After a few hours of skinning, we stood on top of the ridge, eyeing the steep lines we hoped to ski. After checking conditions, we pulled skins and dropped in, one at a time, the backcountry powder feeling deeper and creamier than expected.
And thus kicked off my Salt Lake City Reunion Tour.
Our plane had only landed a few hours ago, sadly a day late due to a cancellation. Once on the ground in SLC, we threw our gear together, piled in a buddy’s truck and met at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, which accesses the heart of the Wasatch Mountain range. I’m quite familiar with these mountains, though this was the first time I’ve returned since moving away in 2012.
Wow, almost 7 years! Has it really been that long?
I remember the first week I moved to Salt Lake, in early 2009. I knew there was good skiing—but I had no idea.
I drove my Subaru through the canyon on I-80 through swirling snow showers. The next day, even with my stuff still unpacked, I went skiing at Solitude, where a foot of fresh powder awaited me and few of my new coworkers. This proved the ultimate, “welcome to the neighborhood,” so to speak.
While as epic as the inbounds skiing was, what I really wanted was to venture into the backcountry. Previously, I logged a few days touring in Montana and Colorado, but nothing consistent. Now, a backcountry buffet awaited me a mere 30 minutes from where I lived.
Besides adjusting to a new job and new city, my concern was accessing the goods ASAP. I didn’t know many locals yet—especially backcountry skiiers—so I was little befuddled on where to start. Of course, finding a skilled partner with a similar risk tolerance and fitness level is important. You literally trust your life to them if things go sideways.
As silly as it may sound, I prayed that God would help provide me someone to ski with—and soon.
Not long after, an old friend from Montana texted me.
“I was thinking about coming to Salt Lake to do some touring in a few days,” wrote my friend Brandon whose wife worked for the airlines and could get standby tickets. “You want to meet up?”
That was easy: “Yes.”
Ironically, Brandon was one of the top competitive ski mountaineering racers in the country, and though he didn’t live in Salt Lake, he knew the area well.
The few days of touring which included a boot pack up a steep chute for 3,000 feet called the Y-Couloir were invigorating and challenging. Check out the throwback photo. What an epic few days!
Back to my present day tour, we ventured in Day’s Fork, which is a few miles down canyon from Solitude Mountain Resort. All told, back in the day, I’ve probably done at least 10 tours from this trailhead.
After skiing the first lap, we decided to put our skins back on for more. Though our local friends had low expectations, considering it hadn’t snowed a lot in the past few days, we still easily found a great powder stash. This year, the Wasatch has been hammered by 450 inches of snow, with Alta Resort reporting 456 inches as of March 9. In fact, locals say this might be the best year in 10 years.
As we started ascending the wooded hillside, a few snow flurries quickly changed to penny-sized flakes and then graupel (which looks like white Dippin’ Dots). Soon we heard thunder, which convinced us to settle for a shorter lap. We still racked up about 3,000-3,500 vertical total and some great turns. Not bad for a travel snafu and a late start!
I will follow this post up with another from the SLC trip trip soon. More coming…