My Favorite Backcountry Skiing Locations in Utah

‘The Greatest Snow On Earth’, says Utah’s license plates and just about everyone who’s skied a few tours and runs in Utah. Why? By the time any of the 40 annual Pacific snowstorms make their way to Utah, they become proverbial ‘perfect storms’ and dump 500” of amazing, blower powder annually around Salt Lake City and the rest of Utah. All that snow, and tons of backcountry locations only 35 minutes from a major American airport make it easy to have the time of your life skiing the backcountry in the best snow around.

One last word to the tech savvy: if you’re sticking around Wasatch, and let’s face it, most of us are, there’s an amazing app called Wasatch Backcountry Skiing Map available on both iOS and Android, it’s not free, but it has ALL the route beta you need to know.

Mount Superior

3000’ of vertical - ski to the highway
Amazing terrain on your way up
Avalanches. As per usual
Know your route!

If there were a poster child for skiing in Utah, Mount Superior would be it. For those who’ve skied at Alta or Snowbird it’s impossible not to draw an eye on Superior with its steep, white encased mass towering 3000’ above the Little Cottonwood Highway. The skiing is really good here. In fact, it’s skiable on all sides, which are comprised of steep, expert terrain where conditions need to be optimal before approaching anywhere near it. The two main faces for descents are Cardiac Bowl and the South Face. From the Alta trailhead, follow the Cardiff Pass route. Cardiac Bowl and Chutes can be gained after some demanding skinning along the ridge line, which commands concentration and experience. From the bowl, you can ski to the south side and finish the ascent up the to the summit. If you’re looking for something a little crazier…you can mountaineer up the South Face, but do so with a guide. There’s little margin for error out there.

Angel Collinson Skis the Suicide Chute in Salt Lake City ...

Mount Superior - good to know

Skill Level

Intermediate to advanced skiers

Terrain

Couloirs, bowls and chutes

Elevation

Mount Superior 11,050’, 3000’ vertical from the South Face

Backcountry Access

Drive your car. Park your car. Start your ascent. Skin and bootpack

Guidebook

Andrew McLean's The Chuting Gallery

Best Season

January through mid-March

Location

If you hit Alta, you've gone too far

Coordinates

40.5921° N, 111.6670° W

Utah

Hogum Fork

Top choice for advanced skiers
Experienced skiers will be rewarded!
Couloir skiing for days
Never crowded
Only for the fit

When looking west from Snowbird it’s hard to miss the mass of peaks, ridges and chutes choking the skyline. Much of this terrain comprises the Lone Peak Wilderness Area, more specifically Hogum Fork. The terrain here is generally big, steep and above treeline with plenty of diverse options to choose. Compared to other areas, access here requires a good deal of effort and a big day but the reward of solitude and plethora of five star terrain is unbeatable. This is a place best suited for experienced backcountry travelers in very good fitness. It is also a location where the right snow and avalanche conditions are essential for safe travel.

Wild Wild Wasatch: Snap Dragon Couloir

Hogum Fork - good to know

Skill level

Advanced and expert

Terrain

Couloirs. Lot’s of couloirs

Elevation

1100’ at 50° for The Hypodermic Needle (approx. 5000’ all told) and Sliver Couloir

Backcountry access

Demanding and long

Guidebook

Andrew McLean's The Chuting Gallery

Best Season

January through mid-March

Location

Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Coordinates

40°32'49"N 111°43'8"W

Utah

Alta and Surroundings

Good powder and a lot of it
Great terrain for advanced and expert skiers
Family friendly
Alta's popularity can make it crowded
Nightlife is a bit on the quiet side

If you’re looking for an abundance of dry powder, thousands of acres of terrain AND backcountry access, the Alta ski area is the perfect place for you. One good thing to know about Alta: the resort doesn’t mind backcountry skiers using its snowcat route for backcountry access. A little inbounds to get out of bounds isn’t a problem. If you’re looking for slackcountry access, the Supreme lift will deliver you to the goods. On snow days, when the resort skiers are doing their thing it’s the perfect time to check out backcountry options.

