Cat skiing chronicles

snowcat with skiers hanging around it

Cat skiing? They promised it would be weather-proof compared to heli-skiing. Whatever the weather, the cats roll, they said. But no one warned us about the fickle nature of Mother Nature and the wrath of a rainstorm, even in this poor snow season of 22/23.

Picture this: six of us huddled around a table in a hotel dining room in Popova Shapka, north Macedonia (90km west of Skopje) all of us madly Googling and searching for a way out. Can we change the return flight? How about a 36-hour detour via Istanbul? Or an 18-hour drive back to France? These are our frantic schemes as the rain pours down outside, while snowflakes blanket the French Alps we had just escaped. Ah, the irony.

Meanwhile, outside it’s not just raining cats and dogs – it’s practically Noah’s Ark weather. Our hosts wear faces of concern, fearing that this downpour might wash away whatever scant snow had dared to accumulate up to 2,500m. Our cat ski dreams are all but drowned. 

Amid the doom and gloom a wiser option: put away the phones, grab a couple of beers, say a little prayer to the snow gods and cross our fingers for a miracle.

And behold, Mother Nature decides to play her part.

ski crew on a snowy hill in the backcountry, under blue skies

Sort of.

Overnight the mercury drops, the winds whip up a frenzy, and this is where the snowcats steal the spotlight. Now, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure helicopters aren’t soaring in these conditions. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be in one if they were!

Even the organisers seem a little surprised at this turn of events, but suddenly after breakfast it’s all systems go.

We’re on our way – skis stashed on the outside, the relieved travellers inside and we’re bumping out of the village, up the mountain with an air of imminent adventure. Some form of skiing is on the horizon.

Snowcats: part piste basher, part improvised cabin on tracks. Think garden-shed-sized metal container, rickety windows that need holding open or closed (depending on the weather) and bench seats for a cosy 12. It’s rudimentary, but therein lies its rustic charm. Oh, and one of the guides doubles as a DJ, providing a bluetooth speaker and duelling playlists, which spark mixed reviews.

in the back of the snowcat

The next four days unfold in a whirlwind of skiing in diverse conditions. Scrawling the mountains, a network of cat tracks resembles Cornwall’s winding lanes, sans hedges. En route, passing another cat or a ski-doo, we’re reminded we’re not alone. Yet, disembarking through a ski boot challenge of a step ladder, we’re solo adventurers in the midst of a vast wilderness.

The first day sees howling wind and heavy snow that leaves us heavy legged as we force turns with the grace of a hippo on a dance floor, but we’re skiing and we’re smiling! 

The snow gods play their next hand.

Day two emerges, not quite a bluebird powder day, but blue skies and almost six inches of fresh snow. The slopes are our canvas, the terrain full of potential. This is what we came for. 

Over the next couple of days, spring conditions beckon us to diverse spots. Guides, masters of local knowledge, lead us to sun-kissed slopes and shaded havens, avoiding that pesky afternoon crust and trading it for spring velvet. A bumpy journey of up to an hour back to the hotel at the end of the day serves as our after-ski lullaby – weary legs, fatigue, grins and more than a few nodding heads!

skiers all skiing together down fresh snow

Back at base at Hotel Scardus we entertained ourselves with a mix of eating (food was plentiful and decent, with a fixed three-course evening meal and buffet breakfast), drinking (beer was cheap, with bottles only around 50 pence), spa-ing (there was a small spa with a pool and sauna), and playing table tennis in the hotel gym!  

The Shar range may not rival the Alps’ grandeur, but its varied terrain keeps skiers thrilled. Guides instilled confidence as we tackled open slopes, narrow gullies, steep couloirs, and trees. Water and juice were on tap, and picnic lunches awaited in breathtaking spots. Our biggest day saw 5,000m of vertical, with most ascents taking 15 to 20 minutes. And yes, sometimes there was a brief wait for the cat, but we barely noticed. 

catskiing crew, sat on the snow under the sun
Cat skiing crew

So, if you’re dreaming of cat skiing with all its quirks, North Macedonia might just be your place. Rain or shine, snowcat adventures and weather roulette await. Just be ready for music battles and tired legs, all rewarded with unforgettable memories. 


Powder Mad offers trips from £1,300 per person, including five nights’ full board accommodation at Hotel Scardus, four days’ cat skiing and transfers.

Fly to Skopje or Pristina; transfers are approximately 90 minutes from Skopje and two hours from Pristina