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California: Sierra snowcat trips for skiers, boarders

Expert skiers and snowboarders who’d like to take on the steeps in Huckleberry Canyon at the Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort off Highway 50 near South Lake Tahoe now have a guided snowcat option.

Instead of hiking to reach the terrain beyond the lift-served areas, the bold can ride in a heated snowcat to access untouched powder in 320 acres of open bowls and gladed tree runs, as well as descents through rock chutes and drops over cornices and (yikes!) cliffs.

This terrain has long been praised by Tahoe locals as some of the best and most accessible backcountry in the region. It is now within the Sierra-at-Tahoe boundary and can be reached through backcountry gates off the Grandview Express chairlift. This challenging terrain is for experts only.

Starting at $79 a person, each snowcat tour includes a guide who will teach participants about backcountry safety and the proper use of avalanche equipment. A shovel, probe, avalanche beacon and backpack are provided, as well as lunch. A Sierra snowcat can hold up to 10 people or can be rented for private tours by groups of five or more. A resort season pass or lift ticket is required.

Other snowcat ski and snowboard oufitters operating in the Sierra include Truckee-based Pacific Crest Snowcats and Expedition: Kirkwood, which is based at the Kirkwood Mountain Resort south of Lake Tahoe.

Pacific Crest, which is run by veteran Alaska heli-skiing guide and avalanche forecaster ”Happy” Dave Rintala, operates on 3,000 acres of steep, north-facing terrain on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, which Rintala says is the best expert snowcat terrain in North America. 

Pacific Crest Snowcat trips start at $325 per person. Small-group private snowcats for eight include two guides for $3,000; the 12-person snowcat can be leased privately for $3,575. For details, go to Pacific Crest Snowcats or call (530) 544-3020.

For information on Expedition: Kirkwood trips, go to Kirkwood Mountain Resort or call (209) 258-7360.

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