Utah is such a hardcore skiing and snowboarding state that Utah drivers have the slogan “Greatest Snow on Earth,” written across their license plates.
Utah’s skiing and snowboarding is characterized by their abundance of light, dry snow that falls each winter. The following are five of the gnarliest runs in the state, and don’t try these runs unless you are comfortable skiing or snowboarding in tight lines down narrow chutes and extremely steep terrain with no easy or intermediate exits.
Most of these runs are surrounded by other extremely difficult runs, so there’s no going back once you’re in. If you are truly uncomfortable, ski patrol can come to the rescue. Pay attention to resort signage. If the signs say “cliff area” or “danger,” they mean it.
1. Alta’s High Rustler
For years Alta has built its reputation on the amount and quality of its powder snow and the difficulty of a few by-now legendary runs, particularly the Baldy Chutes and High Rustler. The powder, it’s true, can cause euphoria. Most of the snow clouds that are trapped in the high elevations in and around Alta have blown across the Sierras and the Great Salt Lake, which relieves them of much of their moisture. The result is a particularly light, fluffy snowfall perfect for powder skiing.
It’s also true that the High Rustler is for extremely skilled skiers only. This is one of the longest, continuously steep runs in the country. Even professional skiers have a hard time skiing top-to-bottom without stopping for a rest. The most technical part of this run is actually getting there. From the High Traverse, turn left at pass and traverse just below ridge line. Side-step or hike to the top of the knoll. Carefully make your way across exposed and barely hidden rocks, following the trail around the mountain. You’ll know High Rustler when you see it – the trail opens up to a long, long, open run that seems like it goes straight down. Make beautiful turns in the powder, and you’ll be able to admire them from the lodges below.
2. Snowbird’s Fields of Glory
On powder days, most locals will avoid the long Tram lines, opting for the Peruvian Express lift, which gets them to the good much faster. Peruvian Gulch offers expert skiing world-class skiing, in fact the Freeride World Tour holds their championship event in this section of the mountain. From the lift you can cut into the High Baldy Traverse and access the Fields of Glory, and further down, the open powder fields around BlackJack Traverse. If you do opt for the Tram, be sure take advantage of the Cirque Traverese. From there you have your pick of which side of the resort you want to ski. Drop off the ridge skier’s right for Middle Cirque, which offers small, fun chutes and steep skiing. Drop in higher, on skier’s left for Regulator Johnson, where you’ll find open, powder fields, great for arching turns. If you stay on the traverse, further down you’ll find Wilbere Bowl, which offers well-spaced, small pines, steeps and interesting terrain nuggets.
Access Gad Valley and its smaller bowls, via the Little Cloud Lift or Gad 2 Lift. Little Cloud will drop you off at the Road to Provo on skiers right off the lift. From Road to Provo you can get into the short, narrow Rasta Chutes, or stay high and head into the wide, open space of Baldy Bowl. Gad 2 Lift accesses Red Lens Line and Thunder Bowl.
For expansive bowl skiing, drop into famed Mineral Basin, which you can access from the top of Little Cloud Lift, the Tram or Peruvian Express via the Tunnel. Cliff jumpers have options in Hamilton Cliffs and Flora Cliffs, found on skier’s right side of the basin. Expert skiers looking to take it up a notch, have “extreme” options in the Bookends, which are accessed via a traverse, on skier’s right side of the bowl, and in Livin’ the Dream, which is a series of chutes on the backside of Alta’s Mount Baldy. If you’re just looking to pick your way down this gorgeous basin, then Chamonix Chutes and Lone Star are great options.
3. Powder Mountain’s Cache Bowl
Cache Bowl is like a natural terrain park, starting from a huge bowl that funnels into a feature-filled natural halfpipe and shoots you out right next to Timberline Lift. Ride up Timberline Lift and head down to the Powder Keg lodge and admire your turns from the window. How to get there: Start from Sundown lift, at the top you will head right towards the saddle to wait for a snowcat to haul you up Lightning ridge. The snowcat shuttle is just $20 per ride after you buy your day lift ticket or season pass. From the top of Lightning Ridge, head to the skiers’ right until you see an enormous bowl with some wind lips and cliffs on the right.
4. Brighton’s Mary’s Chutes
It is a totally different approach to snowboarding that makes you look at the terrain in a completely different light. Brighton’s Milly Express lift is one of the only places in Utah to ski or snowboard a pillow line. You’ll want to wait until the resort gets an epic snowstorm – at least two feet, for pillow lines to form. Take Milly Express and hang a left off the lift. The run will be right there. You can traverse a bit to find untracked powder, then navigate down chutes, spines and cliffs. Toward the bottom, merge onto the groomed trails to get back to Milly Express for another run, or take a well-deserved break at Millicent Chalet for hot chocolate.
5. Park City’s Silver King Trail
Located off Crescent Express, Silver King run and its adjacent trails offer more than just heart racing steeps. Skiers love the option of ducking into the powder covered glades or laying first tracks down onto the wide open trail. Silver King has an array of natural features and is visible from the Crescent Express so make sure your skills are in tune before taking on the challenge. Ski it right and garner respectful hoots and hollers from the chairlift above.