There are few touring meccas quite like the Wasatch: premium-grade fluff blankets its towering slopes, yet the finest conveniences of civilization, like Lone Star Taqueria, lie just minutes away. One fine feature of the Wasatch is the number of excellent backcountry tours that are doable in just a couple hours or less. You can cram these supreme schussing delights right into your busy day in the form of a pre-work dawn patrol or a quick mid-day foray.Above Photo By: Tommy Chandler
Here are a few of our favorite quick ‘n’ dirty tours just minutes outside Salt Lake. Each is a brief yet delightful tangent along the path to a productive day.
A summer road that’s often groomed in the winter by a snowcat leads from Alta up the gut of Grizzly Gulch and tops out at the stunning saddle of Twin lakes Pass. The skin up to the pass is a quick and easy two miles, and given the wide variety of slope aspects and angles for your descent, there’s a choice for nearly any conditions. You can venture right up the ridgeline to the inviting north face of Patsy Marley, or you can veer left for west- or south-facing descents in the Michigan City area. Just be careful: there are a few pockets of exposure to avy danger along the way up, so consult the advisory and plan accordingly.
Ah, Mill D. This friendly powder playground lies 9.5 miles up Big Cottonwood; you park at the Spruces lot and start up the skin track on the opposite side of the canyon road. Much of Mill D is technically south- or west-facing, but the terrain is covered with perfectly spaced aspen glades that protect the snow from sun and wind. You’ll find gentle slopes and soft conditions just a one-hour skin up from your car. The popular Short Swing is the first turnoff, but if you’re patient and continue up the gut of Mill D for another 20 minutes before switchbacking up the slope on your right, you’ll find vast stashes of untracked fluff.
The steep north-facing trees below Green’s Basin pack a lot of thrills into a short little 1.5-hour tour. Intermediate skiers may find the steepness intimidating, and snowboarders may curse the sky as they shuffle through the flats at the end of the tour. Everyone else, however, will be downright delighted. Just park at Spruces, start up the Days Fork trail, and hang a left at the turnoff half a mile up. From there, follow the skin track for as long as time allows—20 minutes, 40 minutes, whatever. Then drop down through the evergreens’ soft, shaded snow. [Insert whoops of happiness here.] You’ll wind up in some flats just a quarter-mile up-canyon from the parking lot.
The Argenta slide path is just that: a slide path. So make sure to consult the avalanche forecast, and travel safely if you decide to go. But when conditions are right, Argenta is a perfect swath of powdery joy on the dramatic north side of Mt. Kessler. Park 7.1 miles up the Big Cottonwood road and follow the well-used skin track that winds up toward Kessler. One great thing about Argenta is that you can ski down from any point along the tour. So, if you’re out of time, just pull your skins off and crank some nice, big turns back down.