Utah, Solitude, and the San Rafael Swell

Have you ever had conditions that were so terrible for skiing that you just couldn’t motivate yourself to actually ski?  This was the unfortunate case for our trip to Utah – they haven’t image (2)received any new snow for more then two weeks.  Our friends Jeremiah and Grace explained the state of affairs to us as we unpacked our things.  They mentioned the weather conditions; ‘severe clear’.  Any resort skiing was not looking very good and ice climbing in the canyons is treacherous – delaminated and deteriorating quickly.

Jason and I had planned our trip to Utah months in advance, J taking the time to look at data and pick a less popular resort that was guaranteed to have snow for us.  Well obviously there is no guarantee with the weather, and to J’s credit he tried.

After making the eight hour drive to Salt Lake we weren’t about to give up without trying on our big ski trip for the year.  Our hosts fed us some incredible vegetarian food and the next morning J and I packed up our gear and headed for Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon, hoping that we could at least find some corduroy to dig into.

image (1)The drive up Big Cottonwood is an awesome journey through millions of years of sedimentary rock.  We were both amazed how close all this skiing is to downtown Salt Lake – it took us thirty minutes to get to the mountain.  The weather was warm with blue skies and we hoped that the awesome terrain we were looking at was going to be fun to ski.  After our first lift ride we were amazed at how hard-packed the snow was, bulletproof is a good description.  No worries, it was warm and the snow would soften up as the day progressed right?  Unfortunately not and except for the occasional patch of soft snow, everything looked glazed and nothing was easy to dig into.  We were both hesitant to ride the way we usually do, worried that we might lose and edge and hurt ourselves.

Discouraged, we left after a short day to regroup and make plans.  We already had two hotel nights booked in Ogden in anticipation of skiing Snowbasin later in the week but with the conditions we experienced at Solitude, neither of us wanted to spend any money on lift tickets.  That night I re-learned cribbage with the help of our hosts and the next day J managed to get a full hotel refund.  We talked a bit and decided to head South towards I-70, DCIM101GOPROpr-positioning ourselves to do some camping and hiking but so that we were prepared to head back to Colorado – a storm is on the horizon.

 Jason and I had the idea to head to Canyonlands National Park to do a short backpacking route in the Needles District.  We assume that the park would be relatively empty – a circumstance that we welcome when looking for recreation opportunities.  But we had been keeping a close eye on opensnow.com for weather updates from the moment we left Salt Lake and things were beginning to look promising for the central mountains of Colorado.  We both have Loveland passes which include days at Monarch, one of our favorite small (by Colorado standards) ski area.

We drove roughly three hours south to an area just North of I-70, an area known as the San Rafael Swell.  This collection of wilderness study areas is free to recreate in and promises solitude, it is BLM land after all.  Arriving after dark, we couldn’t see our surroundings but we knew that we picked a nice secluded spot for some camping, hiking, and we had cell service *gasp* so we were able to keep an eye on the weather to help us make an educated decision regarding our goals which were originally to ski/ride some powder.

After a cold (fucking cold) night, we packed our gear for a day-hike.  Our man Joel (www.opensnow.com) was calling for high amounts of snow, now with high confidence for the central mountains, numbers in the double digits made our decision easy; we were imageheaded back to Colorado (after a nice hike).  We did a small loop into the canyons in the area, hiking in on a trail with terrible signage (24k scale topos are a must in this area for easy navigation) and hiking out off-trail across the mesa tops.

We spent the rest of the day packing our things, and driving back to the front range.  With our sights set on Monarch, we are feeling positive.  Hotel room is booked and the forecast is looking very promising – with the possibility of over 30 inches of snow in the next three days.  The adventure continues – until next time friends!

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