Nick Moench thrusts the snowcat forward. "It's running a bit harder today," chuckles Nick as we inch our way across a small stream on a makeshift bridge and eventually onto the flats near an old sheep coral.
The road that accesses Utah's M&M Canyon is new for this season at Park City Powder Cats -- it's also just a slice of their current expansion. This winter, PC Cats opened 2,500 acres of new terrain bringing their ski-able acres to a whopping 10,000.
Park City Powder Cats is located on a place called 1,000 Acre Ranch, but it's actually a misnomer. The ranch, homesteaded in the late 1800s, is nestled within the Uinta's Windy Ridge Mountains and at the doorstep of the Mirror Lake Highway and High Uinta Wilderness. Originally used for farming by the Moench family, the ranch housed roughly 10,000 sheep during its heyday, primarily for wool and meat; and when they weren't raising livestock, the family skied hand-cut trails along the mountainside.
It doesn't take long to discover that the Moenchs were a hardy crew. The matriarch of the family, Addy Moench, typically rode her horse around the property and there is now a skiing zone named after her. Nick, our cat driver, is part of the heritage. His uncle Lorin Moench -- 94 years of age and still skiing -- leases the land to Park City Powder Cats and was instrumental in allowing the operation to expand.
Jason Boyer, one of our guides, explains, "In the summer, the family used to raise sheep here, but now in the winter we raise powderhounds." Jason and his wife, Megan, our other guide for the day, couldn't be more accurate. From morning to late afternoon, pro skier and guide Shaun Raskin, myself, and photographer Re Wikstrom shred lap after lap of powder mixed with wind-buff through tree runs called Nick's Trees and open bowls such as No Name, Giant Steps, and Silver Tongue.
Park City Powder Cats isn't a new operation. While Wasatch Powderbirds used to access the area in the 80s, the cat operation began in the 90s. However, it wasn't until 2004 that the area came under new ownership. "It has really been incredible," says Johnny Adolphson, PC Cats' operations manager of seven years. "This area always had massive potential, but often times with limited resources."
In the summer, the family used to raise sheep here, but now in the winter, we raise powderhounds.Jason Boyer, guide
For Adolphson, managing the terrain expansion has been the biggest challenge. With enhanced access to M&M Canyon and increased terrain off of Windy Ridge called Super Bowl and Cold-Smoke, Adolphson notes that they have increased their avalanche explosive work from 50 pounds to 500.
Sitting and chatting with Adolphson in a log cabin used to film an episode of Walker Texas Ranger -- yes, Chuck Norris was here -- he explains the snowpack of the Uintas and how his crew manages the expansion. "We have a great team of guides and it has been a fun few years getting familiar with the terrain and each other. In reality we're dealing with a lot of unknowns," Adolphson says. "We are learning each season and mitigating with a combo of science and smart decision-making. We have a shallower snowpack with typically a lot of wind, and no big storms to flush the terrain."
Pulling into the corral at the end of the day, Nick herds the powderhounds to the ranch cabin much like the Moenchs put the sheep to bed during the homesteading years. With the sun setting on the deck, I'm already scheming my return. The combinations of three passenger snowcats, the ability for heli-skiing, and backcountry ski tours with the potential for yurt trips in the future have me day-dreaming the sunset away and I'm eager to graze more powder fields.