Cat Skiing Montana with a Perma-Grin

“Don’t mix business with pleasure”. We’ve all heard the mantra, right? WRONG. I knew that this “Cannon” hadn’t been heard in Whitefish, Montana. Even if it had, I would bet the crew members at Great Northern Powder Guides had their ears so packed with fresh powder that it would be impossible to hear it anyway.

Nestled in the woods on the western side of the Continental Divide, casually resting some 3000 feet above sea level is a little Montana town called Whitefish.

Home to Whitefish Mountain Resort, several fine eateries, some killer Brews, Phil Jackson, and Great Northern Powder Guides (although I’d prefer if you kept that last one a secret).

Whitefish is a casual 20 minutes from Kalispell Airport and with the SNOW bus running laps from Kalispell to Whitefish there is no need to rent a car. One member of our crew, coming in from Washington, wanted to experience the commute on the historic Great Northern Railroad.

A journey that he said was “A bit long, but scenic and relaxing.” The truth is, it doesn’t matter how you get here, just get here. This place is a total skiers’ paradise (unless you’re the type of skier that wants long lift lines and shitty hard pack).

An hour or so after checking in to The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, I hit the town with long-time friend and powder connoisseur, Joe Crawley. At dinner we got to talking to a local drinking hero who informed us that people love Whitefish equally for what it has, and what it does not have.

Although I might not trust this guy for a ride home, he seemed to know a thing or two about Montana and his smile convinced us that he truly loved Whitefish.

Although I wasn’t able to catch a sighting of Mr. Jackson on this visit, I was lucky enough to ride with the fine folks at Great Northern Powder Guides and I must say I’m still trying to wipe the perma-grin off my powder blasted face. Allow me to elaborate:

Day one: We roll out of our plush pillow-top beds at the never-disappointing Lodge at Whitefish Lake. We wrangle up our gear and are greeted at the front door by a 24-passenger bus proudly rocking the brand marks of the Great Northern Powder Guides.

The door-to-door service lands us at the GNPG headquarters where we get to meet the rest of the crew, get fitted with avy gear, and a full back-country safety briefing.

After our pleasantries are out of the way, we pile into the swanky cab of their custom-built snowcat. Regan, one of our reviewers, plugs his i-pod into the sound system and we’re ready to roll.

We begin our ascent through switchbacks and tight trees, closely following the vicious road-builder Cat that is breaking trail ahead of us.

In less than half-an-hour, we are clicking into our skis and trying our best to muffle our giggles at the site of the terrain.

GNPG has a remarkably diverse plot of land covering sixteen square miles of the Stillwater State Forest with casual open cruisers, perfectly spaced trees, pillows, booters and cliffs galore.

Once out of the Cat, the lead Guide, Jay performs a quick snow evaluation and gives us the common-man breakdown. Then it’s nothing but deep, buttery turns and ear-to-ear grins.

The average run here covers around 800 feet of vertical, and their speedy Cat can deliver 8-10 runs per day. Meaning we have access to an unlimited amount of fresh pow! The guides have a knack for taking you to terrain that suits your ability and style of riding.

In between each run we get some time to hear their story and learn what it’s like to have the best job ever.

The team there is a tight-knit group of rippers that absolutely love their “work”. The owners; Jay Sandelin and Will MacDonald, have a long and accomplished history with the sport and their technical know-how, and safety break-downs inspire confidence in all areas of their operation.

The supporting guides and operators are thick Montana boys that carry a grateful and courteous nature. If you’re skinning up some nearby terrain, you might notice these fellas busting back flips and shredding through perfectly spaced trees. They will humbly send a 40 foot cliff, just to check the landing for you.

If you’re the kind of skier that wants to rag-doll through some deep Montana pow at the end of your run, they will be more than happy to spend a half-hour digging for your missing pole while you snack on one of their gourmet lunches in their custom-built, heated snowcat, seriously! “Accommodating” doesn’t adequately sum it up.

Great Northern Powder Guides continued to dish the A-list treatment at lunchtime when they hit us with their gourmet lunch.

Did I mention they have a chef on their payroll? My favorite was a curried chicken, apple, and pecan sandwich with kettle cooked chips, mandarin oranges, and a seven-layer dessert bar that will knock your boots off. I quickly forgot about the squashed Cliff Bar in my pocket.

The passenger Cat is also stocked with plenty of hot chocolate, cider, lemonade, and whatever “adult libations” that you remember to smuggle in yourself.

Before my trip, I wondered how and why this was the only significant Cat operation in Montana “that’s like being the only oil company in Texas” (Joe Crawley, pointed out) however, my experience made it clear to me why that was.

Great Northern Powder Guides haven’t left much room for improvement. The prices are reasonable (starting at $350 a day with lunch included) and they have a number of flexible packages to accommodate groups of all sizes.

Their lodging accommodations are second-to-none and the convenience factors that are built into the operation are truly priceless.

All in all, it was an amazing trip, and I would love to tell you about the weather we got, the pillows we sailed, and the tree lines we hit.

I’d love to tell you how my helmet cam took so many face shots that it’s thinking of making a go at being a porn star, or how my Epic Planks Crop Dusters have been writing me love letters since I got back.

Unfortunately, I’ve checked myself into a 12-step powder rehabilitation clinic and my sponsor told me I have no chance of recovery unless I start trying to block out these memories.

I guess I’ll have to let the pictures do the shouting. Thanks again Great Northern Powder Guides, you showed us the Montana sweetness, and I can’t wait to taste it again.

Updated: April 22, 2019 — 3:10 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *