Backcountry skiing Short Swing in Big Cottonwood Canyon
There’s a legacy of names scattered around the Wasatch Mountains, known only to long-time backcountry skiers. For newbies exploring off-piste lands, the flood of unofficial names can be hard to keep track of. There are many places to ski in the Cottonwood Canyons, and most of them are not marked on maps or can be easily found without the direction from a seasoned veteran well versed in the nicknames given to nondescript peaks and bowls. Short Swing in Big Cottonwood Canyon is one such place, and as the name implies, it’s the ideal spot for a short tour if you can’t ski all day.
Short Swing is the name of a ridge line on the east side of Mill D North Fork. The ridge is composed of small mini peaks that feature all kinds of ski terrain, such as steep pine-covered aspects, sunny east-facing back bowls, and west-facing, perfectly spaced aspen groves that spill down to Mill D for over a thousand feet. Along with being a convenient spot to bang out a quick tour, it’s also a popular area during high avalanche danger days as many low-angle, tree-anchored shots can be found here.
There are three main skiable areas on the west face of short swing where snow tends to stay soft and good for long periods of time. The first is a long tree run filled with aspen trees spaced so nice that you’d be hard pressed to imagine you’re not skiing at Steamboat Springs, Colorado. This run is over 1,000 feet long with excellent fall lines, and is one of the first places to get hammered on a powder day.
The second major hit is an open space located between a very steep headwall of north-facing pine trees that spill down from the first small peak of the ridgeline, and a sub-ridge of aspens north of that. This area is low angle with fall lines that funnel into tiny drainages which end in flat fields of snow at the bottom that are usually protected from wind (a great place to stop for lunch.)
The third (and possibly most popular) run on Short Swing is another low-angle open face with a headwall that begins on the northernmost end of the ridge. It too is bookended with aspen trees and is the least steep section that can be skied here. When avalanche danger is high, you can expect to see many cautious skiers doing laps here as the slope is relatively benign, and treed sub-ridges allow safe terrain management choices when skinning up.
So if it’s a powder day, avalanche danger is considerable or high, or you just need a short ski tour with a short approach, then Short Swing in Mill D North Fork is just the ticket.
To get to Short Swing, drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon and park at the Spruces Campground, located 10 miles up the canyon. Walk across the highway to Mill D. Follow the skin track north through a neighborhood of summer cabins and into the main drainage where the landscape opens up. Once here, keep an eye out for skin tracks that climb up into the trees on the right(east.) There are usually several skin tracks that rise up along the main path at the valley bottom. Pick your poison and start climbing until you get to the top of the Short Swing ridge.
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