Three years ago, a cool experience got cooler at Loveland Ski Area. Not only could you ride a chairlift to the Continental Divide at 12,700 feet, as in the past; but suddenly you could boogie across the ridge to a snowcat waiting to take you and 20 other guests almost 400 feet higher, to some of the least-skied and most fun runs at the ski area—for free.
The Loveland Ridge Cat remains a popular way to access high-alpine terrain at the 79-year-old paragon of soul skiing. On a busy day, the cat will make 16 trips to and from the dropoff point, a short hike from the pinnacle known as Thirteen Ten, or the highest point in Loveland, at 13,010 feet. “The cat delivers you to very quality skiing,” says Bob Clawson, who patrolled atop the Ridge for eight years before joining the cat-driving crew. “Even on a busy day, there’s only 320 guests who actually get up and ski that terrain, plus a few hikers. So it stays pretty fresh.” Clawson gets a kick out of turning locals and tourists alike on to the steeps and sustained fall line that separate runs like Marmot Gully and the Rock Chutes from comparable runs across the Ridge. “There’s a lot of guests who had no idea the terrain was even there until they rode the cat.”
No matter where you drop in from the top, you can always ski back to Chair 9 by following the Zippity Split catwalk to the base. That turns a lap into a one-chairlift, one-cat-ride circuit—good value when it comes to alpine powder runs. Of course, if you want to ski the run for all it’s worth, keep going past the bench and hit West Ropes to Chair 4.
Like at Copper, there are plans afoot to expand Loveland’s cat-skiing operation east into Dry Gulch, an out-of-bounds area where the resort’s permit boundary includes 1,200 acres (not all of them skiable). Last winter, Loveland patrollers made weekly trips into Dry Gulch to get familiar with the terrain; by mid-March, they began escorting locals on unpaid ski tours and testing out snowcat pickup points. This year, says Assistant Patrol Director Phil Johnson, the goal will be to run guided, paid trips for local and nonlocal guests in Dry Gulch, where cat-accessible runs range from 800 to 1,400 vertical feet. “The end result of all this would be to develop cat skiing out there,” Johnson says.
There is no timetable on when that will happen, but Johnson says there’s “a good possibility” it launches within the next 10 years. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a sneak preview this season.
The Details: To board the Ridge Cat, ride Chair 9 to the Divide, then unload to the right and ski north along the ridge to the pickup point. If it’s full when you arrive and you’re feeling strong, hiking will get you to the top faster than waiting for the cat. skiloveland.com