5 Wasatch Tours For Ditching Weekend Crowds
The weekend clearly comprises the best two days ending in –y, besides “holiday.” But unfortunately, the days we don’t have to go to work are the same days most people don’t have to go to work. And many Salt Lake locals have the same idea on a sunny Saturday: schussing. (Hence the sad nickname Wasangeles.) Fortunately, the masses concentrate in just a handful of well-known places. And you have better fish to fry—with a tiny bit of effort and experimentation, you can find some killer spots untouched by anyone but you and your posse.
Above Photo By: Tommy Chandler
You access Mineral Fork from a trailhead you’d barely notice driving by. But once you skin just a mile or two up into this gorgeous drainage between Big and Little Cottonwood, you realize this place has a lot going for it. It’s not unknown, but there’s enough terrain that it takes a good long while before tracks start accumulating.
The upper reaches of Mineral are breathtakingly dramatic and beautiful, but you don’t need to go too far up to get a taste of the bounty. The east-facing shots off the ridge between Mineral and Mill B offer majestic views of Kessler and Cardiac Ridge. The fall lines back to the gut of Mineral Fork are primo. Just choose your days and routes carefully: Mineral is regularly the site of huge tree-clearing avalanches. And a ‘lanche big enough to clear out trees and bushes is definitely big enough to give you a bad day.
Accessed via Parley’s Canyon on the way to Park City from Salt Lake, Lamb’s Canyon frequently hosts backcountry.com employees out for an early-morning foray on their way to the office. It’s an unassuming side-canyon that I-80’s cars whir right past, but hot damn. Lamb’s Canyon offers some great lines with a fairly simple approach. And who drives up I-80 thinking, “I need to try ski-touring off this freeway…”? Not very many people.
If you turn off and drive two miles up Lamb’s Canyon, you’ll feel a world away from the semi trucks. And after you skin a couple thousand feet up the well-established summer trail, you really will be in a new universe—with lovely views of Millcreek Canyon to the south and Mountain Dell to the north. From high up in Lamb’s, you’ll have a variety of slope aspects to choose from. Select the safest, and off you go. Those folks on the freeway will be none the wiser.
Fuel Required: double espresso, veggie bagelwich
Trip Time: 2-3 hours
Mill B North Fork
Mill B is a paradox: in the summer, it’s home to the popular Lake Blanche trail, and trust us—you don’t even want to try hiking it on a weekend. The good people of Salt Lake line up along the trail, plodding along to get a look at the striking lake with Sundial Peak jutting above it. But in the winter, it’s quiet as can be, which makes it feel even more magnificent and peaceful.
Just park at the S-curve halfway up Big Cottonwood Canyon and start skinning up the Lake Blanche trail. A few miles up, you’ll get to the snowed-over lake, and you’ll be able to choose between three stunning cirques above. Each offers a variety of slope angles and aspects—so take your pick, try not to overfill your phone’s memory with handsomely filtered Insta-pics, and head on down.
There’s an old saying: “Bushwacking builds character”… or scar tissue, or something. Anyway, it won’t kill you. And once you get past the low-elevation scrub brush between the mouth of Neff’s and the dramatic Wildcat Ridge, you’ll forget the scuffs on your pants and forearms. Neff’s Canyon offers a handful of killer runs just two miles from the residential streets of Salt Lake’s east side.
Park at the Neff’s Canyon trailhead in Olympus Cove, and start skinning eastward on the service road that goes up Neff’s. Eventually you can work your way southeast toward Thomas Fork—and up you go. The descent through fun, rolling terrain is well worth the effort. And you can go all the way up and back in time for lunchtime sammiches at Millcreek Café—which, to us, is a noteworthy selling point.
Fuel Required: coffee, loaded burrito, small snack
Trip Time: 3-4 hours
We often sing the praises of Beartrap Fork, and who wouldn’t? It’s quiet as can be up there, in spite of all the bustle of Big Cottonwood. The secret is finding the trailhead. But if you can find the unassuming metal gate tucked behind some roadside aspens eight miles up Big Cottonwood, you’re in business. We can guarantee you won’t find many people in this hidden gem.
You can skin up the gut of Beartrap for as little as one mile before switchbacking up to the ridge above, or you can go the full two miles up to Desolation Ridge (in the summer, the Wasatch Crest trail goes right by here). You can then descend back into the bowls of Beartrap or even shimmy right over to the trees above Desolation Lake.
Fuel Required: coffee, burrito (heavy on the bacon), mountain munchies
Trip Time: 3-4 hours
There, now you’ve been told. Get out there. And be safe while you’re at it. Always travel with a buddy, plan your routes carefully, and bring safety gear. And if the avy forecast is no bueno, it’s time to hit up some low-risk touring areas instead and save the adventuring for next time the snow is stable.