January 11, 2012

Superior Chute Skiing 2012

Despite the meager snowpack, there is still some exciting skiing and climbing to be done on Mt. Superior, one of America's 50 Classic Ski Lines. On Jan. 5, we climbed and skied Suicide Chute, then continued up the knife-eged South Ridge with skis on the back. We finished by dropping the "W" or "Pinball" Chute, another East-Facing couloir. It required 2 small "mandatory airs" and a bit of creative route-finding. But, all in all, a fine day on the mountainside.
Crampons recommended for the lowest portion of Suicide Chute, aka, Country Lane.

Paul gets it done in the well-travelled, but smooth-skiing Suicide Chute.
The Knife-edge section of the South Ridge. Note the quality snow in Couloirs below.
This old goat had no harem, but seemed to be living out his years alone and happy.

The final slab crux before topping out on the "Sharks Fin" where the Quartzite ends, and Slate/Shale friable rock leads to the summit. The first few turns face NE and were powdery.
Plenty of snow in the "Butterfly Wings" middle apron. Good snow for good skiers here.

November 29, 2011

November Powder Turns 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend in the Wasatch is usually a good time to tour, and 2011 was no exception, despite the 30" snowpack and warm, dry weather. We headed into Silver Fork and were pleasantly surprised by some high quality turns.

Beacon Check...All Good

Snowpit...No Slab = safe...for now

Rip the skins and...

Rip the Pow

See you at the next Island of Safety!

One good run deserves another...Back up through
the Aspen Forest we go.

This shot looks fresh, and the snow is soft...hmmm

What better way to enjoy the Autumn sun?

Than by working off some Turkey and shredding the meadows!

September 22, 2010


The South Ridge of Mt. Superior, 11,050', is a classic, mixed alpine route. It starts with a low-angle "apron" leading to a 45-degree Couloir. This connects to the knife-edged rock and snow "arete." After a spectacular summit the route descends the easier East Ridge.

Crunch, crunch, crunch...up the solid spring snow of Suicide Chute. Zigging back and forth with cross-over steps we move efficiently keeping the feet flat and crampon points in the snow. This "French Technique" propels us far up the Couloir in the early morning hours. Sherman keeps his Ice Axe pick facing forward as he belays himself for security on the firm, steep slope.

Ahhh...Sunrise...and we're nearing the col. The snow climbing is just about over.

Keeping the crampons on for the occasional snow step, we find the points work fine even on dry Quartzite. Using the rope for added security we employ "running and fixed belays" on the more difficult and exposed sections.

Although most of the terrain is moderate, we start to "feel the air under our feet."

Sherman collects slings, stoppers, and cams as he "seconds" the route and "cleans" the "pro."

With a snug belay from above, he gets ready to pull through the 5.6 "crux", where a finger-lock move on steep ground is required.
On the upper ridge the angle softens, but hand holds are often scarce on the "slabs" of smooth rock.

The Quartzite soon gives way to darker Slate / Shale, and we can cruise unroped for the final 300 feet to the narrow summit. Behind is Monte Cristo, 11,126.

We use a "short-rope" and downclimb carefully on the tricky, rocky upper sections of the East Ridge. Then, in places where a safe runout exists and the "corn" snow has softened into perfect slush for glissading, we opt for the easy way down. A cool reward for our strenuous ascent, and a relaxing finish to a great day in the Wasatch Mountains!


Cardiff Fork is home to the universally acclaimed Cardiac Bowl (left with shadow) and Cardiac Ridge (far right), two of the finest backcountry runs in the USA. The fall-lines are long and wide enough for dozens of runs, side-by-side; they get snow early and share the Northeast Aspect, where the more snow falls, less wind blows and the sun is rarely strong enough to crust the surface.

Many touring parties stay in Lodges at Alta or Snowbird and can basically cross the street (Little Cottonwood Canyon Road), slap on climbing skins, and start touring. At the end of the day, they will catch a Utah Transit Authority bus in Big Cottonwood Canyon and ride back up to Alta.

Parties staying in Salt Lake, Park City or such can meet at a bus stop and take public transit to the trailhead.

Before entering avalanche terrain the guide checks everyone for beacon compatibility and range.

After 1400' of skinning the party reaches Powerline Pass on the divide between Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. Powdery ski runs abound north of this pass.

Just above the pass the guide sets a traverse out to the untracked terrain in Cardiff Bowl and everyone enjoys a spectacular first backcountry run. Since the plan is to return to the top and ski out to Big Cottonwood, lunches and extra water are cached above the run, allowing for unencumbered skiing and climbing.

Heading down the north side into BCC, Rick is reminded of what Utah is famous for.

Lower down the snow is light enough to enjoy low-angle wiggling through acres of sparkling fluff. An avalanche fracture on the steep, shady slope behind reminds us of why we can't safely ski the big lines every day we visit Cardiff Fork.

Donning the skins again, the party traverses down-canyon for another long run down to the finish at Reynolds Flat in BCC, 7300 feet. Here another UTA bus will return us to the bottom of the canyon.

Cardiac Bowl, on the north side of Mount Superior, can be skied if conditions are right.

September 21, 2010


White Pine Parking Lot, 7,700', one mile below Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, is THE trailhead for a mega-zone of backcountry ski terrain. White Pine itself is the eastern-most of the 5 skiable gulches that drain into LCC. The forested terrain down low is great for safe, peaceful, and scenic skinning.

Skins come off at the top for blissful wiggling through the fluffy meadows.

Mid-altitude evergreen glades offer wind-sheltered powder on the edges of the more open terrain.

Before venturing onto more committing lines, avalanche danger must be carefully assessed. The guide performs a Compression Test in a snowpit

and decides to open up this tasty poke underneath a rocky point called The Spire.

If the snow and weather are both stable, the bigger lines on Red Baldy (in background between skiers) and Lake Peak become great options.

Below, a skier reaps the reward of his labors with untracked powder on the broad Northwest Face of Red Baldy, 11,170'. Another set of tracks is just visible on the East Chute of Lake Peak in the central background. The shadowy north aspect of this 10,700' summit is usually the prime line. Further back, on the left, is the triangular Pfeifferhorn, centerpiece of the rugged and beautiful Lone Peak Wilderness. It is a common mountaineering objective, requiring an overnight snow-camp.

As the sun drops to the west, a final untouched shot begins the "home run" to Little Cottonwood Road, 2,000' below.

November 18, 2009

Bonkers to Stairs, The Greatest Tour in the Wasatch

If you live or play in Utah and you aren’t backcountry skiing in late February and March, you are missing out! This is when it “goes off” in the Wasatch, if its ever going to. Granted, in some seasons, it’s just not wise to ski Bonkers and especially Stairs Gulch, but if the snowpack is going to get deep and strong enough, mid-to late-season is usually the time. March 8, 2009, was just such an occasion. To make it even harder to go to the office, and easier to skip out and go skiing, it was clear and calm, and there was a foot of fresh, windless powder icing the cake.

Given this textbook-perfect situation, it just made sense to head for the greatest ski tour in the Wasatch. Broads Fork and Stairs Gulch offer the best bang for the buck in terms of big classic lines. One skin trail, two epic runs! It's really ski mountaineering terrain, but thanks to a 100-inch snowpack, we did all the climbing with skins on. The enormity of these glacial-carved north-facing bowls and cirques, virtually deforested by avalanching, combined with their steep, rocky nature, makes it feel like bigger mountains.

Eric, Matthias and I skinned at a bristling pace from the S-turns in Big Cottonwood Canyon through fir, aspen, and on up the immense, northeast-facing slide path known as Bonkers. 4500 feet of ascent in three hours enabled lunch in unbelievable calm on the tippy-top of Stairs and Bonkers. On this tiny knob high in the sky, the awe-inspiring view of Salt Lake Twins and Lone Peak is unmatched.

Laughing all the way, we arced one by one down the wide, powdery avenue that is Bonkers. When Mother Nature designed a ski run, this was it. Lined by cliffs, but wide enough for 40 sets of tracks, its rolls and gullies and all of it faces NE, the magic aspect. It's 40-degrees at the top, gradually moderating, like a parabola, to 10-degrees as you milk the last turn to the beaver pond, 2500’ below!

One time in the early ‘90s, I counted 375 turns while skiing it continuously. Now I get around one hundred, and new-schoolers shred it in 10. Regardless of personal style, anyone who non-stops it is super fit!

Another form of fitness comes into play when you skin back up the trail for the Stairs. On one marathon tour, Tim and I lapped Bonkers 3 times before the home run! But this time Eric and Matthias actually wanted to save some energy for the Gulch and get home in time for dinner. One-and-a-half hours put us back on top where we dropped into superb pow.

As we navigated the dry reef and endless couloirs of the 5,000’ drop, our snow quality dropped with the altimeter. By the bottom, we were on a rain-smoothed tongue of old avalanche debris littered with tiny bits of shale. Saving some energy had been wise, but it was all part of the epic adventure, and no one had any regrets as we criss-crossed the creek and hiked down the last 300’ past the classic summer rock climbs of lower Stairs Gulch. Molson Canadian never tasted so good!

- Tyson Bradley