January 18, 2017
By BCA pro athlete Weston Deutschlander
One of my favorite mid-winter ranges is the backcountry in the Uintas mountains in Utah. Last March, Shaun Raskin and I set out to try and ski far back in the Uintas using snowmobiles for the long approach. We knew we weren’t setting ourselves up to ski big lines. Skiing off the top was never in our playbook–it was supposed to be a scouting mission.
With the Uinta mountains notoriously weak continental snowpack, we usually wait until later in the spring to ski there. But due to an uncharacteristic boomer snowpack and a month plus of high pressure, we decided to go for a scouting mission. We ended up backing of the line of our dreams, but scoring major “beta” on this area for the next time.
The Uintas harbor the tallest peaks in Utah and the particular area we were skiing had peaks in the mid-12,000 feet. We had wanted to ski somewhere off of Hayden’s Peak, but we kept an open mind and itinerary knowing how far out and variable the skiing could be.
As we snowmobiled in the nearly 30 miles, we had a fresh foot of snow on the road. In the valleys that foot of snow was light and dry: we were optimistic for some good turns. Pretty quickly the skinning turned from breaking trail to breakable crust. “Yuck” would be a good descriptive term for this. As we switched from skins to bootpack, our hopes for quality skiing became more and more distant. As we crested the pass, the wind continued to pick up.
I had somewhat convinced myself that the skiing would be awful, but Shaun–ever the optimist–thought otherwise. Skiing the Uintas: We dropped into an east-northeast line and while the top 100 meters were awful, the snow quickly turned to velvety soft ‘pow’.
As we skinned up the apron of what we were both sure was the most beautiful powder line we had ever gazed upon, the snow slowly started to change. While the last chute we skied was untouched by wind, this was a little bit different. At first it started to get a bit of a wind skin on it: nothing unmanageable, but noticeable. The snow also started to have more and more texture on it. The higher we got, the more hollow feeling it got.
We slowed down. Way down. Shaun dug a hasty pit but didn’t see anything that overly stuck out. We started traveling further apart and leaving more space between us. After we regrouped in a semi-protected spot, we decided to go one at a time up to the next saddle. It was an uneasy few kick turns but once we got out of the steepest section, right by our regroup spot, the snow turned more solid and our feelings of uneasiness subsided.
Even though it was the most aesthetic thing we had ever seen, we walked away from skiing it. There were too many flags being raised; the remoteness, knowing the terrain had not seen tracks, the low snowpack of a higher elevation line, the wind, and the fresh snow. While it was a marginal epic getting down the breakable, crappy couloir we had booted up, in the end we had an #unepicadventure and walked away with a new line to ski some day.