An excellent starting point is Grizzly Gulch, which only requires a short skin and delivers quickly on skiable pow – great for beginners. Catherine’s Pass (via Grizzly Gulch) is reachable by skinning or lift and offers fantastic bowl skiing with further access to the trio of Sunset Peak, Mount Tuscarora and Pioneer Peak – all of which offer chutes, couloirs, bowls and trees of their own. Another option for the area is Flagstaff Mountain and Upper Days Fork, which can be tracked out fairly quickly, but is still worth getting up early for to hit skiable chutes, bowls and trees. All of these options and more are attainable with skins. No resort pass required. Not bad.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security due to all of the other skiers in the backcountry, more people means greater attention must be paid to snowpack and weather conditions. When in doubt, hire a guide to show you the best the area has to offer.

A skier flies over a jump.

Toledo Face - Bac...

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Alta and Surroundings - good to know

Skill level

Advanced and expert skiers

Terrain

Great powder and amazing lines. Chutes, trees and couloirs

Elevation

8,530’ base

Backcountry access

Use Alta lifts for slackcountry and backcountry areas, or use the Alta parking lot and skin up!

Guidebook

Brad Asmus' The Powder Hound's Guide to Skiing Alta

Best Season

Late January through early April

Location

Alta, Utah

Coordinates

40°34′51″N 111°38′14″W

Utah

Snowbird and Surroundings

Top choice for advanced skiers
Snow. Snow. Snowbird!
Amazing off-piste opportunities
Impressive terrain, both at the resort and in the backcountry
The resort can get crowded
Not the best resort for beginners

Believe the hype! Also, don’t let the hype get to you. Snowbird routinely ranks as a best resort and its surrounding area ranks as a backcountry skiing paradise because there’s ample, varied and steep terrain everywhere you look. While there’s plenty for families to do here while on vacation, the advanced and expert skiers here will have plenty of terrain to carve and shred, both on- and off-piste. It’s not on everybody’s bucket list only because of its name.

Snowbird provides slackcountry access to White Pine Fork, where, from the Gad 2 Backcountry Gate, you can make a short hike to the west to Temptation Ridge and shred the Temptation Chutes, or traverse up the ridge line and head for Birthday Chutes and Tri Chutes. In upper White Pine there’s the spectacular Glacier Bowl and the West Pass. This area is also accessible via the White Pine Trailhead, if you’re not based out of the resort. And if you feel like springing for it, there’s heli-skiing if you want that hard to reach pow.

American Fork East and West peaks in Utah during October. Looking southwest off Hidden Peak above Snowbird, Utah.

Snowbird Backcoun...

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Snowbird and Surroundings - good to know

Skill level

Intermediate to expert

Terrain

Cirques, chutes, bowls, plenty of steep runs, and yes, cliff drops

Elevation

11.000' base

Backcountry access

Plenty of slackcountry and backcountry access. Bring your avy gear, even for the double blacks at the resort

Guidebook

Trails and other goodies HERE

Best Season

January through April

Location

Just past Alta, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Coordinates

40.5819° N, 111.6552° W

Utah

Mill D North Fork

Great for first timers
Diverse terrain
Great for beginners
Awesome tree skiing
Avalanches

There are few touring areas that provide as varied terrain as Mill D. Long known for its easy access aspen glade skiing, Mill D has a bit of everything, including plenty of advanced options. The drainage there also acts as a relative safe harbor when avalanche hazard is elevated. It should be noted that there are plenty of approaches to diverse terrain regardless of hazard conditions. Mill D is a great stomping ground for new users but it also draws experienced folks due to its diversity and the forgiving nature of its terrain

Mill D Backcountry Skiing

Mill D North Fork - good to know

Skill level

Beginner to Intermediate

Terrain

Glades, trees. Glades and trees

Elevation

Highest point is American Fork Twin Peaks at 11,489'. For routes in the area, consider 1500’ vertical for Short Swing or 2100’ for Reynolds Peak

Backcountry access

Easy and rewarding. Start skinning from Spruces Trailhead

Guidebook

Tyson Bradley's Backcountry Skiing Utah: A Guide to the State's Best Ski Tours

Best Season

January through mid-March

Location

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Coordinates

40.64769°N 111.64289°W

Utah

Solitude and Surroundings

Great for exploring solo
Still not too crowded
Rewarding slackcountry terrain
It’s lower elevation means more rain
Solitude is smaller than its neighbors

The name says it all. Long considered a local’s locale, Solitude is far less crowded than its neighbors and offers plenty of Utah’s famous powder. Simply put, it’s a gem of a ski vacation destination where there’s plenty of skiable lines available after it’s more famous neighbors get tracked out. There’s a lot of family options and the resort itself has done much to bolster its standing amongst its other more frequented neighbors.

The resort offers sidecountry access to challenging terrain in Honeycomb Canyon, where skiers can discover chutes and wide open powderfields in Wolverine Cirque. For even more of an adrenaline rush, there’s Fantasy Ridge which requires a hike over very exposed terrain that leads to narrow shoots and other technical delights – all of which is just a short trek from the resort. You can also skip the resort, too, and find access to Silver Fork Canyon and Honeycomb by parking at the lower Solitude lot and skinning/bootpacking up to Silver Fork for runs like Silver Spoon, Meadow Chutes and Brad’s Line. Also attainable from the Solitude lot is is USA Bowl, which has good tree skiing, with other options further beyond, like South Monitor and Scott Hill.

Climbing and Skii...

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Solitude and Surroundings - good to know

Skill Level

Beginner to advanced

Terrain

Chutes, cirques and trees

Elevation

10,035’

Backcountry access

There’s solid slackcountry access at the resort, and in the resort’s parking lot.

Map

All the goodies are available here

Best Season

Mid-January through April

Location

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Coordinates

40°36′54.5″N 111°35′20.1″W

Utah

Brighton and Surroundings

Great for families with young skiers
500” annual snowfall
Brighton has night skiing!
Very reasonably priced slackcountry lift tickets
Weekends get crowded
Accommodations are limited, book in advance

As the first ski resort in Utah, Brighton has something for everybody: there’s family-friendly trails, lots of night skiing and amazing slackcountry and backcountry terrain. Just off of the Great Western Lift is Hidden Canyon which offers runs lasting days for days after a storm. On the other side, the lines off of Mt. Millicent provide runs that will take you all the way to Alta and Snowbird. And just beyond Millicent is the Wolverine Cirque, with insanely steep chutes. What makes Brighton so special is it is a perfect place for regular resort skiers to get a taste of the backcountry. Oh, yeah, it’s a world famous destination for snowboarders too, so, if you’ve got one in your group (or your family), there’ll be something for everyone.

What dreams are m...

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Brighton and Surroundings - good to know

Skill Level

Advanced to expert skiers

Terrain

Drop-offs, chutes, bowls and lots of mellow tree skiing

Elevation

10,750’

Backcountry access

There’s easy slackcountry access to some of the best backcountry in the US, complete with affordable single-ride lift tickets

Guidebook

Backcountry access can be found on this map here (look for the yellow triangles)

Best Season

January through mid-April

Location

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Cooridinates

40°36′0″N 111°35′0″W

Utah

Park City Area

Great slackcountry right off of Park City Mountain Resort
Spring-like conditions year round
Less powder than other areas

Within Park City, the Park City Mountain Resort is the largest ski area in the United States which means there’s tons of paths and activities to choose from, whether you’re an adventure seeker, luxury traveler or going on a family vacation. More important, though, are the backcountry runs available both within and without the resort, collectively known as the Park City Ridgeline. While you can get to the ridgeline directly from the resort, the terrain and its bowls and treelines are attainable from outside the resort, mostly on the Solitude and Brighton side of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Regardless, if you’re not too proud to take PCMR’s giant lift, the 9990, explore the southern half of the ridgeline and ski the classic Monitor Bowls or No Name bowl, all of which offer steep and sustained runs. They’re also huge. On the northside of the Ridgeline consider Dutchess Draw and McDonalds Draw each with big, each skiable and mega on powder days.

