Posts Tagged With: boot pack

Earning it Inbounds

Earning it is an art at Alta Ski Area. And while the “earning” part of this phrase takes many forms – traversing, side stepping, boot packing – the “it” means only one thing – fresh, untracked snow.

Alta Ski Area

The “it”: Blue on white. Photo: Joe Johnson

Perched at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon and annually coated in 500″ of the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” Alta offers 2,200 acres of some of the best skiable terrain in North America. From Baldy Shoulder off of the top of Wildcat Chair to East Castle off of Supreme Chair, signature stashes call out to skiers promising first tracks and guaranteeing snow in their face.

So, why isn’t all of Alta tracked all of the time? The answer can be found in an old Alta adage – “Ain’t no side step like an Alta side step.” Translation: You gotta earn it and it ain’t easy.

Alta Ski Area

Sidestep. Photo: Joe Johnson

Every resort has its own hikes. Yet no other resort requires its skiers “earn it” quite like Alta does. Baldy’s Main Chute and Little Chute, require a sturdy bootpack that tops out at 11,500 feet in elevation. Devil’s Castle asks skiers to to participate in the traverse side step combo move. At 30+ minutes, East Castle offers up what might be the longest side step in North America. The best of the Backside is only accessible via a side step-traverse-side step-traverse. Gunsight, Eddie’s High Nowhere, the list goes on . . .

Alta Ski Area

Top of the Baldy booter. Photo: Joe Johnson

While this may turn off some skiers, it’s the reason many, including myself, love skiing at Alta. If you don’t like what’s downhill from the tips of your skis . . . just go farther. Some will call it quits too early. Others will make their way into the backcountry. Meanwhile, I’ll be making my way to the inbounds goods. Believe me, the payoff at the end is well worth the pain in the present.

Adam Clark Alta Ski Area

Kalen Thorien and Caroline Gleich enjoy the view from the top of East Castle. Photo: Adam Clark

Baldy Alta Ski Area

The view from Baldy. Photo: Joe Johnson

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What’s Your Fantasy?

From the first time I saw Fantasy Ridge, towering high above the east face of Solitude Mountain Resort’s Honeycomb Canyon, I knew that I wanted to ski it . . . I just didn’t know if I had the guts.

Fantasy Ridge as seen from Evergreen Ridge

You see, Fantasy Ridge isn’t your normal ski run.  In fact, it’s not a ski run at all.  There is no lift access.  There is no groomed terrain.  And there is certainly no easy way up or down.  It’s a bootpack, and one of the gnarliest bootpacks you’ll ever encounter.      

A section of Fantasy Ridge

Last week, after months of excuses, some good (avalanche danger) and some bad (scared stiff), I finally set out to hike Fantasy Ridge.      

Backpack and helmet – check.  Beacon – check.  New Blizzard Answer skis – Check.  No time like the present to see what they can do!  It might seem like I’m overpacking, but believe me, when skiing in the Wasatch mountain range, particularly lines like the ones off Fantasy Ridge, you’re better safe than sorry.  With all gear ready and accounted for, I left Solitude Mountain Resort’s village and caught the Sunrise chair up to the Summit chair which brought me to the south edge of Honeycomb Canyon and the base of Fantasy Ridge.     

A spiny, knife-edge ridgeline, Fantasy runs north, northeast above the Honeycomb Canyon cliffs creating chutes or “shots” 1-26.  These 26 distinct spillways are not for the faint of heart as some require mandatory airs and most feature rock lined no-fall zones.  With my skis strapped to my backpack and my beacon turned on, I stepped through the Fantasy Ridge gate and started hiking what some have called the most technical inbounds hike in North America.     

Fantasy Ridge from the Black Bess Traverse

The first pitch is pretty mellow, bringing you to the Black Bess traverse and giving you your first view of Mt. Millicent, Patsy Marley Peak and the famed Wolverine Cirque.  But from this point on, there’s no turning back.  This may sound cliche, but it’s absolutely true.  When it comes to Fantasy Ridge, turning around and trying to climb back down is much more dangerous than continuing to hike  up.      

Mt. Millicent and Wolverine Cirque

From here the hike gets interesting, and by interesting I mean down right sketchy.  For the next 10-15 minutes, you’ll climb pitches so steep that you have to use your hands (or the cable that has been bolted into the rock) to pull you up.  You’ll walk along sections of trail so narrow that there’s barely enough room for your boots to be next to each other.  You’ll tight rope your way across narrow sections of trail with steep, long drop-offs on both sides.  And you’ll inch your way around rocks that jut out into the path by holding onto a cable so you don’t take a tumble down one of Fantasy’s many rock strewn chutes.  Before I hiked Fantasy Ridge, I’d heard the stories of people freezing part way up and having to be talked down or helped down by Solitude Mountain Resort Ski Patrol.  And after hiking Fantasy Ridge I now understand why.      

Climbing the steeps of Fantasy

“Don’t drink too much coffee if you’re gonna hike Fantasy Ridge. It’s like walking a high-wire; you don’t want to shake yourself clear off.” – Kristen Ulmer, extreme skiing pioneer     

“During the hike, if you can bear to look around, you’ve already started to come to grips with the steepness. The terrain falls away on both sides, but it’s particularly intimidating on the Honeycomb side: cliffy slabs of snow hanging in space. Thus, when you get to the top, and look into the gut of the first line a hanging triangle of snow which funnels into a mandatory straightline which then dumps you out into a huge apron you are ready for steep.” – Matt Harvey, Editor, Freeskier Magazine       

The top of Fantasy - Mt. Superior in the background

But if you can conquer the climb and your fears, the end result is worth its weight in fresh, untouched tracks.  First, the view from the top is breathtaking.  On a blue bird day there’s nothing more beautiful!  Mount Superior, Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, Alta Ski Area, Silverfork, Brighton Resort, Honeycomb Canyon, Wolverine Cirque and Twin Lakes backcountry area are all visible.  Not only can you see some of the best backcountry lines the Wasatch mountain range has to offer, but because of your willingness to hike, you’re about to ski some of Solitude Mountain Resort’s best, and most advanced terrain.      

“The rowdy access deters most, if not all, of the tourists who vacation in this beautiful part of Utah, which is one reason that the lines off of the top of the ridge back down into Honeycomb Canyon stay fresh. The other reason that most of these lines stay fresh is the fact that they are steep. Very steep.” – Matt Harvey, Editor, Freeskier Magazine        

From here, the only question you have to ask yourself is, “How gnarly am I willing to go?”  Looking for mandatory airs, mandatory straight lines and super skinny chutes?  You can find all this and more in the first 10 shots.  For my inaugural Fantasy Ridge run I chose shot 12, a steep and mildly technical run in the middle of the ridge.  After dropping in and making 4-5 turns on the spring like snow, I straight lined it through a chute and into a wide apron full of untouched powder.  Pure bliss!      

Shot 12 - my first run on Fantasy

Were the turns worth the hike? Definitely! Would I do it again? In a heart beat!  In fact, I made another fantasy lap later that same day.  Is Fantasy Ridge for everyone?  Definitely NOT! If this article makes you nervous, or if you’re not completely and utterly confident in your ability to hike and ski advanced terrain, then it’s probably best to leave the fresh tracks off of Fantasy Ridge for . . . me!    

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