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Denver is blessed with many a nearby mountain, known as the front range, and the resorts of Winter Park and Copper Mountain are both within a 1 ½ hour drive. That is, if it’s not a weekend powder day - when the drive can easily double, as most of Denver load up their RV’s and turn Interstate 70 into a slow moving procession of agitated, powder hungry skiers.

pete coombs making a healside powder turn by mark borland
It was on one such Saturday in early March, that I glided past an endless stream of stationary cars, on a clear road from Winter Park towards Denver. But the mile high city wasn’t my destination; I was on-board the ‘Powder Addiction’ minibus, heading towards a fix of real deep powder in the little known (outside of Colorado) Jones Pass area. A huge valley, with 2,600 acres of skiable terrain, it is only a 45 minute drive (on a good day) from downtown Denver. As such, cat-skiing with Powder Addiction is not a remote, isolating experience - with the area seeing lots of hikers, ski touring and Snow mobile riders - but it is a true powder addict’s heaven.

Jamie Wolter, aka the ‘Ski Boss’, handed out ski backpacks with shovels and transceivers, while reminding us that, whilst not remote, Jones Pass was an unmonitored valley, with no ski patrol or avalanche blasting operations and should not be underestimated - a fact we were to be reminded of later in the day.

On the drive up the Ski Boss told us he just managed the operation for some non-skiing money guys.

“It’s funny,” he continued, “as when I agreed to take the job I stipulated that I’d only do it if my wife could ski for free, any day she wanted to, and they said sure, but why? Non-skiers just don’t get it, I mean look at this place, it’s a fantastic office. There’s different aspects for different weather conditions: open pitches, tree lines, rock drops, it’s got everything.”

It wasn’t long before we were jumping out of the cat, high above the tree line, and I was buckling up my board for the first run of the day. One of our three guides did a snow cut (skiing across the top of the slope without descending, to see if it will slide): it held firm, and we could just catch her whoops of joy on the wind as she carved some huge turns on a pair of very fat rocker skis.

We followed one at a time, only setting off when the previous person had safely reached the waiting guide. There was little rush to go first, as we stood above a wide expanse of untouched powder which was more than enough for our full group of 12. Once I was given the nod, I jumped off a small rock before carving some wonderful turns of my own in the legendary Colorado Desert dry powder.

All morning we spent slowly traversing above the trees on long, open, snow laden faces, using the cat for the short route back up. We didn’t stop, as lunch was eaten in the back of the cat, so as not to waste any snow time, which is just the way I like it.

In the afternoon we headed for the trees, and as we hiked along a small ridge, to gain access to a chute, the silence was broken by two guys on snowmobiles tearing across the opposite aspect to us.

“That’s a bad ass place to be at this time of day,” remarked the Ski Boss. As soon as the words left his mouth, a huge crack appeared in the snow behind one of the snowmobiles.


We stood safely on the other side of the valley and watched, as the power of nature tore down the opposite mountain side. It had started with a long horizontal crack, which hung for a few seconds, before the slope just dropped away at a frightening rate, exposing the bare rock beneath. It was all over in twenty or so seconds, other than a plume of powder that mushroomed skyward. The two snowmobile riders had safely escaped its path and had ridden down to look at the avalanche debris.

“Those guys were real lucky, they just move too fast to be able to access the terrain properly. That slope was just asking for someone to trigger it and those machines they ride are real heavy.”

Humbled a little, and thankful to be with a guide who knew the valley so well, we continued our walk to the top of the chute. Once there you could tell the mood of the group had changed a little, and as we were briefed on the next route description no one spoke. But after dropping into the chute, all anxiety vanished and joy soon returned to the group as we cut through the well-spaced trees.

A couple of tree runs later and we were back in the car park and handing back our backpacks, only to see them being replaced by a well-earned beer.

 Powder addictions Days rates are from $350 per seat, private cats are $3400 for a group of 12