It’s been a few seasons since the lower elevation snowpack has been this abundant this early in the year. As I was driving home from Alta on New Years Day having skied with Jason I got looking around and was seeing coverage better than I recall in areas on Grandeur Peak, in Parleys Canyon and then near Mount Aire which sits at the mouth of Lambs Canyon. I even spied a couple of tracks down the main bowl of Mount Aire’s sub peak. Upon seeing that and the 2-3 feet that lay in on the side of the freeway I instantly started making phone calls. It was time.
Each season I patiently wait for the “foothills” or lower elevation to fill in so that I can ski the easily accessed stashes that await the patient skier. Descents like these are savored and unlike the 1500-2500′ shots in higher alpine locations skiing in the foothills has its reward. 300-600′ shots when lapped 5-6 times makes for a happy skier. But it’s not without its obstacles – scrub oak, rocks, “whippers” and other forms of deterrents keep the less dedicated or more selective skiers away.
As vigilant as I may be few are likely as passionate and cognisant of the low elevation ski possibilities as my friend Jamie, the Foothill Freak. Jamie has been “freaking” for a while and has even come up with his own Freakology to explain the art or the suffering of skiing low elevation slopes including the foothills of Salt Lake City.
So it only seemed right that I would call on Jamie as well as my cohort in crime Josh Rhea to hit Mount Aire for an “early” recon.
I say early because hitting this on January 3 could easily be the earliest I’ve ever skied it. Just the thought of actually skiing it vs. surviving it (which is a big difference) was making my head spin with the possibilities of what this season’s objectives could include should the low elevation snowpack survive and even continue to stack up.
When we met at the mount of Lambs Jamie had added Christine “aka – the Powder Princess” to the crew and we happily set out on the “trail” that Josh and I had defined through the scrub oak. It was like coming home. In spots where typically a sliver of snow was skinned across now there was a foot. Deer and moose tracks were plentiful but the ski tracks were nearly non-existant. Just the way I like it.
After contemplating the upper peak we decided to spin a couple of laps in the lower bowls. The first run was short but enjoyable on the more southerly bowl. Creamy fast powder was our reward.
A short skin to the top and we dropped into the true north facing bowl. With interstate 80 far below with commuters and passers-by a world apart we savored turn after turn of smile inducing creamy powder. Punching through the standard traverse point we continued downward into the gully which was banked on the sides like a natural luge – wide enough for consistent turns. Arriving in the aspens below I was excited to see my three ski partners arrive with gleaming smiles – giddy from the reality of skiing nearly 1000′ vertical feet in January in the “low lands”!
A short skin to the ridge, a ski down our ascent and we were back at the car along side I-80. Back to the other world we went, enlightened by the clean Aire.
Right on! Mt Aire is an awesome backcountry treat… just off the freeway!