Getting after it: Backcountry skiing in June
Sometimes the urge to go skiing becomes so overwhelming, that you’re willing to do just about anything to carve a few turns – including hike over 3,000 feet just to get to a sliver of snow. Well, our crew of Justin Lozier, Sean Zimmerman-Wall, Ben Napolitano, and myself did just that when we skied the chutes of Baldy Bowl above Snowbird on June 10, 2012.
The mission objective was mainly so Justin could notch his 30-somethingish consecutive ski month before heading to Argentina where he spends his summers guiding in Patagonia. With his flight leaving in two days, this ski trip had to be now or never. To keep the streak alive, we all agreed to join him, not only for the chance ski long after the lifts stopped running, but also to say goodbye.
We began at Snowbird’s 2nd Entry parking lot, where we crossed the bridge over Little Cottonwood Creek. The early morning was warmer than expected, considering that a cold front had moved in the day before. This bit of chilly air was welcome, however, as it froze what snow was left, perfect for the makings of sweet corn skiing. On the other side of the bridge, we hiked up the Dick Bass Highway with hiking shoes on our feet and our skis strapped to our packs.
Ski lifts hung silent above us as we ascended up the Gad Valley to the base of the old Little Cloud ski lift. From there, our objective came into view: a series of couloirs that spill down from White Pine Ridge, just to looker’s right of Baldy Bowl. We scoped out some lines from below, and chose a wide chute with a choke in the middle that gave us some concern. But the potential for rockfall seemed less likely there, so we strapped on our helmets, put our ski boots on, and started bootpacking up the line.
The snow had already softened up by mid-morning, making toe-pointing and side stepping easy enough to make good time to the main headwall. Then things got steep and a bit sketchy. Sean, who was in the lead, chose to traverse to a band of rocks where we could find better traction. But the stone was loose, and whatever was held into place required 5.4 climbing moves – not easy with skis strapped to your back and plastic ski boots on your feet.
As soon as the rocky bit was behind us, a short bootpack up the remaining headwall put us atop the ridge where an expansive view of the Salt Lake Valley lay below, framed by the sawtooth peaks of the Wasatch. White Pine Lake hunched frozen below, and the Pfeifferhorn called to us in the clear distance. After picture taking and the ritual sharing of hand-crafted IPA, we clicked into our skis and snowboard and stepped out onto a small bench of snow above the couloir.
Sean went first, carefully making turns on the unsure snow surface, then gaining speed as the soft corn gave in underneath his edges. After stopping in a safe zone below a line of quartzite, he unholstered his camera and took photos as each of us skied by, leapfrogging down to the apron below West Twin Peak. After the hop turns and careful negotiation of the tight chute, we were thrilled to open up and make turns at speed. Justin whooped and hollered, his cries echoing off the cliffs of Baldy Bowl as we all skied into a tunnel of rock that ended back where we began at the dismantled chairs of Little Cloud, which was being taken apart to make way for a new high-speed quad.
With hiking boots back on and skis strapped on packs, we hiked back down across springs swollen with snowmelt and mud-covered jeep roads to our waiting cars in the lot far below. Once back on asphalt, we tossed our gear down and cracked open lukewarm beers. As we drank deep and toasted an amazing June morning, passersby oogled our ski gear, impressed and disbelieving that we skied where there seemed to absolutely no snow. But there is always snow. Sometimes you just have to work to get it.