Should I ski Alta or should I ski the backcountry? I will have my cake and eat it too, thank you very much!

After getting stood up by my backcountry ski partner on what could have been one of the coolest dawn patrols this year in Parleys Canyon (blower pow, setting moon, rising sun, super cold temps) I decided the man would have to wait another day so rather than turning for the office I headed over to Little Cottonwood Canyon at 6am, thinking I’d get in a lap on Flagstaff or Cardiff before skiing the lifts with some friends.

I rolled into the canyon to flashing message on the matrix board: “CANYON CLOSED – AVALANCHE CONTROL” After punching the steering wheel a number of times for the lack of luck that was my backcountry skiing partner who ditched me and now this, I pulled up 5th or 6th car back from the road block near the gate buttress pullout.

Hellgate Cliffs in Little Cottonwood Canyon

It was there, sitting in my car drifting in and out of sleep that I watched the sun come up. Oh it looked beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something wrong about catching the sunrise touching the peaks of the Wasatch while sitting in my car at the bottom of the canyon.

About an hour and 15 minutes later and I was on my way up the canyon. I called my buddy to tell him that I would just meet him at the lift line. It was a Snowbird bypass road day, seems that Superior had let loose from the avie control yet again.

As I’m driving by I’m taking snapshots from the car; the beauty is too good to not snap photos. I happened to catch a bit of slough coming off of the Hellgate cliffs that is along side the road from Snowbird to Alta.

As I got to the turnoff for the Alta – Wildcat lot and seeing that there are 3-4 cars in the lot I figured I’d drive up the road for a little sightseeing since it was still only 7:45 or so. That’s when I got this view:

Flagstaff - Untracked Powder in Little Cottonwood Canyon

and then this view:

Snow buried truck at Alta Ski Resort

I looked over at Alta and back at Flagstaff. That’s all it took. I was skinning. So I started off breaking trail up Flagstaff, knowing that I needed to get it quick before the sun heated things up too much for safety or comfort.

I was about a 1/3 of the way up when a guy caught me and gladly I let him take over trail breaking. We became acquainted and after a bit of skinning and chatting we decided to ski it together. We opted for the false summit take off as a way to test the slope and to get the pow before the sun did any damage. It was well worth the trail breaking.

Flagstaff - Skiing Untracked Powder in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Flagstaff - Skiing Untracked Powder in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Flagstaff - Skiing Untracked Powder in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Flagstaff - Skiing Untracked Powder in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Flagstaff - Skiing Untracked Powder in Little Cottonwood Canyon

The “plan” was that we’d ski down and I’d peal off for the resort, knowing I’d be skiing Alta by 9. But the pow was so buttery smooooooove that I needed one more lap. So we started up, this time knowing that if we made a dash for the top we may just get it before the sun did too much damage.

From the top views of the Wasatch Mountains were phenomenal. And the descent? The powder coming down was pretty schweet, although getting a bit damp on the surface.

Skiing Untracked Powder in Little Cottonwood Canyon near Alta

There aren't any lift lines here

It was worth the trip up for sure. I got back to the car, swapped out touring boots for alpine gear and I still scored some left over freshies at Alta despite the ridiculous lift lines. The Castle looked sicko but we were headed over to Rocky Point when the line of ants descended. People said it was as good as ever, which I’m sure it was. So was Flagstaff.

Ski Tracks in Little Cottonwood Canyon

About Author

Kendall has long been known for his passion of the outdoors. In the past 10 years his love for skiing, particularly backcountry skiing, has defined his pursuits. He's also been active in trail running, mountain climbing, rock climbing, ski mountaineering, cycling and has recently taken up backcountry bow hunting. Aside from writing reviews on he also reviews products on and is co-founder of

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