When most people think of skiing in Park City, they usually think of three world-class ski resorts, Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons and Deer Valley Resort. What many people don’t realize is that Park City also has some exceptional backcountry skiing. It may not be as obvious as the granite rimmed bowls of our neighbors in the Cottonwoods, but it’s less crowded, just as beautiful, and for those staying in Park City or Kimball Junction, just out the door. Backcountry skiing in Park City, Utah is a relatively well-kept secret, but the word is slowly getting out.
When To Go Backcountry Skiing in Park City
Hands down my two favorite times of the year to go backcountry skiing are before the resorts open and after they close. I can walk out the door with my dog and skis and have access to the better part of 12,000 acres of fresh snow. Early season means skiing grass and taking the rock skis out. But it is quite beautiful, gets your ski legs under you, and the commute is about five minutes.
After April 13(ish) when the resorts close, we generally have the largest snow pack and often are still getting spring storms. So the chance of skiing pure, untracked powder is pretty good. Once the snow stops falling, say late April or early May, we often can get a corn cycle and the entire range is ripe for the picking.
Where to Go Backcountry Skiing in Park City
During the ski season when the resorts are still open, backcountry skiing in Park City looks a bit different. Because 95% of the Wasatch Back is covered in ski areas, you can’t just go whereever you want. Which is why you need to hire a guide to help get you to the right spot. Since the avalanche danger of backcountry skiing is very real, only go with an AIARE certified guide. Jans’ partners with Park City Powder Cats to offer a number of backcountry tours in the Wasatch and Uintah Mountains that will bring you back safe and sound or you can always hire a guide to take you to one of my favorite spots below.
My preferred method of backcountry skiing in Park City is to grab a Canyons’ ski pass and head out one of their backcountry gates. You get nice ride up to 10,000 ft and cut about two hours of skinning out of the equation. As mentioned above, don’t try this option alone. Hire a guide and get the most out of your day. They will know where the snow is good, safe and get you home with a smile on your face (versus heading down the wrong drainage and having to spend a night bushwhacking out - trust me it happens often).
The other backcountry skiing option is a bit harrowing, not in terms of skiing, but in terms of access. It’s called Iron Mountain and it is a designated hiking only trail. That means that it goes straight up and straight down. Going up is no problem at all, save for the people sledding down it at Mach 12and it gives you great access to a full range of backcountry options. The issue is navigating the three foot wide trail on the way down after a full day of skiing. Far too narrow to make turns down, yet long enough that you don’t want to walk down, I have tried everything from skiing down (extremely scary), skins-on skiing (the scariest option with no ability to stop) and, my personal favorite, sledding down on my butt sitting on my skis.
The last and most easily accessed backcountry skiing in Park City is Guardsman Pass. You drive up, park at the gate and then skin up the snowpacked road. While it is a long approach (only a few minutes if you have a snowmobile), the skiing can be very rewarding and the views are some of the best in the Wasatch Back. Just remember that you will be sharing the area with snowmobiles and you need to watch if you are on private property (easily done by paying attention to rope lines).
So while there are quite a few backcountry options in Park City, remember that the best times to go are early and late season. During ski season you just need some insider knowledge on where to go, but it is possible to find some great turns. And always take a professional guide along with you, unless you have been through the appropriate avalanche training certification. Know before you go and never go out without your avalanche safety gear!
By Weston Deutschlander White Pine Touring Guide & JANS Athlete Team Member