Stretch your boundaries

Lisa Young takes a broad sweep across Utah's backcountry

High above Utah's Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Mountains, warning signs reminded me of the potential dangers ahead. They were backed up by our lead mountain guide: "Don't stop, stay on the track and keep moving, and remember to keep some distance from the person in front."

I checked my avalanche transceiver was on, then began traversing the infamous Highway to Heaven – a 1,500ft avalanche-prone backcountry route connecting Solitude to Alta ski resorts. Shuffling, we followed a ski-width path across the ridge. A slight incline made the going harder. Keeping 60ft between skiers – an avalanche safety measure – our group completed the traverse in 20 minutes. Friendlier conditions awaited and we took off, skiing through trees and powder snow.

It was early February and I was on the Ski Utah Interconnect Adventure Tour, a unique and remote off-piste day trip allowing skiers to go under the ropes and out of bounds to enjoy six of Utah's top groomed ski areas. The route cuts through the backcountry linking Deer Valley to Park City Mountain Resort, dropping in to the Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton and Solitude resorts. Then there's a traverse to the Alta ski area before finishing at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. Skiers clock up around 30 miles overall, covering 15,000 vertical feet, through fresh powder and groomed runs.

This is no tour for the timid. Walking, traversing, and the ability to ski in diverse conditions is required. And only skiers can participate, since the route passes through two ski-only resorts: Deer Valley and Alta. Spring is the best time for the tour, when the snow is more stable and the days are warmer.

We were in good hands. Our guide Bob Merrill, or "Backcountry Bob" as he is known locally, is a ski machine and an authority on snow safety. Merrill sports longish grey hair, a handlebar moustache and a bushy beard. Replace his skis with a horse and he'd resemble Colonel Custer. He was keen for us to take care off-piste. "Backcountry skiing is different. We tell people to tone it down a notch; it's not a race. Skiers need to be careful, as they'll encounter many different kinds of snow and potential hazards like tree wells and stumps that you can't see under the snow," explained Merrill. An avalanche is unlikely, but not out of the question, so we were all wearing avalanche transceivers.

Our day started at 8.30am at the Deer Valley resort: first on our list of six. After a safety talk, we headed to the top of the resort, and were kept happy warming up on beautifully groomed gentle runs. Then we moved to the western side of Deer Valley for a jaunt through the woods, skiing as a group of 11 with a guide in front and another at the back. When we reached the top of Deer Valley's Empire Canyon, we ducked under the border rope and, a few sidesteps later, we were in Park City. It was here that we experienced our first proper dose of sprawling backcountry skiing. With big smiles, we picked our line and lunged forward, gliding through the snow and sending it flying in all directions.

We skied some of the resort's 107 runs, taking the lift to McConkey's bowl, with its challenging double black diamond runs covered with big moguls. A narrow track with lots of bumps led to Solitude Mountain Resort. Unintentionally, I flew off the crest of one bump, gaining plenty of air, then landed near a tree, which I managed to arc around at the last second.

At Solitude, the third resort on our route, we swept through empty bowls before traversing to Brighton for steep backcountry descents. We crossed back into Solitude, stopping to refuel at The Last Chance Mining Camp with a lunch of soup and sandwiches (which were included in the tour price).

The bulk of the work was after lunch. Solitude's summit lift carried us to the top of the resort and to the entrance of the Highway to Heaven. It called on all of our hard-won experience to tackle the traverse along the highway over to Grizzly Gulch and down to Albion Basin in Alta. We slowly slipped along the narrow section, which was time-consuming and a bit of a workout, but it wasn't difficult.

The Alta skiing-only area is found in Little Cottonwood Canyon, just 53km from Salt Lake City. The runs were uncrowded, there were no lift queues and the terrain was steep.

Our sixth and final resort was Snowbird, also in Little Cottonwood Canyon. For our finale, we took the tram to Hidden Peak (11,000ft) at the top of the resort and a gateway to Snowbird's 85 runs. From the top of the resort to the bottom, we covered a drop of 3,240 vertical feet.

By 4pm, my legs were tired from all the steep and deep. It was time to celebrate the end of our skiing odyssey: cold beers around an outdoor fire roasting marshmallows would do the trick.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

The writer travelled with United Airlines (0845 844 4777; united.com) which flies from Heathrow to Salt Lake City via Chicago or Washington DC.

For more information on travel to the US, see page 5.

Staying there

A 10-night ski-only package from Ski Safari (01273 224060; skisafari.com) costs from £1,100 per person, which includes B&B accommodation at the Park City Peaks Hotel.

Seven nights at the four-star Sundial ski-in ski-out hotel in Canyons costs £1,285 per person.

More information

Goutah.co.uk

Skiutah.com

Discover America.com

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital