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Photo Credit: Adam Riser
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Heart of Darkness

Photos Shot By: Backcountry Employee Adam Riser

Why would anyone ski the Heart of Darkness? Sure, it sounds gnarly and may impress a friend who doesn’t know much about skiing, but it’s some of the worst skiing in a range known for “the greatest snow on earth.” Let’s take a quick walk through the day. After skinning for two hours, you find yourself on the top of Mt. Superior, looking straight down the South Face. Anyone who’s ever seen a photo of the South Face of Superior or seen the face from Alta has wanted to ski it.

There you are, actually ready to drop in and ski the line everyone wants to ski. So, do you ski the 3000 feet of blower powder below your tips that drops you right back to your car? Hell, no. Instead of skiing this shot, you go the other direction until you find yourself at the top of a 500-foot, 48-degree chute that’s 300cm wide (at the wide spots) with 80-foot vertical rock walls on each side.

So then you drop in and pick your way down this narrow chute, right? Nope. First you have to put on a harness, pull out a rope, and rappel the top 40 feet that only fills with snow at the very end of record seasons. When you reach the end of the rope, you take your skis off your pack and figure out how to put them on on a slope as steep as anything you’ve ever skied, in a place so narrow your tips and tails touch the opposite walls at the same time. (This, by the way, isn’t so good for your skis.) Then you side step your way down a couple hundred feet. Every once in a while it occurs to you that you’re not really skiing and that you should try to make a jump turn. So you stop, and you think it through. After looking at the fall you’d take if you only got 97 degrees through the jump turn, crashed into the wall, and high-sided, you decide that side stepping isn’t such a bad idea.

Ben Sukow rappelling into the Heart of Darkness

Eventually, the walls widen enough that you think you can pull it off. So you announce it to your friends as if you’re going to do a ski BASE or something. “Guys…I’m gonna try to make a turn!” and they come back with, “You got it, dude! Stick it!” And when you do stick it and don’t tomahawk down the couloir, everyone cheers like you just straight-lined a face in Alaska. Then you get braver and do another. Then the walls widen a little more, and you can actually start to ski a bit.

When you get to the bottom, your day is far from done. You still have to ski out to Big Cottonwood Road through the worst exit in the Wasatch, hitchhike to the base of another canyon, then drive back up Little Cottonwood Canyon just in time to get your car and drive back down in bumper-to-bumper post-lift-closing traffic.

Why would you ski it? Because it’s frickin’ awesome! That’s why. Sure, you have to ski one of the tightest, steepest chutes around. But you get to ski one of the tightest, steepest chutes around.


Touring Tips: Skinning Techniques

How to Dig a Snow Pit

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Avalanche Safety Gear

Alpine Touring Ski Gear

Climbing Ropes



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