April 23, 2011

A Superior Day

Mt Superior's south face. This photograph (which I took on Christmas Day) is framed and on our living room wall.

I've been wanting to ski Mt Superior's south face all season. It is, perhaps, the classic ski line in the Wasatch mountains. Head up Little Cottonwood Canyon, and you can't help just stare up at it. Its an absolutely beautiful mountain, but also a major avalanche path that can easily cover the LCC road a few times a year. From below, and from pictures, it almost looks too steep to ski.

Andrea and I both had Friday off from work. On Wednesday, she told me that she was ready to ski Superior. I was excited to hear that, and it was game on. Some new snow (but not too much) fell on Thursday, and the skies parted and the sun came out on Friday morning. Perfection.

We started from the Our Lady of the Snows chapel at 8am...

Andrea skinning towards Cardiff Peak. We gained the ridge just east of there (Cardiff Pass)

Skinning up to Cardiff Peak

From Cardiff Peak, the rest of the route to Superior (the high point) simply follows the ridge

There are a few sketchy downhills on the ridge

Pointing towards the goal

We kept the skins on until we passed the black knob (aka Little Superior), then threw the skis on our backpacks and booted the rest of the ridge

Andrea on the summit

While we were working the ridge, we saw a handful of skiers drop off the north side of the mountain, into what looked like classic light blower Utah powder. While our primary objective was the south face, the north side almost seemed too good to pass up. Luckily, some light clouds were rolling in, sheltering the south face from the direct sun rays (this time of year, your biggest concern is solar aspects heating up too quickly and increasing the wet avalanche danger, particularly on steep slopes). Since we didn't want to ski the south face in less than ideal visibility, and it was only 10am, we decided a lap off the north face would be a good warmup...

Andrea ready to drop into one of the north face chutes

Dropping the chute

Cardiac Ridge provided an amazing backdrop

Onto the apron, where we farmed PERFECT powder turns

Looking back up the north face, with our tracks down the middle (the 2 sets closest together)

The skiing on the north side was superb. Several inches of super-light powder on top of a non-breakable, but not icy, base. Andrea called it "one of the best runs I've ever done." And this was only the warmup!

We climbed back up

Andrea booting back up the east ridge to the summit

The views weren't too bad

Andrea with the Monte Cristo headwall behind her. That line is on the list for next time.

On Superior, with 3000 feet of steep skiing below me. I've been waiting for this all winter.

Here's what it looks like after the first few turns

Off the top!

The first half of the line was powder. Andrea skied it like a pro!

Andrea skiing. This gives you a good feel for the scale.

My turn

Me again. Look at that gigantic cornice hanging up above to the left!

Andrea making it look easy

Looking back up from about 2/3 of the way down

The skiing was incredible. Top half was powder. It got heavier as we got lower, and the bottom third of the line (the apron) was like skiing through cream cheese. Fast and fun! We couldn't believe we hit it in such great conditions. Perfect timing, too. Any later in the day, and it might have been too late. We triggered a handful of small loose snow and soft slab avalanches. All were easily manageable by traversing out of the way of the moving snow. But terrain management was key, and I wouldn't want to be on that slope if anything bigger was coming down.

At the road, feeling happy to have finally done this!

She was happy too!

We walked about a mile back to our car, along the road

This is a picture of what we skied, taken from the other side of the canyon. Start at the pointy tip at the top, ski to the road. Its looks intimidating and dangerous, but it was actually very straightforward and SUPER FUN!

Back at the car before noon, we took a little lunch break, and then decided that it was too beautiful outside to stop skiing...

So we skinned up to Twin Lakes Pass

And then debated climbing Wolverine (left) and skiing Stupid Chute (Andrea's idea!), but settled on Patsy Marley peak (right).

The snow off Patsy's north face was surprisingly still dry powder

Its almost May? :-)

Andrea through the trees

We skied out Grizzly Gulch, and decided that it was time to call it a day. Definitely a superior day...

...although as you'd expect, running and skiing wasn't enough, so we took our new bikes our for a spin once we got back down to the valley...

Andrea enjoying a leisurely cruise on the new mountain bikes

Playing around on some trails near home

Final thoughts on our Mt Superior debut? Honestly, its one of those things that seems intimidating when you look at it, but if you're a good skier, can assess conditions, and make good choices when it comes to terrain management, its really not that hard. Andrea and I both feel like its a really fun face to ski, and one that we're sure to repeat. Its a classic.

Lots more pictures (about 100) on my picasa site: A Superior Weekend

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