Backcountry Touring in Utah’s Hoodoo Country

If you close your eyes and imagine Southern Utah’s red rock canyon terrain, what do you see? Painted cliffs of yellow, orange and red, crumbling rock spires, groves of juniper and… backcountry skiers and snowboarders? Perhaps that last one seems out of place, and rightly so. Hoodoo country isn’t your typical ski touring terrain, and with good reason: the climate associated with this type of topography does not often jive with good snow conditions. However, as my girlfriend and I discovered on a recent road trip, it is absolutely possible to find, and well worth the effort!

A look at some of the steep lines available in the Fake Breaks backcountry area near Cedar City, UT. (photo: Ryan Malavolta/Utahoutside)

Point us to the Goods
The winter of 2016-17 was a much needed return to normalcy for snow lovers in Utah. With snowpack running close to 150% of average in most counties, we decided to head south to find ourselves some backcountry hoodoo tours. The sleepy town of Parowan served as our base camp, and we scouted some potential locations in Parowan Canyon. While the scenery was great, we did not find the mix of skiable snow and red rocks that we were hoping for. We wound up at Georg’s Ski and Snowboard shop at the base of Brian Head Resort. Georg was dubious about our goals, but after assuring him that we were serious, he delivered the goods: the “Fake Breaks” zone in Cedar Canyon.

Fake Breaks, Utah
Cedar Breaks National Monument is located between Parowan and Cedar Canyons. Elevation varies between 8,400’ at the floor to 10,400’ on the plateau; the perfect elevation for rideable snowpack. Only problem: you are prohibited by law from skiing in Cedar Breaks. However, the Fake Breaks area (southwest of Cedar Breaks) is open for business, and that’s where things started to pan out. Fake Breaks is the locals’ choice for red rock ski lines, and the terrain is a mini version of the National Monument area. Same rocks, same elevation, and decent snow. We parked on the shoulder of Cedar Canyon road (SR14), and prepped our gear for an epic day in the hoodoos.

Jess at the bottom of the red rock amphitheater; after this point you simply skin up for whatever line looks best! (photo: Ryan Malavolta/Utahoutside)

The Payoff
Chances are there won’t be a skin track set into Fake Breaks, but no worries, it’s easy going. A slight uphill jaunt through a gorgeous pine forest will drop you at the bottom of the hoodoo amphitheater less than a mile from the road. From there, it’s as simple as picking whatever line looks best to you. The area isn’t huge, but there are plenty of possibilities. Steep is the name of the game; there are several rock shelves that ring the area, and the higher you go, the more serious the lines are. We opted to stay below the first level of shelves, where the lower consequence terrain was still very enjoyable.

It’s a steep skin up, but the scenery is worth every drop of sweat! (photo: Jess Holzbauer/Utahoutside)

We skinned up the west side of the amphitheater and marveled at the views. Our first descent was short, sweet, and scenic. The snow wasn’t great, but that wasn’t a big surprise. We did find a nice stash of protected powder on the east side, and enjoyed a few laps of creamy southern Utah goodness. There were several other lines that we had been eyeing, but the advent of numerous rollerballs and the late hour told us it was time to head back to town.

Splitboarding among hoodoos was not something I ever thought I would do. In fact, I wouldn’t have done it had it not been for my partner, Jess, and her incredible imagination. For her, it was the realization of a longtime dream. After experiencing it firsthand, I can tell you that it was as beautiful and weird as I hoped for. Skinning up between rock spires, and grabbing a few hundred feet of vert was absolutely worth the effort it took to find. If you’re up for an adventure that’s miles off the beaten path, I highly recommend skiing in hoodoo country.

Jess dropping a line with southern Utah’s finest hoodoos for a world class backdrop. (photo: Ryan Malavolta/Utahoutside)

Getting There
From Cedar City, drive east on SR14 (Cedar Canyon Road) for approximately 14.5 miles. The Fake Breaks area sits northeast of the road, and is easy to spot from your vehicle. Parking during winter is tricky, as the shoulder may not be plowed and the road can be busy. Skin in by heading northeast and keeping your eyes on the rock formations. You will emerge into an open area at the bottom of the amphitheater. From there, scout your lines and enjoy!

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