Mt Catherine- Best tree skiing in the area?
Decided to ski Mt. Catherine with low expectations- snow had fallen wet and heavy at pass level, and conditions were generally soupy. Also, every time I've been on Mt. Catherine previously has been on a day where skiing and conditions have been miserable, so maybe jaded memories of long approaches with wet boots and gloves. I took the most direct approach, starting around 8AM at Hyak and skinning the service road uptrack over the resort and onto the Nordic trails wrapping around hidden valley until I was under the north side of Catherine. From there, I just pointed "up" and set steep track in warm, grippy powder.
Around 3800 feet the conditions changed from wet powder to dry, and got more promising as I ascended. I topped out about 1 knob east of the true summit, but said "close enough", and transitioned to head down. The skiing was actually far better than I'd anticipated- shade and trees had kept the snow light and dry, the old growth is perfectly spaced for big easy turns through steep glades, and the slope angle is just enough to be nice and fast, but not so steep as to require constant braking turns. Lower on the slope downed trees created fun ledges and pillows to easily bounce off of.
The last few hundred feet of descent to the creek in Hidden Valley became wet and sloppy- luckily the creek crossing was simple and I had a quick lift ride back to Hyak face and down.
Conclusions- this might be the best tree skiing the pass has to offer. It certainly isn't as "big" as you might find north of the freeway, but it's fairly low-risk, legitimately good skiing, and definitely less busy than Source Lake Basin.