If you’ve read any of the avalanche advisories you may be weary to break out the skins on a high avy danger day, and for good reason. When avy danger is high it is so important to stay well away from avalanche terrain. Having a way to measure slope angle, read a map, and determine terrain traps are some of the best tools you can take into the backcountry. And always follow the seven P’s!
In the Wasatch, there are a number of tours you can take even if the avalanche danger is high. These are some of my favorite tours regardless of avalanche danger.
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Located in Big Cottonwood Canyon across from Solitude resort, USA Bowl offers a wide-open low-angle bowl where you can make figure eight turns to your hearts content. The tour is mellow up until the last push to the ridge. Start out on the summer road across the street from Solitude’s upper parking lot and head west on the skin track. At about 8500’ you’ll come upon a large cabin to the east where the skin track heads north. The track meanders through aspen glades until it meets the bowl. If you decide to put in a switchback, don’t cut too heavily into the untracked powder. In USA Bowl, rumor has it that east of the Mississippi slides, so to play it safe, stay west, and enjoy!
Mill D offers a wide variety of tour options. With the exception of the east face of Reynold’s peak and the north face of West Desolation Ridge, the terrain in Mill D is low-angle and low avalanche danger. From the Spruces trailhead, skin north on the summer road to the community of cabins, once past the gate you can access:
Short Swing: Known as the Dawn Patrol route, Short Swing is best if you have time constraints. The track is the first one that heads east, a little more than half mile up the trail, and ends at point 9,269. Be cautious of the cornice that forms to the north of 9,269’s ridge. Aspen glades and good powder can be found west on the descent.
Powder Park 3: About a mile up the skin track, head east along the northern side of a gully. The track eventually leads to a meadow—this means you’re close! Across the meadow and to the south is the skin track leading to the cone at about 9200’. You can choose to descend from the top of the cone, or keep skinning to the south side of West Desolation Ridge, which offers extensive tree skiing. (This can also be accessed if you head north at the meadow, and gain the ridge).
Tom’s Hill: Tom’s hill can be accessed by taking the Mill D trailhead and heading west up the skin track, or by following Spruces trailhead until it splits at the furthest part of the drainage and heads west. The two most popular descents are to the north, Tom’s Hill, or to the west, Weathering Heights.
Park about 13 miles up the canyon alongside the road. To the north you can see a sign on a tree that reads “Beartrap Fork.” Follow the skin track north through the aspen glades. The trail is about 2 miles to the top of the drainage where you can access the Beartrap Glades and connect to peak 9,990 in Canyons Resort.
Beartrap is one of the best places to go for beginning backcountry skiing. The aspen glades to the east about half mile up the trail offer excellent, well-spaced, low-angle tree skiing. From the meadow, about a ¾ mile up the trail, you can also head west to The Cone (connecting you to Powder Park 3 in Mill D), or point 9,269, and ski the east facing aspects. The east side of The Cone offers open skiing, while the east face of point 9,269 has a mixture of open skiing and well-spaced aspen.
Little Cottonwood Canyon:
Grizzly Gulch is the beginner’s tour in LCC. The summer road is groomed by Alta to support their Cat Skiing operation, which makes it one of the easiest skins in either of the Cottonwoods. I can’t speak much to the beginner terrain in the area, but have included a link to some information through the Utah Avalanche Center.
This is just a brief overview of some of the best/easiest tours in the Wasatch. Some other awesome resources are Backcountry Skiing Utah by Tyson Bradley, the selected routes option on the UAC (detailed info>maps>selected routes), and the Wasatch Backcountry Skiing App (review coming soon!)
If you don’t tour in the Wasatch I’ve love to hear about some low-angle tours in your neck of the woods!