Location: PowMow, Utah
Vertical skied: 20,747 ft
First run: 9:00 am
Air temp: 55 degrees
Summits reached: one
After two days in Utah of the sun trying it’s hardest to burn through cloud cover, it finally happened. Unsure of what we were going to wake up to we were pleasantly surprised by one of my favorite ski terms of them all:
Ski the East is now a permanent fixture in the PowMow snow cat
bluebird skies. Cobalt blue skies and not a cloud within miles–this is going to be the day.
Since I got to Utah, I’ve gotten the opportunity to get to know a lot of the mountain. At 7,500+ acres of in-bounds terrain, Powder Mountain takes the cake as being the largest ski area in the United States. This includes the recent 2K acre expansion known as Powder Country that on a pow day takes riders through the trees and steeps of the side country and into the single canyon road that leads up to the ski area. It’s not lift serviced from the bottom, but a bus
Moderate avi danger and a look of what's ahead post-cat
picks people up at designated spots every so often. Think of Powder’s shape more as the letter “C” rather than a typical flat 2D mountain face. With Powder Country being closed due to a lackluster winter, the second non-lift serviced in-bounds area also happens to be the highest point at 9,422 ft, James Peak. A ski cat will take you most of the way, but the true ride starts after a 30+ minute hike where 360 degree views of 200+ miles away await.
Today was not only the last day of my time in Utah, but the conditions were perfect. We spent the morning skiing groomers with Omar while the sun did it’s work on the East facing James Peak. Conditions weren’t as fast as they had been
Prepping for the trek up
the day before at Snowbasin but as layers were progressively shed and the snow began to turn to corn, there were smiles for miles. After skiing hard all morning Steve and I decided that at 11 a.m. that now was the time. Omar laughed and bid us farewell for taking on the feat on an unpredictable day like today and we were off. As I mentioned, PowMow is more of a “C” or “U” shaped mountain so there’s quite a bit of traversing going on. As the saying goes, you haven’t been to Powder unless you’ve had to hike somewhere. From where we were on Paradise, we made our way through Timberline–over to the base
1 of us skinned and the other hiked boot pack, guess who reached the summit first.
where we hopped a shuttle to Sundown, which took us up to the snow cat. Like I said, traversing around the mountain is a feat in an of itself. On a good day, it is said you can do 4 circular laps around the mountain (including JP)– but even that was up for debate.
We woke a snoozing cat driver, had our tickets punched and loaded up the gear. I’m pretty sure we were the first and, probably only, riders up the cat that day. When its dumping they can fit 22 people in the cat and have in the past
9,422 feet up
had another dozen snowboarders on tow ropes hanging off the back. Today we had it to ourselves. Windows down, music up… we started making elevation.
The cat made quick work of the ride up the tracks to Lightening Ridge where we stripped down the layers, and I loaded my skis onto my pack preparing for the ascent. When the boot pack is tracked in and you’re making a point to get to the summit, Steve
The views aren't half bad up here
said it can be a 20 minute hike. Being that I live at sea level and even though the altitude of constantly being/living at 8,000 feet for the past 3 days hasn’t affected me, the oxygen is still thinner at 9K. With the sun basking on James Peak for the past 6 hours and the snow being pristine corn for skiing down, it made the trip up that much more difficult. There was hardly a bootpack and Steve was skinning his way up, leaving me to hike by my lonely. There must have been less than a dozen people that made their way up in the past 3 days, so it was a ton of work. I was post-
Pre-descent checklist and mapping our route
holing every six steps and just trying to make pace. One-hundred and twenty-five steps, then thirty seconds of break. That was the pace.
Forty minutes later I met Steve at the top. Skins > Hike on a day like this, but either way I was happy as hell to be there. From the spine on the summit you can see into the entire Ogden valley and Snowbasin, the great Salt Lake and even onto Alta, Park City and Deer Valley. Gorgeous. Snapped some pics, downed a granola bar and rested the legs for a few…
Beginning the traverse to Y Chute
now it’s on to what we came here for.
We mapped out our route to make for about a thirty minute descent down near Y Chute. This would give us the chance to find some great snow, avoid others tracks and also find the safest route down. If something went wrong out here, it’s likely to go very bad. While we were out the night before we saw two avalanche slide trails along Powder Country on the canyon road. Even though the snowpack is light, stability can be an issue in extreme temperature swings. The majority of avalanche fatalaties occur from
Avalanche game plan so we can do this again later
less than a 2 foot burial in snow. Wet heavy snow acts like cement and when thrown in the washer of an avi, all sense of up-down-left and right are gone. Everything goes dark and you cannot move. Scary shit. Getting caught in an avi would be my worst fear come true and even though we were equip with shovels and knowledge, neither of us wore beacons or had probes. Two essential tools in avalanche survival.
Once we reached our drop zone, we discussed an avi plan and where our safe zones would be, should either of us trigger a slide. On goes the GoPro, let’s do this.
Steve dropped in first and I followed after he reached the first safezone and couldn’t help myself from hootin’ and hollerin’. We timed this perfectly. The 8” snow was soft and playful and turns, though not effortless, were on par with the best of the season. It took a few turns to get used to it and the first section of the descent was relatively clear of hazards like rocks and rogue baby aspen
Looking back up to the starting point
trees, but it was all bliss. Sun in your face, views for miles and knowing we were the only people that day who were going to be out there.
After initially dropping in along Y Chute, we began another traverse just beyond the boundary lines into another series of spines and solid lines of fresh snow. By nature the area is very craggy and with the minimal snow received this winter (see “with another 4 feet), you had to be cautious of where you were riding but there are always hidden
Fresh turns on soft snow
dangers lurking beneath. Let’s just say now I know first hand what the next layer beneath the p-tex base looks like. In 16 years of skiing and snowboarding I think this is the first time I made a cut in my base straight through to the wood. I don’t abuse my gear at all, but scratches and dings are earned and treated as badges of honor in my book.
There is also a certain technique with riding softer, natural snow that takes some getting used to. Out east, conditions like this just get groomed over and there aren’t similar bowl conditions to speak of–minus Tucks–that are consistently rideable in the winter. Edging and
Taking a breather and scoping out what's next
foot pressures need to be adjusted to accommodate, which took a bit of getting used to. After continuing to plot our own course down and riding through the best run of the trip we find ourselves approaching the cat track bringing us back to Paradise lift. My legs were toast after not only the climb up, but also the 25 minute, 3,000 foot descent down in corny slush.
Three days, 70+K vertical and a million smiles later, it’s time to head east and go back to reality. Ridiculously good time out in UT and can’t wait to do it again.
Nope, not too proud to not post a shot of me eating it too--haha
Yep--probably going to need that ski again at some point.