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Herrrre, Kitty

In our obsession for progressively steeper slopes, and progressively huger air, I fear that we have overlooked one of the best pieces of terrain on the hill: the cattrack. Yes, the lowly, much-maligned, often-ignored, rhymes-with-buttcrack cattrack.

Cattracks are usually seen as a crutch for beginners, an annoyance for experts, and a pathway for the brutal groomers, and there’s truth in the argument. Without cattracks, beginners would be forced to stick to mellower terrain—or they’d become better skiers a heck of a lot faster. Without cattracks, experts wouldn’t have to cut their speed or fear a sudden and painful stacking in a whiteout. And without cattracks, the noisy groomers that many consider a pox on the white landscape would be, like beginners, restricted to low-angle pitches.

But each of those negatives has an equal and opposite positive. Cattracks allow people to push their ability on steeper terrain, then bail if they’re in over their heads. They allow toasted experts an easy, if ignominious, way out at the end of the day. And, as much as you could make a pretty convincing argument that steep trails should be left in God’s hands, a freshly tilled expert run is a dose of joy.

Whatever their utilitarian worth, the most important thing about cattracks is that there’s some mighty good skiing to be found on and around them. First, consider the launch potential. Cliff or cornice drops are fun, but for my money the best air on the mountain is when you carry a ton of speed off the lip of a track and look down to see the slope plummeting away beneath your tips. There’s something so graceful about the arc you carry through the air and the (hopefully) gentle kiss of skis returning to snow. So many times, jumping off a cliff means nothing more than a gravity-fed fall, but when you carry speed off a cattrack you’re skiing, flying, and falling all at once. Then, too, there’s the mystery of what’s hidden on the other side of the lip. Huge bumps? Gapers littering the landing zone? Ice, crud, or cookies? How many items have you debated whether to huck or not in the last seconds before you hit a cattrack? And how many times have you gambled and then found yourself in mid-air saying, “Uh-oh…”?

Air is the most obvious bennie of cattracks. Much less appreciated is the fun of skiing the cattracks themselves. I remember making laps in Solitude’s Honeycomb Canyon on a powder day last year, with the narrow, funneling exit cattrack getting slicker and faster with each successive lap. After the second time through, we knew every good air, every blind corner, every place to dump speed, and every cherry passing zone. The Rollerball rumble of lapping other skiers was nearly as fun as the pow shots themselves.

And what about at the end of the day, when the snow is hard and slick and you’re hauling A to catch a last tram or chair and you’re zipping through tired snowplowers and blindside snowboarders looking for the next sidehill hit? It’s like skiing through a forest of moving trees, requiring you to pay attention as much as in any rock garden.

The more you consider cattracks, the more cool they become. Think of all the high-speed tucking and juking that comes with racing your buds from one side of the mountain to the other (“Damn. No wax was the wrong wax again.”). Think of all the times you skirted along a section of closed trees, just dying to drop in. Think of making turns along the outside of a track, letting your tails swivel out into space, watching the snow spray into the air. Yes, cattracks are good things, good things indeed.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 26.6, February 1998. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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