Coffee, Red Bull, and Jack’s Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich… the recipe for what was about to be a good day in Cali. The forecast called for cloudy skies clearing mid morning with temps in the mid 30’s. We were just crossing into California from the biggest little city in the world, Reno when we arrived in Truckee, CA. Now it was time to follow directions. “Head south on 89 about 3 miles, then turn right on Cabin Creek Road, and follow the signs to the Landfill” were the directions given to us by one of the Daves.
Pacific Crest Snowcats Background
Dave is the name of two of the owner/operator/cat driver/guides for Pacific Crest Snowcats, the only snowcat operation located in California’s Lake Tahoe region in the High Sierras. We showed up to the parking lot to find a few people lined up and getting prepped for the day’s trip. Our guides today would be both Daves and R.B., all seasoned guides from backgrounds such as being Alaskan heli-ski guides, ski patrollers at Alpine Meadows, and seasoned river guides.
The snow looked grim from the parking lot, a light powder dusting on top of a sun-baked crust…. yet our hopes had not been shattered. We had just driven 9.5 hours after an 8-hour workday to get here. We had to stay optimistic. So the crew starts showing up for the ride… 3 girls from Cali, Chamonix, and back east, a pro skier, 2 other photographers, and our crew of 3. We were ready.
After a short backcountry safety discussion and an explanation of the day’s plans, we piled into one of Pacific Crest’s snowcats. Nestled between world famous Squaw Valley USA and Sugar Bowl, is a vast expanse of terrain previously accessed via ski touring, only now we had the opportunity to rip it without hiking, thanks to Pacific Crest Snowcats. Operating on private land, the terrain is definitely not for the inexperienced. With chutes, cliffs, gladed trees, and wide-open faces… this place was jaw dropping. There is almost every compass aspect available for our feast as we unload at the top of a 40-minute ride to our first destination.
By the looks of it, we have 6-8 inches of fluff on a solid base. We do a short beacon search and head to the snow pit. The snowpack is just about as stable as they come, so we all ski down our first run. Come to find out, the snow turns out to be some of the most challenging we’ve ever skied. Punchy, and firm…but we all chuckle and make the best of it and load in the cat again. We decide to hit some sun lit runs in hopes that it’s a bit softer.
With most Cat skiing operations offering 500-800 vertical foot runs, Pacific Crest Snowcats offers up to 1200 and even a 1500-foot shot of snowcat accessed powder, so the choice of runs was a coin toss. Just at the top of our next ridge, the cat throws a shoe….but that wasn’t going to stop us. While the Daves took off to get a reserve cat, we threw our gear on our shoulders, and hiked a short distance to our perfect south-facing slope. We shoot tons of pictures and video of everyone, and hike back up for seconds.
After a successful session on a giant slope with a bunch of exposed goblin-like rocks, we head down to the cat. Exhausted and hungry, we catch a ride to our lunch destination and proceed to scarf down the great deli-style feast prepared by our guides. A bit of story telling ensued and after brief cool off, we head down our last run to the cat. Most of us were tired from our great session in the sunlight so we head for home base.
The Bottom Line on Pacific Crest Snowcats
The short number of runs did not disappoint any of us. The experience of the trip due to great terrain, company, and guides, left us all grinning ear to ear. The day was an official success. Pacific Crest gets an A+, and the day finished by the crew enjoying a brew at a local pub just a short distance away. Once again, stories came from every direction and laughs abounded. With the combination of terrain, guides, snowpack, and ease of having the Reno airport so close, Pacific Crest Snowcats is quite possibly the biggest little secret in California.
— Jason Beacham, FeedTheHabit.com Contributor
— Erik Seo, FeedTheHabit.com Photographer