Backcountry skiing from the Castle Peak Yurt

Utah has dozens of mountain yurts, and I’ve stayed at many of them. From the Snorkeling Elk Yurt in the Tushar Mountains, to the Steam Mill Yurt in the Bear Rivers, I’ve sampled both the good and bad in terrain and yurt amenities. But my favorite yurt of all, by far, is the Castle Peak Yurt in the Uinta Mountains. While the ski terrain around the yurt isn’t the best, the yurt itself reigns supreme, and for one very awesome reason… it has a sauna.

Lexi Dowdall skins past the buried Castle Peak Yurt in the Uinta Mountains. (Photo: Jared Hargrave - UtahOutside.com)

Lexi Dowdall skins past the buried Castle Peak Yurt in the Uinta Mountains. (Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

It was early March when myself, along with Lexi Dowdall, Mike DeBernardo, and Adam Symonds skinned the long, 6 miles on Upper Setting Road to the yurt. Nestled under the shadow of Castle Peak, the yurt is hidden in a stand of evergreens. Rolling terrain abounds around it, where backcountry skiers can make turns on low-angle glades, or go bigger on Castle Peak and The Duke, both nearly 11,000-foot mountains that offer any real vertical. White Pine Touring in Park City operates the yurt, which is in use year-round. The yurt comfortably sleep 8 people on bunk beds and the kitchen is well stocked with pots and pans, dishes and silverware. It even has a library of board games, and a magnetic dart board.

The Castle Peak Yurt is roomy on the inside, sleeps 8, and has tons of amenities, including a sauna. (Yurt denizens: Adam Symonds and Lexi Dowdall. Photo: Jared Hargrave - UtahOutside.com)

The Castle Peak Yurt is roomy on the inside, sleeps 8, and has tons of amenities, including a sauna. (Yurt denizens: Adam Symonds and Lexi Dowdall. Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

It took six hours for us to reach the yurt by skis and skins. It was the first yurt I’ve been to that was completely covered in snow. A wood awning kept snow from burying the front door, which gave the whole shelter a Hobbit-hole kind of vibe. Exhausted and hungry, we did what anyone would expect to do upon arrival, we chopped wood, shoveled out the pathway to the outhouse, and cleaned the place up… because the previous party had absolutely no yurt etiquette. It took the rest of our daylight to get set up, so my priority was the start the wood stove in the sauna because dinner can wait.

Ah, the sauna. It’s your typical steam room with cedar planked walls and benches wide enough to seat 4 people. The heat comes from the stove and the steam effect happens by pouring water on the scalding stove. We spent hours in there sweating away and allowing the heat to soothe our sore legs and backs. Driven by hunger, we quickly dashed through the snow to the yurt for some buffalo chicken tacos before turning in for the night.

Mike DeBernardo scopes out some mini-golf lines on Castle Peak. (Photo: Jared Hargrave - UtahOutside.com)

Mike DeBernardo scopes out some mini-golf lines on Castle Peak. (Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

The next day was ski day, so we aimed our tips toward the nearby peaks. The avalanche danger was in the red that weekend, so we carefully made our way on safer, south-facing slopes to the east shoulder of the mountain where the ridge line gave us safe access to the summit. Sketched out by the north side, we dug a pit on a southeast-facing slope and found somewhat more stable snow. Satisfied, the game was on. Despite the avalanche danger, we found amazingly good snow considering we made turns on the usually crusty south face.

Some cornice hucking and south-facing pow above the Castle Peak Yurt kept us occupied until it was sauna time. (Skier: Lexi Dowdall, Photo: Jared Hargrave - UtahOutside.com)

Some cornice hucking and south-facing pow above the Castle Peak Yurt kept us occupied until it was sauna time. (Skier: Lexi Dowdall, Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

Vertical relief is short in this area, so it didn’t take much effort to do lap after lap on a 400-500 foot headwall. But late-afternoon sun thickened the powder up considerably, so we made our way back to the yurt for, you guessed it… another sauna session. Ah, the yurt life.

If you’d like to experience the Castle Peak Yurt and its amazing sauna, reservations can be made through White Pine Touring.

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