May 24, 2018
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Backcountry trips let you escape the crowds, find untracked slopes

By Roger Phillips, McClatchy Newspapers

If you love powder and want thousands of acres of untracked slopes with little or no competition from other skiers, the backcountry is your answer.

Backcountry ski trips free you from the lift lines and slopes at resorts and let you carve some remarkable terrain.

You can get there by foot, cat or ‘copter, and have licensed and experienced guides show you the best powder stashes in Idaho.

Helicopter skiing

This is the caviar trip for backcountry skiers and boarders. At about $1,100 per person per day, it’s not cheap, but it’s a spectacular experience.

Sun Valley Heliski has 750,000 acres of terrain available, and guides have been exploring the backcountry for more than 40 years to find the best slopes and powder.

A helicopter flies you into the backcountry, drops you off on a ridge or peak, and you cut fresh tracks down the mountain. Then the chopper whisks you up the mountain for another run.

If you can ski all day at a resort in powder or mixed conditions, you can heliski. The guides pick terrain suitable to the group’s skill level.

Snowboards are fine for heliski trips as long as the rider can navigate deep powder, cross gullies and make long side-hill traverses.

The daily rate of a heliski trip is based on seven runs, which typically totals 12,000 to 15,000 vertical feet of skiing.

For details call 208-622-3108 or 888-983-3742 or go to

Cat skiing

Some call these tractorlike vehicles poor man’s heliskiing, but cat skiing is not a poor experience. You get a similar amount of untracked powder from a cat, but at a slower pace.

The cat takes you deep into the backcountry, and your guides lead you down the mountain to be picked up for a return to the top and another fresh run.

Brundage Mountain Resort in McCall offers cat skiing on more than 19,000 acres of tree-lined glades and powdery bowls.

Day trips cost $239 per person. A cat holds about 10 skiers and boarders.

For details go to or call 800-888-7544, ext. 124.

Guided backcountry ski trips

These are for physically fit skiers who want someone to lead them to great powder stashes and show them a safe way to enjoy them.

Guided trips vary by company, but typically you’re led into the backcountry by licensed guides and spend a day hiking up slopes and skiing back down.

Payette Powder Guides in McCall will arrange transportation via snowmobiles or snowcat into the backcountry, then lead skiers on hikes up the slopes.

They also have a backcountry yurt available for overnight stays.

For details go to or call 208-634-3189.

Sawtooth Mountain Guides and Sun Valley Trekking offer similar services and yurts in the Stanley and Sun Valley backcountry areas.

For details, go to or


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