The last two seasons, we have had the pleasure of enjoying Montana cat skiing at Great Northern
Powder Guides in Whitefish. GNPG has been a great partner for Epic Planks as we have been able to gain valuable feedback from both the guides and the customers utilizing our cat skiing rental fleet. As a result, we are incorporating tweaks into our designs in order to continually improve the skier experience.
Recently we had a chance to catch up with Jay Sandelin, owner of Great Northern Powder Guides:
You completed your second season of running Great Northern Powder Guides.
How did things change from year 1 to year 2?
JAY: “The first season we had one cabin/passenger cat and one road building
cat. Our base of operations was in a shop that we were in the process of
purchasing from the Department of Transportation, they used the building
to store their equipment in.
The second season, we worked with Epic Planks, all the guides started
skiing on their skis and we started renting Epic Planks handmade skis to our guests as
well. We put a yurt in one of our ski zones in the backcountry for lunch
and overnight trips. We concluded our purchase of the building from the
Department of Transportation, did extensive remodeling, and designed it for
an area to meet in the morning, eat breakfast and get set up to ski for
Did the weather have much impact on you this past season?
JAY: “Last season, we were expecting snow conditions similar to our first season, which was cold, dry waist deep untracked powder every day. Most of the West saw a lack of precipitation for the season. We increased our skier visits 242% from our first season. Regardless, because of the amount of terrain we are permitted for, we once again skied in cold, waist deep untracked powder every day. We knew, if we could provide that type of snow to our guests in a bad snow year, we had it made.”
Any big plans in the works for year 3?
JAY: “We have purchased two more cats to add to our fleet. We now have:
1 road building cat
1 emergency cat….breakdowns/medical
2 cabin cats for up to 15 guests in each cat
The machines we have are all newer Pisten Bully’s that are in excellent shape, mechanically and aesthetically. We have added an additional 30’ yurt to go beside our other yurt for lunches, dinners and overnight trips. And probably the most important item is the new terrain we have opened up that has never been skied before.”
Last year, you had your guides on Epic Planks and rentals available to guests. How did this work out, etc?
JAY: “The Lead guides, tail guides, and photographers skied on Epic Planks day in and day out. They average 8000’-10000’ vertical feet a day, seven days a week, all season long. Because we have enjoyed the skis so much, we started renting them out to our guests. Because tastes and styles are different with everyone who skis with us, we have different models to chose from, and so far, all of our guests have enjoyed the experience to ski on them. We have had several inquiries throughout the season from guests wanting to purchase the skis.”
What are you most excited about for the upcoming season?
JAY: “As we ski more and more in the backcountry, it has been a learning process to find the best ski for our conditions. Epic Planks has shown interest in working with us to design skis that will be the best backcountry ski available. With the ability that Epic Planks has on designing and manufacturing a good product and our experience and hours on skis, it should be a very good partnership. Our additional cat to take our guests into new terrain will make for an adventuresome winter.”
Geographically, where are most of your guests from?
JAY: “Canada comprises 65-70%. Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin comprise approximately 20% and the remainder is from Western U.S and Europe.”
What has been the biggest learning experience in starting a cat skiing operation?
JAY: “Learning our terrain and weather patterns. We have so many areas to ski and so many acres that have really never been skied or mapped out. We are always trying to give our guests the best areas to enjoy and experiences while they are with us.”
Last season, we visited GNPG for two days in a private snowcat and spent the night on the mountain in a backcountry yurt. The experience was amazing and the catered yurt was the perfect way to spend our night between ski days. We are looking forward to visiting GNPG again soon to ski the deep Montana powder that they gladly serve up. In the meantime, enjoy the Germination webisode from our most recent trip to GNPG: