The Derby, Burning Man, the Super Bowl, Danish Heritage Day in Solvang, California–these are just a few of the premiere celebrations and festivals held in the United States every year, but none hold a candle to the powder binge that is The American Mountain Guides Association Cat Day. Indeed, once a year generous supporters, savvy guides, friends of the AMGA, and mooching journalists/aspiring guides (read: me) come together to further the career of guiding and guide training in the US.
Kyle and Cindy Lefkoff hosted the fundraiser (as usual), along with Vail Powder Guides, for the seventh-annual throw down on Vail Pass. VPG is one of the leading cat operations in the US. Total pros serving great terrain, but their real trick is the vibe they create.
“I think one of the things that makes us unique is our consistency. The same person that answers the phone, fixes the cat, takes you skiing,” says Ben Bartosz, co-owner of VPG, along with his wife Jenna.
He’s got a point: this was my second AMGA Cat Day and it was the same crew as last year, minus Jenna who’s currently rehabbing an injured knee. Ski guides Amanda and Barrett, both familiar faces, were along for the day, too–friendly, fun, and rippin’ skiers. Total blast.
The Lefkoffs, longtime supporters of the AMGA, secured the cat and invited their A-list of AMGA benefactors from across the US. Amos Whiting, IFMGA guide, came over from Aspen, and a cool addition to the crew was Joey “The Matador” Thompson–a certified rock and alpine guide, and an aspirant in the ski discipline. He’s currently a tail-guide for VPG. The Matador has devoted himself to skiing this winter and the results are showing–he was killing it on the first big powder day of the year.
Despite a dismal early winter, the Vail Pass zone has done a bit better than the Front Range, so that and one of the few big storm cycles of the winter, made for near-epic skiing. It felt fully epic, though, as we’ve had such bad turns the past two seasons. VPG sniffed out the goods, even during “considerable” avy danger and with a tough wind blowing. The posse was freaking out the moment we stepped into skis and took our first run on “Queen Bee.” And then another. And then a run on “Barbeque,” all classic runs in the Vail backcountry.
I’m pretty devoted to touring and “earning” turns…but man, the VPG gang might make a mechanized guy out of me yet. We had 10 runs, all untracked, in a pretty spicy snowpack. Zero drama, all fun. It was awe-some.
Highlights of the day included a couple laps in and around the “Toilet Bowl” and of course AMGA Executive Director Betsy Winter ducking into the cab during one lap to “pump.” Yes, she’s proud mama to a cute little newborn, Bennett. Meanwhile her hub, Dave, had the kid at work. Solid parenting, folks, role models for the rest of us. Yes!
Lunch was solid, too–in a yurt with a wood-fired stove. This is the kind of skiing even your mother-in-law would approve of.
This year’s outing netted the AMGA over 8k and a full day in Trenchtown. Nothing could’ve gone better. So onward: a little over 350 days until the next AMGA Cat Day. There’s talk of doing two days next year, so start your wrangling now, folks. In the meantime get your own posse together and reserve a few seats in the cat with VPG. Climate models say the remainder of Feb is looking good…why not?
Parting shot: that’s me, grinning ear to ear…though you’d never know it. Huge thanks to VPG; lifetime AMGA member Kyle Lefkoff and his better half, Cindy; the AMGA; and the weather gods for finally cooperating. BAM!