Sled Zones Part II: Utah

April 4th, 2012 by

AS SEEN IN THE 2012 FREESKIER BACKCOUNTRY EDITION

MORE IN THIS SERIES:

• SLED ZONES PART I: COOKE CITY, MT

• SLED ZONES PART III: COLORADO

• SLED ZONES PART IV: WHISTLER, BC

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PHOTO: BLAKE JORGENSON — RIDER: DAN TREADWAY

The snowmobile. They don’t call it the poor man’s helicopter for nothing. In the endless search for untracked snow, no machine offers more accessibility for your money. The machines of today are bigger, wider and faster than ever, with the ability to get skiers almost anywhere the snow sticks. But sleds also offer a fast track to trouble. Aside from the inherent risks of backcountry travel, sleds lure riders into the middle of nowhere and routinely break down or get buried. And a sled is no Prius. The braap-braap of two-strokes isn’t a universally loved sound. In many circles, the fact you have skis in tow doesn’t separate you from the beer guzzling, high marking slednecks who established a culture long before sled skiing. But the rise in snowmobile accessed skiing proves that once you’ve experienced the two-stroke chairlift, odds are you’ll be sold. From Aspen to Whistler, here is a sampling of the West’s best sled zones.

 

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WORDS: KEITH CARLSEN

With seemingly endless snowmobile-accessed skiing available in Utah, it’s hard to understand why so few locals spend their winters riding two-strokes into untracked terrain. But with the ease of scoring fresh snow right off the lifts of Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, and Solitude, and the abundance of touring options in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, why take on the expense and struggle of snowmobiles? For the select few who endure the challenge, the answer is simple: pure, hardcore adventure leading into bottomless powder.

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PHOTO: NEIL PROVO — RIDER: IAN PROVO

In Central Utah, American Fork Canyon offers the most diverse access to some of the best snow in the Wasatch, where sled skiers can go from a rental shop to a put-in within 30 minutes. Drive 20 miles south of Salt Lake City on I-15, take exit 284 toward Highland Alpine, turn left on hwy 92 to Alpine, and park at Tibble Fork Reservoir. This area accesses the backside of Alta, Mineral Basin, Heber, Mary Ellen, The Twins, Guardsman, Deer Valley, and feeds into Timpanogos and Sundance. Sled Difficulty: Advanced

The most notorious sled zone in Utah is Farmington Canyon. Go 17 miles north of SLC on I-15, take the Bountiful 400 North exit and head east toward mountains. Turn left on 1300 East, which will curve around east to become the paved Skyline Drive. This road will turn right to become Eagle Ridge Drive. After about 1/10 mile, the road is no longer paved and there are parking options. The descents here are not as long as Alta and Mineral basin, but feature 40-50 miles of consistent ridge, accessing east and north facing terrain. You will never see a touring party in Farmington—this is sled-neck country, thanks to the long approach. But beware, this area gets hammered with wind, causing dangerous avalanche conditions and ice falls. That said, it has AK-style lines that challenge even the top pros.

The Uintas, in northeastern Utah, offer everything from easy terrain to advanced, expedition-style sled-skiing not for the faint of heart. You can spend a lifetime bagging peaks here—the area goes on forever, which means you can easily get lost. Don’t forget the extra cans of gasoline. Mirror Lake Highway (Hwy 150) is the main access point. From Kamas, head east on Hwy 150 for 14 miles and park at the Soapstone trailhead, where the snow plowing ends. There is a $6 parking fee and a pass is required, available at the trailhead or any gas station in town.

Remote Logan Canyon in northern Utah typically gets a lot of snow and is relatively untraveled by skiers. The sledding is advanced, and it is very popular with the turbo charged sled necking crew. The terrain is world class and comes protected by closed-lipped locals.

For the red-rock skiing experience, head to Cedar Breaks in southern Utah, which is a great spot for beginner sledders. The national monument and scenic byway are mostly a ski touring destination, but a sled cuts down the long approach. You will receive a $2,000 fine for riding off-trail. The main access point is the Midway trailhead off hwy 14 from Cedar City. No permit required.

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PHOTO: NEIL PROVO — RIDER: IAN PROVO

THE CREW

One of Utah’s most well known sled-riding duos is photographer Ian Provo and his brother Neil. They live at the western entrance to the Uintas, where Ian says, “It’s the best place in Utah to really appreciate what a snowmobile can do for you.” The Provo brothers employ map reading skills and strong sense of adventure to ski and photograph some of the most unique lines in Utah. In the world of sled skiing there is nothing more important than your team. The people you ride with will make or break your day.

But as local sled-skiing guru-photographer-skier Ian Provo puts it, even the bad days are good days: “In late January 2010, we went on our last sled ride with CR Johnson. He came out to Utah for a few weeks with his 121-inch track Ski Doo. His short-track sled served him well in the California’s dense snow, but in Utah it’s a completely different world. My brother and I broke trail up the access roads into upper basins of the Uintas where the recent storms had us in six feet of unconsolidated powder. We practically swam our sleds back down to find CR stuck in the middle of the road. We had to build him a trail up to a meadow so he could just ride around the flats. We did a lot of digging that day, but you forget about the troubles of sledding when you’re around a guy like CR just laughing your ass off as he stands in a five-foot deep trench cracking jokes about his immovable sled.”

DREAM MACHINE

Utah’s dry snow demands an 800cc or bigger machine with a long-track paddle (151” – 163”). There are major dealers for all brands of sleds in Utah, with rental options close to nearly all access points. Average cost: $150 per day. Pro skier and 10-year Utah snowmobile-skier Bryan Barlow’s machine of choice for the region: 2012 Polaris MRK 800 with 163-inch track ($11,999).

SNOW SAFETY

Every sled-skiing zone in Utah is 100-percent uncontrolled backcountry terrain. More often than not, it’s too much of the famous light and dry Utah powder that limits one from getting on top of skiable lines. Often, it’s better to wait awhile after a storm to let the snow settle. Go hit the resorts first. Then, while your friends are complaining about hard-pack conditions, snowmobile into the sublime solitude and best powder riding conditions Utah has to offer.

For more information on snowmobile-accessed skiing in Utah, visit: utah.com/snowmobile/areas.htm.

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MORE IN THIS SERIES:

• SLED ZONES PART I: COOKE CITY, MT

• SLED ZONES PART III: COLORADO

• SLED ZONES PART IV: WHISTLER, BC

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About the author:
Henrik Lampert loves hot dogs, the Boston Bruins and Norway. He's the Online Editor here at Freeskier.