Powder. There’s no feeling like it. A deep powder day is like a drug, the way it takes control of your mind and body. Chances are, if you read Wasatch Snow Forecast, then you have the same addiction I do. The problem is that so many of us crave the powder experience, that it doesn’t last long at the resorts. I often joke with my friends that watching a resort on a powder day is like watching a disease spread. It’s almost painful to watch a pristine slope get tracked out by one skier after another. Before you know it, there’s not much left.
Of course, we all have our secret spots. Or the areas of resorts that open up half a day, or a day later and still hold the goods. But that requires good timing and a bit of luck — and even then, the untracked lines are only fleeting. The backcountry holds goods for much longer, but requires knowledge of the area, gear, training, and a lot of effort. Even if you’re in tip-top shape, a full day of touring usually only yields a few runs.
Naturally, cat skiing is an option that has become increasingly popular in recent years — and for good reason. Rather than having to hope and work for the powder runs we desire, it’s a means of getting to terrain that almost guarantees first tracks. So when Whisper Ridge asked if I wanted to spend a day there, skiing their terrain and touring their facilities, I jumped at the chance.
Whisper Ridge is a new cat and heli skiing resort operating out of Paradise, Utah in the southern portion of the Cache Valley (~90 minutes from SLC airport). Owner and Operator Dan Lockwood and his son Cort spent the past decades skiing and adventuring on 60,000 acres of their family’s private land. They always knew this land offered something special, and a few years ago, they decided they had to share it with others. The idea of Whisper Ridge was born, and ever since, they have worked tirelessly to make that dream a reality.
Whisper Ridge offers an experience you won’t find anywhere else, including:
- 60,000 acres of skiable terrain
- 8 PistonBully snowcats that carry 10-15 passengers each
- 2 Helicopters to provide heli-skiing, conditions permitting
- 10 luxury yurts for providing overnight accommodations
- An award winning chef to cook your meals on the mountain
Whisper Ridge was blessed with some very big storms in late November and early December. That meant that not only were they able to hit their opening goal of Christmas week, but they were also able to do a few warm-up days to get back into the swing of things. Of course, they needed guests to fill their seats, so Dan called me up and asked if I wanted to do a day of cat skiing and to check out all the new amenities firsthand. Don’t have to ask me twice!
If you’re going to spend the money to go cat skiing, chances are you’ll want to start as early as possible to get your money’s worth. Whisper Ridge catered to that desire and your day begins bright and early. In our case, we were at the base, loading the cats long before sun rise.
It takes about 30 minutes to get from the bottom up to the “The Perch” up at 8,000 feet where the Yurt Village is located. It’s a beautiful ride through a wooded canyon before you start entering the skiable terrain. At that point, you eagerly start scoping your lines. I was with my friend, Andy, and we kept pointing to lines up in the woods, “We should try to ski that” and “That area looks so fun!”. We were like kids on Christmas morning!
At about 7:30am, we met up with some friends up at the Yurt Village. They had just spent the night up there.
They gave us the full tour of their yurts. The only word I can think of to describe the yurts is “posh”.
Unlike my friends, prior commitments didn’t allow for me to be able to sleep up there the night before. So I had to listen in envy as they described their prime rib dinner and tequila shots the night before, and the warmth of the Egyptian cotton sheets. We all sat around the dining yurt and got the last of our gear together while filling up on muffins and coffee. Our lead guide, Wes, sat us down and gave us a full run-through of safety information. Wes’ obvious knowledge of the terrain and the snowpack put any safety concerns I had at ease.
8 o’clock. Time to ski!
We loaded up the cat with all our gear and left “the perch” to explore some of the 60,000 acres.
The snowpack is ever-evolving. Most skiers know that even without fresh snow, conditions from one day to the next can change drastically. So despite the fact that everybody else in our crew had been out on the snow the day before, the guides decided it would be prudent to pick a conservative, low-angle area for our first warm-up run.
One guide drops in first to ensure that the snow is stable and there are no unexpected obstacles we need to look out for. He then radios up to the other guide(s) to let them know that it’s safe to drop. Then, one-by-one, we drop in. One of the great things about having so much terrain is that Whisper Ridge doesn’t need to “farm” areas to keep enough powder for everybody. You’re allowed to be creative and find the ski lines that make you happy.
One of the more unexpected joys of cat skiing is the ride back up. Even if you were strangers to begin the day, you become friends in your cat by the end of the day. It brings you all together in the way that only an unforgettable ski day can do. You also get to munch on candy and snacks in your cat on your way back up to the top.
After our warm-up runs, we were able to start exploring more terrain. This is probably the single thing that’s most impressive about Whisper Ridge. It’s just so damn big! When you get atop some of their ridges and peaks, the guide will point to distant ridges, seemingly miles away. “That’s our terrain too!” It almost feels like everything you can see is skiable.
We spent the next few runs getting into a bit more adventurous terrain, before breaking for lunch.
Lunch was served back at “the perch” yurt village where we gorged on sandwiches, chips and brie (yeah, I know, super fancy). We laughed about some of our morning adventures and talked about where we wanted to ski in the afternoon. Lunch was delicious, but we were there to ski, so by 1pm we were back in the cat and heading out to continue our exploration. We found the best snow conditions were in the big open, northeast facing glades. Many of which had natural “roller” features that allowed us to go fast and get some air:
The afternoon was spent exploring some of their more challenging, steeper terrain. It was the shortest day of the year, so at about 4:30, we were forced to call it a day.
We retreated back up to the yurt village to gather our companions overnight gear before heading back down to the base. We were only planning on being up there briefly, but Mother Nature decided to put on a show for us with the sun setting to the west.
We ended up staying up there for 30 minutes, just hanging out, reminiscing about each of the day’s powder runs, and watching the sun set.
The question I’ve been asked so many times is “Is it worth it?”. To me, the answer is obviously “yes”. I’ll never forget the day I spent at Whisper Ridge. It offers an experience that a traditional ski resort just can’t offer. Obviously, there are no guarantees that you’ll get perfect, deep powder conditions, but at least you take the away 99% of the competition. That means that the good snow that is out there, you’ll have all to yourself. People spend thousands of dollars to vacation here in Utah on the hope that they get lucky and catch a good storm. Cat skiing takes a lot of the gambling out of the equation.
If you’re a local like myself, it offers a way to access new, but somewhat familiar, terrain. Whisper Ridge also offers passports that can be purchased and used on a day of your choosing, so you can use your cat skiing day on a day when the conditions ideal. An ideal scenario for a local. Just give them a call for more details on this.
The day I skied was about six days after our last significant snowfall. Whisper Ridge picked up 4″ of fluff about 36 hours prior to our our ski day. The significant snow from the week before stayed soft and provided a nice bouncy buffer. The 4″ on top further softened up the turns and allowed you to throw around snow and get playful. The ideal situation would be for them to be a day or two removed from a large, cold storm. That wasn’t the case when I went there, but the conditions were still very good even almost a week after the storm.
It’s very difficult to sum up the terrain because with 60,000 acres, clearly you’re going to have all sorts of different terrain. Whisper Ridge is very close in proximity to Powder Mountain, so naturally it has a lot of similar terrain to what Powder Mountain offers and much of the flora is the same as well. We skied mostly mid-angle (25-35 degrees) tree glades as they were skiing the best on that particular day. There were also big open areas to ski if trees aren’t your thing, or maybe you just prefer to go fast and not worry about dodging anything. We were also able to find pillowy lines and small to medium rock drops for the more adventurous skiers.
Obviously, you’re not going to get Alaska-style spines from a cat skiing operation like Whisper Ridge. Although I was assured that they have some more extreme, big mountain terrain that is only accessible by helicopter. I didn’t ski that so I can’t speak to it, but it sounds pretty rad.
The bottom line is that this place is huge, there’s something for everybody. So if there is a specific type of terrain you’d like to ski, I bet the guides know how to find it.
If interested, you can find out more by visiting WhisperRidgeUtah.com or calling 801-876-4664
Full video produced by Ski Utah from the days I was up there: