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Steamboat Cat Skiing with Owen Leeper and the Powdercats

The Powder7 crew learned a few lessons last week.

One, Steamboat cat skiing will spoil you. Fast. Two, if you get a chance to stay in a Steamboat Lodging Company house, do it. Period. And three, why ski soulful powder turns with one friend when you can do it with 12?

With our athlete Owen Leeper along for the ride, we descended on Steamboat Springs for a couple days skiing on Buffalo Pass with Steamboat Powdercats. Naturally, highlights happened.

steamboat cat skiing
Pro skiers have a way of going bigger than the rest of us. This is for sure true of Owen Leeper.

Buffalo Pass is a special place.

A haven for snowmobiling, it profiles just as well for backcountry skiing. Route 38/60, the access road from Steamboat, differs pointedly from the highways over Berthoud Pass, Wolf Creek Pass, and Loveland Pass. Unpaved, it closes for the winter about six miles from the summit, keeping traffic to a comparable minimum. Your skin can be as long or short as you want, taking you to open tree shots on any aspect. Fat, well-spaced aspens provide relief when fog rolls in and shelter for fresh snow.

steamboat cat skiing
Buffalo Pass packs endless runs through big, open aspens. | PHOTO: Jameson Midgett, Steamboat Powdercats

Or, of course, you can take a snowcat to maximize your skiing and access the most terrain. With a huge network of cat roads to various zones on and around Buffalo Mountain, Steamboat Powdercats have been mining champagne powder turns for 35 years. Back in the day, they could ski fresh lines for three weeks after a storm. Given the rise of backcountry use in recent years plus climate changes, that number has dropped to about a week and a half. But storm or no storm, the guides at Powdercats—we worked with Matt, Brynn, Luc, Rob, and Kyle—guide safely with a keen sense for what the group wants. For us, this meant a healthy mix of hero pow turns and pillow lines.

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Yeah. We like powder skiing. | PHOTO: Jameson Midgett, Steamboat Powdercats

The story of Steamboat Powdercats began out of powder-fueled curiosity. As they put it:

“We are one of the oldest snowcat skiing operations in Colorado and have been a mainstay in the deep powder snowcat industry since our inception. The history of Steamboat Powdercats started in 1983 when Jupiter and Barbara Jones convinced the Forest Service to allow them to explore the Buffalo Pass region of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, just north of downtown Steamboat Springs. The combination of massive amounts of snow, a variety of terrain and a convenient location near a major ski resort allowed the Jones’ to developed Steamboat Powdercats into one of the finest snowcat operations in North America.”

steamboat cat skiing
Must love party laps.

Did someone say snow? Well, in a mind-bending twist of climate, storm patterns, and snow-deity whimsy, Buffalo Pass receives around 150 more inches of snow than Steamboat Ski Resort (Around 500 compared to 330). Each year, it competes with Wolf Creek Pass for the title of snowiest ski destination in Colorado. So while the resort enjoyed sun-kissed packed powder and groomer turns, we reaped the bounty of overnight refreshers on the pass. A storm day on Friday gave way to a bluebird Saturday. We wondered how we’d accumulated so much good karma.

cat skiing steamboat
We don’t recommend skiing without a helmet. But when you’ve got flow like Zack and you’re skiing soft snow on mellow terrain, exceptions can be made.

The terrain made us just as giddy as the snow. Low-angle meadows and aspen groves inspired confidence and warmed up our ski legs. Steeper bowls and pillow-laden pine forests pushed us to go faster and higher in deeper snow. A few staffers got a little wild—like Manager Zack (above) and Ski Tech Black (below).

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Blake maxed out the stoke meter.

And then there was Owen Leeper, famous on social media as @o_leeps for huge backcountry and big-mountain lines and airs. Originally from Aspen, he moved to Jackson six years ago. Since, he has produced epic content and grown into a full-time pro. Surprisingly, though, he had never skied around Steamboat. And while Buffalo Pass may not offer 70-foot front-flip cliffs or 50-degree pinner couloirs, he found nothing to complain about. “Of course I had fun,” he said. “I didn’t have to worry about dying.”

steamboat cat skiing
Follow all of Owen Leeper’s ski-ventures on Instagram: @o_leeps.

And with that, trip season begins! Stay tuned as our staffers and athletes disperse across the high country to chase more epic days.

You couldn’t paint a better spot for the obligatory team shot.

Where else can you find soul-filled powder turns from a snow cat? Monarch Mountain.

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