Desert skiing is an obvious oxymoron. Sand and heat do not normally coexist with mountains and snow. The exception is in Utah where we have some of the wildest playgrounds and most diverse landscapes. Up North we have the rocky peaks of the Wasatch and down South we have the slick rock of Moab.
Two Sports in One Weekend
What many do not know is that a mere 25 miles is all that separates these dramatically different landscapes. During the right time of year and with the correct storm flows, one can jam in a two (or more) sport weekend down South. That is exactly what Shaun Raskin, a fellow White Pine Touring Guide, and myself did when we mountain biked and skied in Moab, Utah.
We loaded the truck to the limit: camping gear, firewood, skis, bikes, dog, snowmobile and a few cameras to document the madness. A short four hour drive later and the dreariness of mud season in Northern Utah faded to sunshine and 60 degree weather in Moab. On our way into town we stopped at a new(ish) trail system called Klondike Bluffs and hopped on our mountain bikes. It was a nice ride to get the season started while still being able to ride a bit of slick rock.
The beauty of Moab is that it has a diverse infrastructure of camping and lodging. You can vacation there on the cheap, or go for plush and grab a hotel in town. Shaun and I paid a mere $10 per night for a campground that kept us close to town but far enough out to enjoy the surroundings.
Skinning & Skiing in Spring Conditions
After our first day of scouting for some Southern Utah backcountry skiing, we skinned directly to our target location. A word to the wise, don’t forget your Black Diamond Glop Stopper wax when skinning in the backcountry. It is essential on those hot spring days. Going from shade to direct sunshine is really tough on the skins. Without Glop Stopper wax they can essentially become unusable.
Shaun skied a beautiful line in the sun and managed to get a few face shots dipping low on her Axl telemark bindings from TwentyTwo Designs. Next we skinned over to an area that we had skied a few years ago. It was a steep couloir with rock walls on both sides and a narrow choke about a third of the way down. This time I went up an alternate route, which was faster but did not allow me to see the conditions in the couloir.
As it turned out, the first turns into the couloir were committing and hard pack, but as I got into the shade the snow softened and began to move a bit with me. The last time I had skied this line it was during the deepest snowpack that the La Sal’s had seen in years. This time that was not the case. It was much narrower. Where I previously had been able to turn, I had to sideslip. And where I had side slipped years earlier I now had to down climb.
Taking off one’s skis in the middle of a committing couloir is not an easy feat and I had to shimmy down the narrow section. Once I had my skis back on, I continued with the descent. The snow was variable, but mostly soft. Just as I got to the main apron I had to sit down and take a rest. I have never been that tired from skiing a line in my entire life.
By now the sun was high in the sky and rapidly warming the slopes so we got out before a big slide could happen. We got back to the car and soaked in the red rock views.
After a night of sleep, we snuck in one last mountain bike ride on our way out of town. With the La Sal’s in the background, we pedaled around on Moab’s legendary slick rock. It was a fitting way to end the trip.
To view a full webisode of our weekend in Moab, check out The Life Unbound. Video footage should be posted in the next few weeks.
Weston Deutschlander, White Pine Touring Guide & Jans Athlete Team Member