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A Perfect Day for a Tour in Grizzly Gulch

Fresh snow, blue skies, and good friends create the perfect day of touring in the Wasatch Backcountry from this popular area above Alta.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Patsy Marley Wolverine Cirque

This season has been the season of weekend-bluebird-powder days and February 4th was no different.

My buddy Max who I know from the Appalachian Trail was staying with me in Utah for the weekend and we knew we had to get out for a backcountry send together.

After skiing a day together at Snowbird on Saturday with a foot of fresh snow and the longest lines and largest crowds I’ve ever seen, we were well primed for a day of relative solitude in the backcountry.

Due to some unfortunate car troubles with my old and not-so-reliable Honda Accord from earlier in the weekend with an alternator failing, our will to get to the backcountry was tested. However, the magic of Uber coupled with the UTA Ski Bus got us up to Alta’s Goldminer’s Daughter lodge at the break of dawn.

To our surprise, an overnight sneaky storm had dropped a heaping of new snow which was confirmed by the Utah Avalanche Center’s forecast of topping 9 inches in the upper Cottonwood Canyons.

On top of the foot+ from earlier this weekend and skies as clear as day, we had the recipe for the perfect day handed to us. 

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Black Bess

After shuffling gear and warming in the lodge, we opted out of the road walk and threw on our skins right at the base of Collins and headed towards the Albion base. This fed us into the summer road and into the Gulch all while we had our backs to an incredibly colorful and lit up Mount Superior.

Max is brand new to splitboarding this year and with my limited experience of only two years now, safety was our priority.

Grizzly Gulch is an area I’m familiar with from a few tours so I had made the general plan of starting off in the Black Bess Trees and then climbing up to Twin Lakes Pass before taking the ridge towards Patsy Marley for a run down the north facing slopes.

As we progressed out of Grizzly Gulch and onto the slopes of Black Bess, we reveled in the sun hitting us on this south aspect.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Patsy Marley Black Bess

Run 1: Black Bess Trees

This is my favorite low angle terrain in the Grizzly Gulch area for touring and the last time I was on this slope it was May 13th and I was skiing it in a t-shirt.

To me, it’s the perfect low angle run.

It has few terrain traps, you can choose to ski some trees or more wide open, the pitch stays consistent around 25 degrees for about 800 vertical feet, and you get an incredible view of Mount Superior, Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, Brighton and so much of the Wasatch from the summit.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Solitude Mountain

On a clear visible day, early in the morning, with sun shining, it’s bomber.

I opted to ski down 25 yards to get in position to snap some photos of Max as he leapfrogged me.

Those first few turns you could break down to a small crust layer underneath which shortly disappeared as the less wind affected slopes came in underneath.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Black Bess

Max pulled up below me and I sent it right by him flowing smooth and fast on what was one of those all-time runs.

By the time Max got back to me powder was in his beard, tears in his eyes, and love in his heart for Utah’s “Greatest Snow on Earth”.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Black Bess Splitboarding

Run 2: Patsy Marley North into Patsy Marley Trees

Patsy Marley is one of those well-known summits for tourers in the Wasatch with its close proximity to so many runs with variable terrain.

I typically like to gain the ridge at Twin Lakes Pass to get a good view into the Wolverine Cirque and daydream lines for when the snowpack is stable and make my way towards the summit from there.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Patsy Marley Twin Lakes Pass

With the steeper terrain and some cornices on the face we decided to transition in a safe spot below the summit and tear apart the lightly touched meadow below.

I watched from above as Max took it straight through untouched clean snow that had just been kissed by the sun moments earlier.

My choice line was skiers left to equally untouched fluff before we traversed along the trees before dropping back down through the Patsy Marley Trees run.

If this section before leveling out in the Gulch was longer, it would be a favorite of mine, short and steep sections with open trees and endless lines to choose.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Patsy Marley
Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Patsy Marley

Run 3: Freeland into Michigan City

This is my first tour with a third run as I’m still working to increase the vert and Max was a champ overcoming a broken riser on his splitboard and getting adjusted to the steep switchbacks that come with climbing mountains in Utah versus the trails in Maine and New Hampshire.

We used the same skin track from earlier this morning heading up Black Bess but broke left around 9500’ towards Honeycomb Ridge.

We noticed we would have to do some down and ups to gain the true Honeycomb Ridge so ended up topping off at a new spot to the left of Black Bess Peak.

We took all the time we wanted to relax at the ridge taking view at Solitude below and seeing skiers descending into Honeycomb and snacking on some Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups as we slowly transitioned for one last time.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Black Bess Peak

Unfamiliar with this terrain, we planned our leapfrogging technique more detailed and began our descent through some incredible terrain that hovered the border of 30 degrees.

I think this was the favorite run as we went down steep meadows and small gullies that led us into the Michigan City run spitting us out close to the Chad’s Gap area.

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Alta Mount Superior

It was already 1 o’clock and the south facing snow down below was quickly warming and backcountry freestyle skiers littered the area making jumps to huck and flip.

After a few cool encounters with some groups, we shot back to the summer road through a few last good sections and hit the lot.

Absolute day to remember but I told Max, there was one thing left that we had to do that was right by the bus stop.

So we packed up our gear and walked down the road back to the Alta base and plopped down on the Goldminer’s Daughter patio and grabbed a couple Alta Bombs!

Alta Bomb Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour

Snapping a few pictures as we dunked our espresso into the plastic cup of PBR we reveled in the day we had.

It was my first tour with the Sony and I vowed it would be a regular gear item to bring again for hunting fresh lines in the Wasatch Backcountry.


Quick Links and Helpful Information:

Grizzly Gulch Ski Tour Chad's Gap Mount Superior


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