The La Sal Mountains of Moab, Utah are an unsung gem of backcountry skiing in the state. Moab is of course famous for its national parks and world-class mountain biking, but winter should not slow outdoorsy types down as the La Sals are an amazing place to ski, as long as you’re willing to work for it. Peaks such as Mount Tukuhnikivatz, Mount Mellenthin, and Haystack Mountain have steep and exposed, high-alpine descents, and lower elevation areas like the Corkscrew Glades and Laurel Highway offer excellent tree skiing. But the downside to the La Sals is a continental snowpack which often means high avalanche danger abounds. Bonus: a new yurt system just opened, called Taking Mountain Yurts, so there’s even places to stay overnight. To get a taste of what to ski in the La Sals, here are my 5 favorite backcountry ski routes in the range.
SOUTH MOUNTAIN GLADES
The South Mountain Glades have the best snow in the entire La Sal mountain range – it falls lighter and there is more of it. The catch is that the approach to get there is a lot longer than routes that begin at Gold Basin or Geyser Pass. These glades exist on Point 11142, right next to South Mountain. Several meadows spill down from the top, and these open spaces offer long vertical on protected aspects within evergreen forests that shelter powder snow for weeks after a storm. It may be hard to get to, but the upside is that few people ski the South Mountain Glades, so you can possibly have the place all to yourself.
To ski the South Mountain Glades, drive from Moab to the La Sal Creek Winter Trailhead on the south end of the range. Skin up La Sal Pass Road to a large meadow at the base of the South Mountain Glades, which are clearly visible. From there, simply skin up your choice of glade to ski.
Another spot to find protected powder turns is in the Corkscrew Glades. These are a northwest-facing series of runs that dot a thick pine forest nestled below Tuk No, a sub-peak of Mount Tukuhnikivatz. From a distance, the glades look like a cluster of steep, open meadows that thread down like commas, which resemble a spiraling corkscrew. The riding tends to be a good bet for soft winter snow that’s shaded by the trees, and the approach is a moderate skin on flat, view-laden expanses followed by steep switchbacks to Point 10974.
To ski the Corkscrew Glades, drive from Moab to the La Sal Mountains on Geyser Pass Road, and park at the Trans-La Sal trailhead just before you reach the Geyser Pass winter parking area. From here, generally follow the summer trail across Brumley Creek and open meadows to the base of the glades. Skin directly up the mountainside of Point 10974 to the top.
Mount Tukuhnikivatz, or “Mount Tuk” for short, is the pyramid-shaped peak that stands out the most among all the high-alpine summits in the La Sals. She has a vertical relief that will make any skier or snowboarder salivate when they lay eyes upon her from the bike trails around Moab far below. The strange name is a Native American word that roughly means “where the sun sets last.” As for the tour, climbing and sliding down Mount Tuk is a springtime ritual when stable corn snow allows safe travel on this prize of a desert peak.
To ski Mount Tuk, drive from Moab to the La Sal Mountains on Geyser Pass Road and park at the Geyser Pass winter trailhead. Skin up the road, then go right on Gold Basin Road (look for a shortcut 0.5 mile from the trailhead on the right). Follow the bottom of Gold Basin to the base of Mount Tukuhnikivatz, and climb to the summit on either the north ridge or (during stable conditions) directly up Mount Tuk Cirque.
Haystack Mountain is one of the easier high-alpine peaks in the La Sal Mountains to ski. This lower-elevation peak has mellow ascent slopes and straight forward access with less approach time and mileage. Spring is an ideal season for a tour on Haystack, as south and east-facing aspects soak up sunlight for classic corn runs, and the north bowl stays cold, keeping snow well into late spring. The ascent route does cross into major avalanche terrain, so a stable snowpack is key to a safe tour.
To ski Haystack Mountain, drive from Moab to the La Sal Mountains on Geyser Pass Road and park at the Geyser Pass winter trailhead. Skin up the road for two miles until the road turns south, then cut across large meadows at the base of Haystack. Continue up to Burro Pass, then climb Haystack’s east face to the summit ridge.
Mount Mellenthin is the second highest peak in the La Sal Mountains, therefore one that any backcountry skier should check off the hit list. But getting to the summit along the north ridge then skiing down chutes and bowls on her classic north face is no cake walk. The ascent ridge is steep and covered in loose talus, and the ski down requires careful navigation of summit cliffs and rock outcroppings. The best skiing and snowboarding is down Mellenthin’s North Face. A series of steep chutes that converge in an open bowl are guarded by cliffs and rocks just below the summit ridge. Tread lightly, because this is serious avalanche terrain.
To ski Mount Mellenthin, drive from Moab to the La Sal Mountains on Geyser Pass Road and park at the Geyser Pass winter trailhead. Skin along the road for 2.5 miles, then cut south through an evergreen forest toward the mountain. Ascend the north ridge to the summit.
For detailed information including driving directions, specific route-finding info, maps, photos and more, purchase my new book, Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes: Utah