Park City Backcou...

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Park City Area - good to know

Skill level

Intermediate to expert

Terrain

Bowls and glades and some chutes

Elevation

10,026’

Backcountry access

Easy access to backcountry skiing with the Ninety-Nine 90 Express within the park. The ridge line is accessible if you want to go the old fashioned way, too

Guidebook

Ski area boundaries and routes are available here

Best Season

Mid-January through early April

Location

Park City, Utah

Coordinates

40°39′3″N 111°30′27″W

Utah

La Sal Mountains

Great corn skiing
Rewarding terrain options
Crowds? Nope
Location, location, location
Avalanche, avalanche, avalanche

Sure, whenever ‘skiing’ and ‘Utah’ are spoken together in a sentence, it’s the Wasatch Mountain Range that comes to mind for most. But, there’s another truly great location, definitely off the beaten path, that bears mentioning as a serious destination for any backcountry skier: La Sal Mountains, just outside of Moab!

While the majority of people who know Moab may think of it primarily as a hiking and mountain biking locale, more people are reconsidering it’s 12+ 12,000’ mountains for backcountry skiing objectives. Whether you want to find powder stashes in the Corkscrew Glades or shred the vertical on Mount Tukuhnikivatz (Mount Tuk, as it’s affectionately known to locals), the access for most lines and runs is straightforward thanks to Moab being solid spring and summer recreation destination: there’s paths everywhere and lots of trailhead options. One of the easier runs is Haystack Mountain, which, with its south and east facing aspects, serves up plenty of corn come spring. For the backcountry skier looking for something more challenging, be sure to check out Mount Mellenthin. The summit ascent requires a lot of care and preparation (cliffs! avalanches! beware!), but there’s high angle chutes and bowls waiting for you on its north face.

So, while the 3.5hr drive from SLC may not be on the top of everyone’s weekend ski list, those of you who decide to make the journey will soon find yourselves planning on coming back before you know it.

Sandstone & Snow: Colter Colter Hinchliffe and Tim Durtsc...

La Sal Mountains - good to know

Skill level

Beginner to advanced

Terrain

Depending on which objective you take, the terrain is diverse: trees, glades, high angle, chutes and couloirs

Elevation

12,721’ Mount Peale

Backcountry access

The access here is good and relatively straightforward, depending on your objective. This is a mountain biking and hiking hotspot in the warmer months, so there's ample snow covered trails to get where you need to

Guidebook

Jared Hargrave's Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Utah

Best Season

March through April

Location

Moab, Utah

Coordinates

38.4489° N, 109.2412° W

About the author

Willie Benegas

Willie Benegas

IFMGA Mountain Guide and AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guide

Willie is a fully certified IFMGA mountain guide and AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guide, based out of Sandy, his home in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah with wife Liz. His star began to rise when he obtained the first ascent of the 3,000-foot North Face of Pakistan’s Nameless Tower (“Book of Shadows” VII, 5.10+ A4 W14). He’s led over 20 Himalayan expeditions, including thirteen Everest summits, Cho Oyu, Makalu, Manaslu, Ama Dablam, an attempt on the North face of Jannu, and the “The Crystal Snake” first ascent on Nuptse. This accomplishment made with his brother Damian in 2003 won them Climbing magazine’s Golden Piton Award. Willie has also set speed records in Africa on Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, made three attempts on the highly coveted Pakistani peak Latok 1, done first ascents on the big walls of Baffin Island and climbed dozens of Bolivian and Peruvian peaks.

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