies around – your powder tour ticket is good for any time over the next three seasons, and can even be exchanged for an Aspen resort credit. And if the tour is cancelled because the conditions aren’t perfect, you’ll get a full refund.

Want to really live it up? Hire one of Aspen’s legendary ski school instructors to join you on the trip, so you can be sure you’re shredding the powder like a pro.

  • Location: Aspen Mountain
  • Price: $625 per day
  • Terrain size: 1,200 acres
  • More info: Aspen Powder Tours

Best for advanced skiers: Monarch Mountain’s Guided Cat Skiing

For advanced and expert skiers, Monarch Mountain offers a cat skiing operation right out of the resort.

Their 1,635 acres of cat skiing terrain is located on the back side of the mountain. The area promises bowls, steep chutes, and incredible tree skiing.

Note that this operation is for advanced and expert skiers only. Nobody wants to be the guy holding back the group. (Or being told you’re in over your head and need to sit a few runs out!)

Protip: If you’re unsure, from the top of the lift, you can hike up to the bowl where the cat goes and scope out the terrain.

The most convenient: Keystone Guided Cat Skiing Tours

Despite Keystone’s reputation as a beginner to intermediate mountain, they’re one of the only resorts near Denver that actually offers guided cat skiing tours.

For a small fee (okay, not that small) you can book a full day of guided skiing on the mountain’s often ignored upper bowls. You might not get the vast remoteness of some other backcountry operations, but you certainly can’t beat the convenience! And the (usually) windy conditions up there can make for some incredible wind-swept powder!

3. Unguided Cat Shuttles

Lastly are the snow cat operations which don’t include guides, and really serve as substitutes for traditional chairlifts. Of course, that may be underselling things a bit… although fresh tracks aren’t guaranteed, you’re still more likely to find them in this sort of terrain than typical lift serviced parts of the mountain.

Anyway, onto the options!

Ski Cooper: Chicago Ridge Snowcat Skiing

Ski Cooper, not to be confused with Copper Mountain, operates one of the more interesting snowcats in Colorado.

Starting in 2022, they began running their snowcat on a pay-per-run model. For $59, you get vouchers for two consecutive snowcat runs. Use of the vouchers is extremely flexible; they don’t require reservations and instead the snowcat is loaded on a first-come, first-serve basis. As long as you use your rides before the end of the season, you’re good to go!

The snowcat runs Friday-Sunday and is suitable for advanced skiers only.

Loveland: The Free Ridge Cat

You gotta love Loveland. Although most front rangers overlook this underrated resort as they drive along to the more Summit County mountains, you can add cat skiing to Loveland’s unique selling points.

Their “Ridge Cat” is available, FOR FREE, on a first-come, first-serve basis. The snowcat operates on select days of the week (currently Wednesday to Sunday, but check their website for the most up to date schedule) and services the mountain’s highest double black terrain.

This option is mostly an alternative to hiking. But still, you gotta like your odds on pretty difficult to reach terrain at one of Colorado’s lesser visited mountains!

  • Location: Loveland Ski Area
  • Price: Free!
  • Terrain size: 480 acres
  • More info: Loveland Ridge Cat