How to Cure Powder-itis: The Backcountry Fix


(Photo by Jameson Clifton)

(Photo by Jameson Clifton)
(Photo by Jameson Clifton)

The first week of class this semester, I remember having a serious case of “powder flu,” which is a severe and chronic need to hit the slopes. And it was the worst I’d ever experienced. It seemed to be contagious.

Ask any fellow alpine junkie — usually spotted wearing some form of ski or snowboard paraphernalia — if they were able to “shred the gnar,” “bash the white wave,” or simply “ski some pow” on the Monday or Tuesday that classes started. Chances are those more dedicated to the snow and less diligent to their classes will confirm ecstatically how “sick” it was. And with some of the Cottonwood resorts getting up to 22 inches, can you blame them for being so stoked? The slogan “greatest snow on earth” really lived up to its name then.

Of course, it’s been nearly three weeks since. So where has all the snow gone? Pretty much everything inbounds has been totally tracked out at this point. Not that you can’t have fun on groomers, but there’s only one known cure for the dreaded “powder-itis” — more powder, brah! But with close to 50-degree temperatures in the valley and clear skies the past couple of days, you may be thinking it’s a lost cause. Lucky for you, that’s not the case.

To find the good stuff, all you have to do is search for it. Since the Wasatch range is a pretty big place, it helps to know where to start and how to track down this sacred substance and cure the ailment. The Cottonwood backcountry offers plenty of opportunities, with some of the best spots located in the Days Fork area. Filled with short chutes, wide-open bowls, and technical tree runs, the north-facing slopes of Upper Days Fork provide numerous choices to drop in.

Our team of six began from the car park area just past Alta Ski Resort, one of the most common starting points. After donning our ski gear and double-checking each other’s beacons and avalanche equipment, we began our ascent up the south face of Toledo’s Bowl. A second group was also making their way to the top to our left, but we soon overtook them so that only the ridgeline lay ahead.

With no cloud cover and the morning sun starting to rise high above, the temperature began to rise — not exactly great for the snowpack. But I sure was glad I’d left that extra layer behind. Even the beanie became too much on the way up. The cool breeze awaiting us at the top was a welcome delight as we caught our breath and regrouped before traversing north-east along the ridge to the skiable terrain.

Making our way just below the ridge through the tree line, we soon rounded the corner and headed just a little higher. The view from the top couldn’t have been more beautiful. With a 360-degree view of the mountains in every direction, we all took a moment to soak it in. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else at that point than with a good group of buddies high above the valley — the Wasatch truly is a special place.

After testing the snowpack, Bobby dropped in first, and we all watched him ski a great line. Once he was halfway down, I drew a couple of deep breaths and dropped in. There was almost a foot of fluffy powder goodness. We’d found it. One after another, the rest dropped in, slaying some pretty awesome lines and greeting each other with wide smiles at the bottom.

After a short break, we made our way back up the ridge, the experienced guys out in front and the rest of us following their tracks. We regrouped at the top to discuss the plan to ski back down to where the car was parked. It was pretty warm at this point, and the snow was heavy and wet — not exactly stellar conditions. After we agreed to ski down the slightly-less-vertical section of the slope, we each went down one at a time to mitigate any possible avalanche risk. Any skiing is good skiing, but our second run wasn’t as good as the first one. Eventually we all made it to the bottom and finished off another great day in the mountains with a couple of burgers and shakes at B&D; Burgers.

Days Fork is filled with avalanche terrain and can be dangerous during unstable conditions. Remember to check the Utah Avalanche Center’s report before heading out. But for those seeking a cure for their own “powder-itis,” Days Fork is worth the journey on a good day. Remember to always be prepared with a beacon, probe, shovel, a buddy or two, and a good knowledge of avalanche safety just in case. This equipment, as well as Black Diamond alpine touring setups, can be rented at the Outdoor Adventures shop in the new Student Life Center.

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