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Steamboat Magazine

Steamboat Powdercats Turns 40

02/14/2023 11:45AM ● By Eugene Buchanan
(Photo: Evergreens open to a powder field on Buffalo Pass. Courtesy of Steamboat Powdercats.) 

From Steamboat Magazine Mountain Edition 2023. 

Forty years of fostering untracked turns for people is certainly worth celebrating. Those are the candles Steamboat Powdercats is blowing out this ski season, after serving up blower pow to its guests atop Buffalo Pass since 1983. 

The milestone makes it one of the longest-running snowcat operations in Colorado. The reason behind its longevity is simple: the product – uh, that’d be powder – and the people. Its permit area atop Buff Pass gets some of the deepest snowfall in the state (along with Wolf Creek Pass in southern Colorado); the terrain is varied and user-friendly; its clientele benefits from its proximity to Steamboat Resort; and its guides, many of whom have been there nearly since the company’s inception, are some of the best in the business. 

“It’s the culture,” says manager and self-described “master of chaos” Kent Vertrees. “We help create a culture of stoke for our guests. Our guides, combined with our terrain and incredible snow, just truly make it an amazing experience which reflects the magic of the place.” 

The company was founded in 1983 by locals Jupiter Jones and Barbara Taylor, who long knew the area’s snowfall and terrain would be the perfect combo for a snowcat operation. The idea, Taylor says, blossomed while on a heli-skiing trip to Canada, and when they returned to Steamboat they got the treads rolling, with Taylor putting up her house as collateral to buy their first snowcat. It was a huge snow year that season, she remembers, which affirmed their decision.  

Dumping snow only adds to the adventure. Powdercats guides load skis and snowboards after a descent before heading up for more freshies. Courtesy of Steamboat Powdercats.

“The year we opened was just astounding,” she recalls. “It was one of the biggest winters we’d ever had. We didn’t really know what we were doing – we were just a mom-and-pop kind of operation – but we learned the ropes. And it’s just such a wonderful area that everyone’s incredibly happy when they ski up there.” 

Jones and Taylor ran the operation for the next 17 years, taking guests on some of the most magical powder in the state. And the clientele list often read like a Who’s Who of the skiing world, with local celebrities like  list often read like a Who’s Who of the skiing world, with local celebrities like Billy Kidd and Moose Barrows joining the likes of Warren Miller, Glen Plake, Klaus Obermeyer and even former Olympians Steve and Phil Mahre. Country singer Clint Black once joined Powdercats for a session of schussing, as did former Colorado Governor Richard Lamb and tennis star Martina Navratilova. 

In 1999, Steamboat Powdercats was sold to a group of Front Range investors who remodeled the warming cabin, purchased new snowcats and brought in a new management team, which included Vertrees and current operations director Eric Deering. 

Aspen groves on Buffalo Pass offer  an abundance of powder stashes. Courtesy of Steamboat Powdercats.

Taylor is glad the tradition is still going strong.  “It couldn’t be in better hands with the current group,” she says. “Jupiter would be over the moon with the way they’ve kept it going all these years.”  

After a series of environmental assessments, including one allowing it to expand into Soda Creek, the company now has five snowcats (with three maximum operating at once) and a permit for up to 2,200 user days per season, which it’s been filling since 2005, Vertrees says. 

Perhaps the biggest testament to its success is its return customer rate, with  more than 80 percent of their guests coming back year after year for the same high-quality experience.  

“We’ve helped raise many of our guests’ kids and even their grandkids,” Vertrees says. “We’ve gone out with some families for more than 20 years.”  

The company’s blueprint remains the same: provide the best skiing and customer service experience possible. “Jupiter and Barbara created that culture and we’ve been able to take it to that next level,” Vertrees says, crediting guides like Mike Rakowski, who has been with the company since 1989 and used to drive around in a van picking guests up at places like Mazzola’s and the Tugboat.   


Blue Sky West with Warren Miller, Moose Barrows, Billy Kidd and  Skeeter Werner.


Blue Sky West is followed by the red Powdercats’ cat. Pictured in front of  it are Jupiter Jones, Mike Rakowski and Steve Roth.


The new red state-of-the-art Powdercats’ cat of today with a group  of clients.



Powdercats strives to take care of the land as much as its guests. “We pride ourselves on being good stewards,” Vertrees says. “We’re a true partner with the Forest Service and try to help  them as much as we can.”  

As members of the Routt County Recreation Roundtable, Vertrees and Deering help in the planning process of the Forest Service’s winter recreation plan. “Environmentally, we help educate users on best management practices for the area in winter and summer,” Vertrees says. “And we take it seriously because it’s such a benefit for so many people. Hopefully,  
the public respects us as much as we respect the public’s use  
of the area.” 

Powdercats is also active in river conservation, helping protect a region that comprises one of the main headwaters of the Yampa River. This involves everything from sponsoring the annual Yampa River Basin Rendezvous seminar to being involved in wetlands preservation and wildfire mitigation. The company also uses green power as much as it can, purchasing energy credits from YVEA to offset their use of carbon, cuts down on food waste, encourages the use of recyclables and encourages its guests to follow similar best-use practices. 

Powdercats is also contemplating eventually switching over to a new breed of green snowcat that runs on bio-diesel and/or electric power. While the technology isn’t quite there yet, Vertrees says, it’s on their radar for the future. “We’re doing everything we can,” he says, listing the fight against climate change as a top priority. “We’re super sensitive to the shortening of the seasons we’ve been experiencing. As aridification takes hold in the West, we realize we’re at the whim of Mother Nature.”  

A bluebird day with endless powder. Steamboat Powdercats’s guide Luke Strickland on Soda Mountain. Courtesy of Steamboat Powdercats.


Still, the company’s guides, terrain and snowfall keep customers like Andy George coming back year after year. “I try to come every year and I’ve made some lifelong friendships with other guests and the staff,” says George, a Wisconsin eyeglass retailer. “It lets you meet like-minded people and share a love of skiing. And their guides make sure everyone has a great time.” 

While the company is possibly looking to expand, including leading guided backcountry ski touring trips and bike tours, it’s staying true to the roots its founders instilled four decades ago. “We’re taking what Barb and Jupiter started and are building on it, while keeping its family-based feel,” Vertrees says. “All this has helped elevate us to the top of our industry. But we’re incredibly lucky that we have such an amazing place to operate in.”  

To learn more about Steamboat Powdercats, visit: