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Ski Utah’s "Interconnect"
This backcountry day tour connects five great Utah ski areas

I checked again that my avalanche beacon was "ON." Our small group was making the long "Highway to Heaven" ski traverse, connecting Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Solo skiers stretched out at 150-foot intervals, seemingly crawling across the slope.

Starting the long traverse, I understood the slowness. As the sweat began to roll, my ski poles fought to get a purchase in the powder bordering the slightly uphill trail. "This may be Highway to Heaven," I murmured to myself, "but the trail itself is Hell on Earth."

Highway to Heaven
Photo: Carol Garner
Photo: Park City Mountain
Resort, Lori Adamski-Peek
Breathing hard from the thirty minute traverse, I finally reached those waiting ahead. "Welcome to Heaven!" they quipped. We gazed down at steep, inviting slopes, savoring the moment when we’d drop into this powder haven. Scattered spruce and pine trees would add a little flavor to the dish. As the entire group reformed, the anticipation was almost too much to contain.

Pushing off, each skier took one or two sweet turns, then started whooping and hollering for joy. I followed suit, feeling the rush of adrenaline, floating in swooping turns between soft rebounds. We didn’t stop whooping until we finally hit some sticky conditions about half-way down into the canyon. Our guides, with perfect timing, suggested a rest stop. Making ski platforms in the snow, we sat and snacked on the goodies offered from their packs. Conversing excitedly, we all agreed, "There’s absolutely no doubt how Highway to Heaven received its name."

The Ski Utah Interconnect Adventure Tour

I started to drool when I read the description: Five ski areas in a day; a small group of no more than a dozen skiers and two guides; out-of-bounds, powder-covered slopes connecting Park City with Solitude and Brighton ski areas in Big Cottonwood Canyon; then more out-of-bounds slopes into Little Cottonwood Canyon’s ski areas, Alta and Snowbird; all capped off with a trip up Snowbird’s gondola for the final steep descent of the day.

Courtesy:  Utah Ski &Snowboard Association

It all sounded too good to be true. Then, when I saw that the price tag was not much more than the combined price of lift tickets at only three of the five ski areas covered, I jumped at the opportunity. It was frosting on the cake to learn that I could do all this so conveniently: arrive in Salt Lake City the prior evening; lodge in convenient Park City; take the day’s adventure tour; return by van to Park City in the late afternoon; then bus back to the airport that evening. This would make a great vacation day to combine with my business trip. If I liked the tour, I’d have an opportunity to repeat it with my family during our annual spring-break ski vacation in the Salt Lake area.

Park City Start

The assembled strangers in front of Jan’s Mountain Outfitters shop seemed just a little nervous as our group grew in size, awaiting the guides. At the appointed hour, 7:30 a.m., our guides arrived and got us into the spirit. We weren’t strangers for long. We introduced ourselves, received our avalanche beacons and instructions on their use, and got the rundown on the safety and communication process.

Then it was up the gondola, a warm-up run down Single Jack where the guides confirmed our skiing abilities, and an ascent up Thaynes lift to Jupiter Bowl. The glory of the Wasatch Range hit us as we ascended the Jupiter chair and gazed over at West Face, bathed in morning sunlight. Although it hadn’t snowed for three days, Jupiter Bowl still had unskied ridges of powder close to the trees.

Photo: Rita Furnanz

Into Big Cottonwood Canyon

Today, though, we didn’t have time for Jupiter Bowl itself. We took off our skis and hiked a short distance around to the back side of Scotts Bowl. The peaks of Brighton and Solitude ski areas glistened as we gazed across Big Cottonwood Canyon. Because the snow here had thawed and refrozen, the guides asked us to stay in close ranks as we skied down to Guardsman Road, a snow-covered summer access road. We stayed in file during a long cruise down the road to the base of the canyon. We then hiked a short distance to the Solitude base lodge for a welcome rest stop and lunch.

Posder skier
Photo:Fred Foto, Snowbird
Ski & Summer Resort
Jupiter Bowl
Photo: Lori Adamski-Peek,
Park City Mountain Resort
Solitude Lift
Solitude Resort

Now it was time to explore a couple of the runs at Solitude and Brighton: up the Sunrise lift: skiing over to the Summit lift; a run from the top of Summit down into Brighton and then a return to Solitude via the Sol-Bright trail, where we skated out through a beautiful glade of aspens. Reascending to the top of Summit lift, it was now time for the Highway to Heaven traverse.

Little Cottonwood Canyon’s Grande Finale

After the long traverse, the powder skiing down into Little Cottonwood Canyon was our agreed highlight of the day. But more was yet to come. We soon came upon the Alta ski area. Taking the Transfer Tow over to the Wildcat lift, we ascended and had an excitingly steep run down Wildcat Area, staying left and high as we traversed and skied down into Snowbird, joining up with the lower reaches of Snowbird’s Who Dunnit ski trail.

Now for the grande finale. We jumped into the Snowbird Tram and made the enthrallingly scenic ascent to Hidden Peak. At 11,000 feet altitude, it was our high elevation for the day. Free to choose our ski trail, some of us couldn’t pass up a descent down Cirque Traverse and Peruvian Cirque, before dropping into Primrose Path for the final, long, leg-burning mogul descent to The Cliff Lodge at the base.

Alta Ski Area
Photo: Lee Cohen, Alta Ski Area
Snowbird Tram
Photo: Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort

Not long later we all piled into the Interconnect van for the drive down Little Cottonwood Canyon and back to Park City. Fatigued, yet feeling unparallelled elation, we excitedly discussed the day of incredible scenery, great snow, the tough sections, and the last heart-pumping run down from Hidden Peak. We had veritably covered miles of terrain...all the better that it was in Utah’s "Greatest Snow on Earth." One of the skiers reminded us of the Ski Utah Interconnect advertising slogan, "If you think Utah’s resorts are incredible, you should ski what’s between them." We couldn’t have agreed more.

Click here for details to plan your own Ski Utah Interconnect Adventure Tour.

        Les Furnanz

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