Little Cottonwood Canyon

I spent the winter staying in North Salt Lake and did a lot of skiing, almost all of it out of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Less than ten miles long, this canyon is the epicenter of Utah skiing, home to the Alta and Snowbird resorts and packed with great and super accessible terrain. Most of the skiing I did, 21 out of 30 days, was in the backcountry. In previous years I’ve spent a couple weeks here skiing at the resorts, but this was my first real experience with backcountry powder skiing.

This has been tons of fun. The combination of great scenery, great exercise, a quiet unhurried pace, and usually excellent untracked descents form a gestalt that moves the experience far beyond what I can find at resorts. In the future I will be skiing in this vein almost exclusively.

Most of the skiing I did was right across the road from Alta — Emma Ridge, Mount Superior, Days Fork and Cardiff Fork. All well trafficked areas, backcountry skiing is far more popular here than in the places I’ve been in California or Oregon. Below is Cardiff Fork, from the shoulder of Superior. This is the fork at its most pristine, on account of dangerous avalanche conditions keeping folks away. Note the large slide in the foreground; after taking this, I skied the safer (on that day) main face of Superior.

I also saw some of the four forks on the south side of the canyon — White Pine, Red Pine, Maybird and Hogum — stretching west from Snowbird. These are also popular, but less so, and cover a large area with beautiful terrain. My most aggressive day of the season started by touring through these forks to reach Thunder Ridge, close to the mouth of the canyon. Below is Hogum Fork. It’s hard to believe this is four miles from the suburbs.

After ascending to Thunder Ridge, then going down the other side because I ascended in the wrong place, then traversing a mile north and ascending it again, I reached the top of the Coalpit Headwall, the face seen below. This was a great descent, nearly a vertical mile back to the road. The upper parts were nice, with an inch or two of soft stuff over wind board (I expected this going in, didn’t known if I’d have another chance to ski the face this season), then transitioning to powder as the route entered glades and a banked river gully for the exit.

A couple weeks later, looking for a better route I approached Thunder Ridge from the north (where I took the above photo), but had to abandon that attempt as it was taking even longer than the first route. Being able to efficiently travel through this terrain is a skill I’m still working on, and there are multiple other approaches to this ridge I want to try in the future. Still, it’s hard to complain too much about the failures; below is the view back up on the descent from that attempt.

Probably my favorite descent of the season was below Thunder Ridge, in the Y Couloir. A little over 3000′ vertical in a chute that’s usually 20 to 30 feet wide but not too steep, I slowly laid a boot track up and then skied back down, fresh tracks and great snow. Looking down the couloir at the road:

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