Silence Reigns Supreme at Solitude Ski Resort

Solitude's backcountry program leads to the scenic, quiet, and extreme.
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Necessary Precautions: Avalanche control work on Utah's range (courtesy, Lee Cohen/Ski Utah)
Skin Up
Solitude provides all backcountry skiing participants with free-heel adaptors that transform alpine bindings into clunky telemarks and backcountry skins, a fabric that's sticky on one side and like coarse felt on the other, allowing you to ski uphill. But one word of caution: those with super-fat skis should make sure that the skins cover the entire bottom of their skis; climbing cat trails with skins is easy, but on variable terrain, if your skis are wider than the skins, your edges will catch and your vertical ascent will turn into a futile attempt at defying gravity. In those instances, strap the boards to the backpack and start huffing, lest you disturb the solitude with all your cursing.
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A giant could easily straddle the stretch of mountains separating Alta and Snowbird resorts from Solitude, but we mortals have to loop around the conical ridgeline before driving into Big Cottonwood Canyon toward Solitude. This scenic route from Snowbird to Solitude brushes up against civilization as the two valleys meet at the basin populated by Salt Lake City before plunging back into the serene wilderness—a drive that'll quickly expose the etymological logic of Solitude Mountain Resort.

The resort offers 1,200 in-bounds acres of wide-open bowls, glade runs, steep shoots, gentle groomers, and the V-shaped Honeycomb Valley—a region dedicated solely to black and double-black runs. These winter-fun riches are further complemented by a lack of other skiers and expansive off-piste terrain that even the timid can explore by signing up for one of the resort's backcountry tours.

Groups from one to ten skiers or 'boarders start the day by meeting up with two guides, both trained members of the resort ski patrol. You get a brief tutorial on transceivers and avalanche safety, gear up, and then take a few warm-up runs on some in-bounds slopes—ample time for the guides to assess your skill level—before heading into the wilderness.

Conditions and weather will dictate where you'll go, but a typical day starts with a lazy skin up a cat track to the Wasatch Mountains' out-of-bounds ridges. Once at the summit, you traverse along the ridgeline to the couloirs and bowls, where stashes of deep powder lie waiting in the shadows. Then, after the guides expertly assess the avalanche conditions, you drop in one at a time into the downy white, regrouping at the bottom to either trek out to another section, or to skin back up to the top of the ridge and do it all over again.

At the end of the excursion—or mid-excursion if you're game for a full-day outing—retire to the Creekside Restaurant for some well-earned grub. Just watch the number of celebratory pints; even if you've only paid for a half-day of backcountry exploration, you've got a daylong lift ticket and 1,200 in-bounds acres to explore.

Access and Resources:
Solitude Mountain Resort (www.skisolitude.com) lies 12 miles west of Salt Lake City within Big Cottonwood Canyon. The Back Tracks program accommodates up to ten people, along with two resort ski patrol guides on full- and half-day outings. Costs run $150, which includes lift passes, all necessary backcountry equipment (save skis and/or snowboards), guides, snacks, and lunch at the Creekside Restaurant. Participants should be skilled skiers/snowboarders in good physical condition. For booking information, call 801.536.5705 or email backtracks@skisolitude.com.


Published: 28 Dec 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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