FOR SALE: Colorado’s Largest Cat-Skiing Operation
By Greg Fitzsimmons | March 15th, 2013
There’s a place in Southwest Colorado that promises no lift lines, if a storm rolls through you are 100% guaranteed fresh tracks all day, and there are endless options of terrain—old growth trees, high-alpine bowls, north-facing couloirs prime for mid-winter skiing and south-facing chutes that are perfect for harvesting spring-time corn. This place exists and it could be yours.
San Juan Ski Company, the Durango-based cat-skiing operation, has been accessing some of Colorado’s most mind-blowing backcountry skiing for more than 15 years. Nestled between the famous triumvirate in Southwest Colorado of Telluride, Silverton, and Wolf Creek, the skiing in Durango sometimes gets lost in the shadow of Telluride’s Palmyra Peak, Silverton’s untapped backcountry, and Wolf Creek’s annual snowfall. Don’t be fooled, though; San Juan Ski Company boasts goods that rival all three spots in the Southwest Colorado triangle.
The San Juan Range offers limitless fresh turns every season.
The one-of-a-kind experience that guests get at San Juan Ski Company is one of the operation’s calling cards. After a safety briefing at the base of Durango Mountain Resort, guests and guides jump on DMR’s six-pack chairlift (the only time you’ll ride a lift all day). After sliding off the chair you’re greeted by 10 idling snowmobiles or a pimped-out 4x4 15-person van with mat tracks. While juicing the throttle of the sleds en route to the snowcat is a killer way to soak in the stunning vistas, the mat track-clad van signifies a powder day. Both options are pretty sweet compared to the normal cat-skiing experience where you step out of a gondola or slide off of a chairlift directly to the snowcat.
The enormity of San Juan Ski Company’s terrain really comes into focus after you spend 20 minutes sledding into the backcountry. 36,000 acres of skiable zones is a lot to digest because it’s the largest cat-skiing operation in the state. Their permitted snow-cat skiing and snowboarding terrain encompasses more acreage than all of Colorado ski resorts combined! The process of getting to the snowcat is cool on its own, but the real fun starts once you’re onboard the snowcat, sampling the San Juan snow, and teeing-up the terrain.
The morning commute includes a ride in the 4x4 van to the snowcat.
Sounds cool, right? Now, let’s talk business. This operation is for sale, and for a measly $375,000 you can own it. Just imagine a private backcountry ski area larger than Aspen, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Keystone, Steamboat, Telluride, Vail, and Winter Park combined.
Bob Rule, SJSC owner and lead guide, found his way to Durango in 1979 in search of soft snow. In 1997, Bob created the San Juan Ski Company to write off his powder-skiing addiction, and, since then, he has been involved with all aspects of the cat-skiing operation. But, after 15 years, Rule’s ready for something new and has decided to put his prized cat-skiing operation up for sale.
Guests preparing to descend untouched powder.
“I’m ready for a change,” says Rule. “I’ve been in this area for almost 33 years and it is time to hang ’em up.”
Rule has been an invaluable part of the SJSC setup since its inception, both on the skiing and operational side. He’s been pioneering skiable zones, establishing zig-zagging routes between the old-growth trees that a snowcat can navigate, and serving as the face of the operation, albeit a bit reluctantly.
While Rule and his family are looking to move on, his staff is willing (and hoping) to stick around. And, their years of experience and local knowledge combine with an insane inventory of gear and equipment to make for a turnkey operation.
“There are a lot of characters that work here,” says Bob’s wife and co-owner Carrie Rule while laughing. “We consider them to be assets and they’re included in the sale of the CAT-skiing operation.”
One of the snowcat drivers feeling small amongst the San Juans.
“There might be some snow-cat operations that have as much fun as us,” says guide Kevin Devine, who has been exploring the zones around Durango for 20 years and guiding for SJSC since day one. “But, I guarantee that there aren’t any [operations] that have more fun than we do.”
In addition to a motley mix of longtime locals with an intimate knowledge of the terrain and San Juan snowpack, the SJSC permit is included in the sale. Valid until 2020, the permit encompasses almost 36,000 acres of National Forest and has 750 “priority user days” on it. (Which means 750 guests per year are allowed to ski with SJSC).
San Juan Ski Company boasts some of the best terrain in Southwest Colorado.
What else is included in the $375,000 price tag for San Juan Ski Company? Among other things, you’ll get:
•Permitted area is around 36,000 acres. Permit is issued through 2020. Permit is for snowcat skiing, sightseeing trips, and overnight trips.
•4 snowcats (2 passenger cats, 1 work cat, one winch cat).
•1 2009 4X4 15-person van with mat tracks.
•24 plus BCA beacons, shovels and shovel packs.
•16 Motorola 2-way radios.
•1 Type II explosive magazine.
Part of the San Juan Ski Company fleet.
“This job requires a unique skill set to thrive,” says Bob Rule. “The right person that takes over has to be mechanically inclined because every now and then you’ll have to fix shit, they have to be knowledgeable of snow safety, they have to be a skier, and they need to have people skills for guiding and communicating with the public. Plus, one of my big concerns is that you never want to make final decisions based on money. Quality and safety have to be the top priority with the person that takes this over. You can’t make final decisions based on P&Ls with this type of business.”
There’s no question that this would be a dream undertaking for most of us, and the beauty is that there’s solid potential to turn a profit. Fill the 750 priority user days on the permit, tap into Telluride demographic with—for the most part—a disposable income, and beckon the big mountain clientele headed to Silverton for a stop-over day of cat-skiing and it seems like you have a solid recipe for success.
The company's included winch cat.
What’s next for Bob Rule after running SJSC for 15 years? “The plan is to move the family up to Montana,” says Rule. “I’m going to ski for fun, explore new and different mountain ranges, and travel to Canada and Idaho to see what’s up there. It’s time to move on to something else.”
Do you think you fit the bill and could own Colorado’s largest cat-skiing outfit? For more information about purchasing SJSC, CLICK HERE or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (Serious inquiries only, please.)
All of this could be yours.
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