Report from Sunday, February 13, 2022
The West is depraved. High pressure and lack of snowfall are mostly to blame. But there’s hope in the mountains of Southern Idaho, where I skied the best snow I’ve encountered in a month-plus with Soldier Mountain’s cat skiing operation this week.
Soldier Mountain is an isolated ski area in a weird mountain range in an even weirder part of Idaho you would probably overlook driving past on the highway. But had you decided to stop and check it out, you wouldn’t be forgetting the skiing there anytime soon—especially if you were fortunate enough to reserve a spot on their snowcat.
The resort was built in the post-war era circa 1947 and was even owned by actor Bruce Willis once upon a time. It’s got 1,180 lift-accessible acres and a couple of thousand acres more of backcountry terrain that’s accessible via its cat skiing operation. This report is about those couple thousand acres that we skied on Sunday.
I arrived at Soldier Mountain at 8:30 on Sunday after leaving the Prairie Inn in nearby Fairfield the night before (the Prairie Inn is an excellent place to stay for skiing Soldier Mountain from out of town, by the way—neat lodge, rustic feel, clean rooms, etc.) Five more heads showed up, and backcountry guides Micah and Ryan gave us all the debrief and prepped us for a fun, safe day of skiing in the backcountry.
The first thing guides Ryan and Micah had us do once we loaded the cat and got up the mountain was a short beacon training and mock burial clinic. This was purposed to get us familiar with our backcountry gear in the event that one or more of us got caught in an avalanche. The guides made it pretty fun, having us compete against each other to see who could assemble our snow probes and shovels the fastest in order to win a prize. 14-year-old skier savage Asher took the crown there.
Once we did a little beacon training it was time to ski. It was unusually warm and sunny with blue skies and no wind. It felt like spring and so did the snow. Avalanche danger was low overall. South faces were warming up nicely and produced nice corn skiing. We hit a couple of those south faces and I skied my first corn run of the season. It felt a little strange to be skiing a spring snow texture in mid-February, but I wasn’t complaining; it was soft and skied well and that’s all that matters. Don’t fix something that isn’t broken.
After some corn skiing, we were all warmed up—time to go hunting for pow. Ryan and Micah knew the spots. They knew the area well.
We took some north-facing tree runs that were just soft enough. It was leftover, recycled powder that skied better than anything any of us had skied recently. The more runs we skied and the more we loaded up the cat, the seemingly better and better the runs got that Micah and Ryan whipped out of their bag of tricks. It was like they were purposely enticing us with softer and more secretive runs to keep us energized throughout the day. They did a great job.
After some north-facing tree skiing, we hit some glades and then some wide-open powder runs. The wide-open powder runs they took us to were legit powder runs. I was making the first pow turns I had in a month—linking fast, confident turns at first and then arcing big, fat GS turns in soft powder fields. It damn near put a tear in my eye.
Ryan and Micah told us that we were the first group to have ever skied some of the runs we did that day. I was honored. They were great runs. For not having really snowed in a month, the powder was still phenomenal. This cycle continued for the rest of the day; us skiing a soft run then getting back in the cat and riding back up the hill to do it all over again. I could get used to this.
For the grand finale, we headed up to Peak 1 to ski Chute 1: a steep, east-facing gnar zone of fun, technical skiing. From the window of the cat, it looked like big-time terrain.
Chute 1 was shaded when we got there and skied firmly and fast. It was a steep and super fun run that twisted around to the right before emptying into a small basin with little trees below. Asher and Hudson, two youngbloods from a town near Twin Falls, ripped it with confidence, inspiring me to charge it hard. So I did, almost slipping once or twice on the stiff snow but holding it together just enough to ski the whole thing top to bottom without stopping. It was a wonderful cap to the day.
From there we skied a ‘backcountry groomer’ down to the resort below, and then through the ski area to the base area. By the time we got back to the lodge the sun was lowering and the mountains were starting to turn a sunset-orange tint that signals a day well spent in the mountains.
Ryan and Micah were excellent and impressively knowledge guides who have spent a tremendous amount of time in the area. I’m grateful for them to have shown us their sweet powder spots and to have made the day as fun as it was. Ten-out-of-ten would go cat skiing with them again. Also shoutout to the cat ski driver, he was skilled behind the joystick. Thanks for shuttling us around all day.
The backcountry behind Soldier Mountain is huge. It’s got a little something for everybody; fast runs with corn snow, steep faces that’ll pucker you, amazing tree runs with powder stashes that stay good forever, and wide-open bowls with soft snow skiing bliss. But there’s even more than that which you’ll just have to see for yourself when you get back there on Soldier Mountain’s snowcat. Good luck trying to ski it all.