Forget ski field queues and crowds. Experience exclusive off-piste action in Aspen with cool ‘cats’ and five-star service on the side.
You know those days where everything flows, you are invincible and life is going your way? Well, I had one of them in Aspen, Colorado when the snow fell silently from the night sky clearing to a bluebird day come dawn, leaving a field of fresh virgin powder waiting for my ski tracks.
There would be no chairlift rides for me that day. Instead I climbed into a private ‘cat’ snow vehicle on the backside of Aspen Mountain with a handful of fellow guests from the seriously swanky ski-in, ski-out The Little Nell hotel.
For the hotel general manager, Simon Chen, and his trusty marketing wingman, Pete Hayda, this is a weekly occurrence. Every Friday they leave their laptops behind and host hotel guests looking for an exclusive off-piste experience.
I am sharing the heated cabin (and the element 47 restaurant ‘in-cat’ catering with the likes of intricate club sandwiches with slow-roasted lamb) with a crew of 10, including Simon and Pete, some ski instructors for added tips, cat ski guides to show us the way down, a gazillionaire from Brazil and his crew and some skiers from out East.
The cat driver takes our crew to the top of a pristine slope, our guide talks us through some skiing safety tips and we make first tracks under the Colorado sun. Powder skiing takes some mastery but once you have discovered it, you will crave it like an addict for the rest of your waking days.
It is days like these that addicts like me live for; the feel of light dry snow under the skis as you fly down a hill, weaving through glades of trees and rolling over striking terrain with good people by your side. This is hero skiing where everyone looks good.
The best news is the cat is always waiting at the bottom of the run to take you all back up to another untouched slope to do it all again and again and again. The only thing not on our side is time. The sun will eventually go down but not before 12 runs, high fiving ourselves on the way down each time.
I love the social aspect of cat skiing, the time in the cat on the way back up with music pumping from the speakers, the rustle of snacks being devoured to fuel the next thigh-burning run and the cross-nationality banter. By the time we get to the back-country cabin for a late lunch we are all bonded by the shared experience of the perfect day.
Then it gets even better. A masseuse with magic hands is waiting for us in the cabin ready to pummel away any sore muscles or knots from skiing hard, fast and wild.
We finish the day with a hot lunch and accompanying wine and champagne from The Little Nell’s element 47 restaurant’s award-winning wine cellar, all served up in the remote cabin surrounded by snow.
There’s skiing in a resort, there’s skiing in Aspen, and then there’s cat skiing with The Little Nell in Aspen. I may have just reached the peak of my life.
Words: Rachael Oakes-Ash