Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Sport: Hiking & Snowboarding
Gear: Pack, Water, Snacks, Beacon, Hiking Poles, Probe, Shovel, Snowshoes and Snowboard OR Splitboard, Helmet, Goggles
Last season I took a trip out to Salt Lake City, Utah for an entire week. I can cross another state off my list! Actually, several states since we decided to do a 20 hour drive instead of taking a plane ride. Road trips, though long, always come with great memories. There are beautiful views you would not see from a plane, especially when driving through the mountains. Can’t forget about the great awkward car conversations that arise too.
For this particular trip I was traveling with two of my friends Ben & Jerry (hehe I can’t help but crack up every time I say it) who are both aggressive riders. This presented some quick learnings on my part, along with a lot of pretty funny fails. I became “the comedic relief” of the trip as Ben put it. Check out my post of “5 Things to Avoid When Snowboarding in Deep Powder” for proof, and a good laugh.
One week out in Salt Lake city is not enough time to explore all that the mountains have to offer for snowboarding. The plan was to ride both resort and backcountry during our time out there. On our third day into our trip we headed out to Big Cottonwood Canyon Utah to find some common trails for our hike. This first hike was Butler Fork Trail. Big Cottonwood Canyon offers many trails and is a very common spot to do backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
When hiking a mountain in the winter there is always a risk for avalanches. Before heading out make sure to check the avalanche rating.
Be sure to have all your avalanche safety gear. This should include a pack with a probe and shovel along with any other amenities you may need. If you have a pack compatible with an airbag, you may have that too.
You must wear a beacon! If there were to be an avalanche you need a way to be found under the snow if you get buried. Don’t forget to check the batteries before heading out as well. Since we chose to hike a common trail out in Big Cottonwood Canyon, we had some extra features you may not have. There was a beacon testing station available to ensure they are working properly before you go.
Gather your climbing gear. This will vary by sport. I snowshoed up the mountain with my GNU B-Pro on my back while Ben and Jerry used splitboards and skinned up it. If you are a skier you may skin up using your ski’s. Regardless, everyone will need poles. For those whom snowboard down you will want collapsable poles that can fold in your pack.
HIKING BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON
During the beginning portion of the hike we quickly discovered my snowshoes worked much better than their skinning up on splitboards as the snow was heavily packed and slick. They didn’t have crampons on their bindings and were sliding backwards all over the place. I had the upper-hand!
Later on though, the situation quickly changed. The path narrowed making it tough with my wide snowshoes and the pack was much less meaning I was sinking more.
About an hour into the hike I was extremely thankful for having my Camelbak Reservoir and some snickers and other goodies packed in my pack. We would take breaks and catch the views a few times along our journey up. I was also VERY thankful I worked out on the stair stepper for several weeks before this hike otherwise my legs would have been fried!
I learned a lot of techniques when approaching summit. One of which is going one at a time while zig-zagging while approaching steep parts of the mountain. This became critical when approaching summit. While doing this, making sure no one is directly below you in case the snow pack were to slide. This was much easier to do splitboarding than snowshoes as I was having a hard time on the narrow path and sinking in the fluffy snow up to my knees with each step.
It took us approximately four hours to summit. This was another first for me. I have hiked around in the mountains but never to summit and especially never in the winter with snowshoes. You get a great feeling of accomplishment once you reach summit as well that you earned those fresh lines to come.
If you are a snowboarder or skier you will understand what I mean when I say fresh lines. There is no feeling like the one you get when you carve a fresh line you earned! Knowing you hiked up, put in the work and were able to experience the beauty of the raw earth. This is something most don’t ever get to do. Resort riding, though still amazing and fun has absolutely no comparison to earning your turns in the backcountry.