Deep in the heart of Idaho and the scenic Sawtooth National Forest lies Soldier Mountain Ski Area…
and the Soldier Mountain Guided Cat. It opens up access to a pure powder paradise in the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho’s pristine backcountry. The striking mountain landscape’s jagged peaks soar above 10,000 feet. Here, every day is a powder day. Every. Single. Day. A cat skiing trip makes the dream of endless freshies a reality, and Soldier Mountain keeps the price reasonable. There are slopes of dry fluffy snow just waiting for a board to make waves.
An experienced team, two guides and a driver, takes each group of 12 snowboarders and skiers for a full day exploring the 2,000 acres. (The driver is a snowboarder, so there’s guaranteed to be another snowboarder among the often skier-dominant activity.) At Soldier Mountain a full cat skiing day is incredibly budget-friendly, with pricing barely above a window lift ticket price at some of the biggest resorts.
The morning may start with a group of groggy strangers shuffling into the cat, but it only takes one powdery run to become fast friends.
What to expect on your first cat-boarding trip
On a cat-boarding (or cat-skiing) day, there are no official runs and no trail map to limit turns. In its place, you have a team of expert guides to lead the way. Fair warning, once you go backcountry it’s hard to go back to a standard resort.
The cat is your home base for the day. There is a lot of climbing in and out of the cat, and snowboard boots make it easier. Inside, the deep bucket seats offer a comfortable break between runs as the cat drives back up the slope. There’s a seat for everyone in the main cabin, with space for backpacks, lunches, and other gear. The snowboards and skis are loaded into an exterior basket and secured. Anytime you need a break, anyone can sit out a run in the cat.
Fresh tracks are guaranteed. There are 2,000 acres of terrain and only 12 guests exploring on any one day. However, not all slopes are always open. In order to keep the area safe from avalanches, some of the steeper slopes will be off limits. The slopes of the run-outs often get gentle, so keeping up speed is important, as is not falling when the slope chills out.
There is downtime. There are no lift lines, obviously, but there is some waiting time when the guides scout a new line, and while everyone gears up. The guides explain the route and how to stay safe before anyone drops in. Then, groups of two (always on the buddy system) cruise down. If anyone falls (skiers’ yard sales) it takes longer to regroup and wait for the next two to have the all-clear to go. Snowboarders do have an advantage for falls, you can just pop right back up with all your gear securely attached.
This is true backcountry. There are no facilities, restaurants or restrooms, beyond the base lodge. It’s deep snowy wilderness for six hours. For lunch, you can bring your own (or reserve a brown-bag lunch with your cat-day ticket.) The guides will keep everyone at the back of the cat whenever a woman needs to pee and men have their pick of trees.
Best Powder Stash at Soldier Mountain Guided Cat
The Soldier Mountain Ski area averages only 100 inches of annual snowfall, but every bit is preserved for fresh tracks for the small groups of skiers and riders. That’s the beauty of a cat trip. The guides know every square inch of the terrain. They take charge and bring the group to the best snow and terrain within everyone’s ability level and safe conditions.
The cat skiing area is a large bowl the opens up to the East. It collects snow and holds it between storms. The guides generally aim for the south facing slopes soon after a storm and head to the north-facing trees during a dry-spell for preserved powder.
Conditions are variable in the wilderness. The guides scout out the best routes for snow and avalanche safety. We were able to do Big Bowl, which is only open about 5% of the time. They recommend being an expert level rider/skier for everyone to really enjoy the day.
Best Runs Cat-Boarding at Soldier Mountain Resort
Short answer: They are all the best runs. Trust the guides to take you to the best snow and slopes. It’s not hard to rack up 10,000 to 15,000 vertical feet and many miles of perfect powder turns.
The Peak 2 chutes are reserved for expert groups. It’s the steepest terrain of any backcountry operation in Idaho.
Sally O’Malley is one of the guide’s favorites. The top offers spectacular views on a clear day, and don’t be surprised if you get to carve it multiple times.
Big Bowl is only open about for about 5% of the trips. The steep slopes fill up with powder and when it is open, you can float your way down.
Nose Bowl is a bit gentler slope, but just as fun. Plus, there’s plenty of space for everyone in the group to take a fresh line.
Trees. The final run-out (at least during my cat day) included a luge-like trail through the trees to the waiting cat below. It’s just steep enough to keep momentum, without careening out of control through the tight turns.
The Most Instagrammable Places on a Soldier Guided Cat Day
Shotgun seat… Grab the front seat, and ride shotgun for at least one trip up the mountain to capture video and views galore.
Smokey Dome summit… On a clear day, which only occurs 20% of the time, this high peak offers panoramic views of all the surrounding mountains. Only one in five days will get this clear view, but it’s absolutely stunning when it appears.
Big Bowl… With a steep slope, this bowl only opens when conditions are just right. If your group lucks out and gets to cruise through it, ask a companion to head down the slope first and set up an action shot.
Snowboard Traveler Tips
- Bring your own lunch and snacks. You’ll work up a big appetite snowboarding fresh powder lines all day long. There is no official lunch break, so you’ll snack in between runs while you’re riding on the cat. (You can reserve a brown-bag lunch from the Soldier Mountain cafeteria if you don’t have time to make your own.)
- Soldier Mountain Guided Cat provides avalanche safety gear. You can bring your own, but every guest gets a backpack stocked with a shovel, probe, and beacon. The guides offer a tutorial on using the equipment before heading out on the slopes.
- Book the yurt. The real gem of the Soldier Mountain backcountry is the Smokey Dome Yurt. This rustic, self-catered yurt is included in a two-day private cat-skiing package. Staying here means more valuable time on the slopes. There is a wood-burning stove for cooking, bunkbeds for sleeping, plus an outhouse. Bring your own bedding, food, and beverages in the cat.
Once you go backcountry it’s hard to go back.
Getting There & Around
Fairfield, Idaho, is Soldier Mountain ski area’s nearest neighboring town and less than 20 minutes away. It is located 100 miles east of Boise and 65 miles west of Sun Valley. You can fly into Boise or Twin Falls and drive to the small community of Fairfield or link a day on the Soldier Guided Cat with a Southern Idaho road trip including stops in Sun Valley, Pomerelle, Pebble Creek, and more.
Turn-by-turn directions: 1. Starting in Fairfield, head west on Camas Avenue E toward Soldier Rd. 2. Turn right at the first cross street onto Soldier Road. 3. Turn right onto Base Line Road. Turn left onto NF-094/Soldier Creek Road. 4. Turn left to stay on NF-094/Soldier Creek Road and follow to Soldier Mountain Ski Area.
- Hours: Thursday to Sunday (Cat Scratch Groups with individual reservation) 9:00/ 9:30 am Start, Any Day (Private Trips by reservation) 8:00 am Start
- Reservations required: (208) 764-2526
- Average Annual Snowfall: 100 inches
- Address: 1043 North Soldier Creek Rd.
Fairfield, Idaho 83327
- Nearest Airport: Boise / Sun Valley / Twin Falls
- Pass Access: Independent
- Instagram: @soldiermountain