13 Feb 2017
From Brian Head Resort to the False Breaks
MacKenzie Ryan takes over @visitcedarcity
All winter I watched the swirling storms on NOAA move across Southwestern Utah with the hope that I would get to ride powder in this remote corner of the state.
Every few years there’s a storm big enough to blanket the desert, and a plethora of soul-teasing photos of skiers and snowboarders dropping into powder faces and couloirs in between towering red rock walls.
In January, the nearly nonstop storm cycle, which locals started calling Snowmaggedon, swept over Utah. More than 50 inches of powder hit Brian Head. It took a few days for heavy winds to calm and the sun to come out.
Photographer Louis Arevalo and I drove down just as the last stretch of overcast skies and snow flurries passed. We meandered up UT-143 to Brian Head Resort.
Chairlifts don’t start spinning until 9:30 am mid-week, offering two significant benefits that I truly appreciate. First, you have the chance to sleep in to a reasonable time, enjoy a nice, long breakfast, and start your day of riding at a later, warmer hour.
Second, the powder frenzy we’re so accustomed to in Salt Lake and other major ski resort epicenters simply doesn’t exist in Brian Head. The canyon traffic isn’t backed up. The parking lot isn’t overflowing to the road. People say hello as they skate into the lift line. The pace is a little bit slower, and a whole lot friendlier.
Almost immediately, we took Giant Steps up to the top, rode down to Roulette, took it back up, and went out the gate to Devo’s Pitch. This sidecountry zone has undulating, treed terrain, like a snow-covered staircase, that seemingly only a handful of people lap. We connected short shot to short shot. Cache time, I pointed it through the runout as fast as I could, inevitably ran out of speed, and then hiked up to the next run.
Except for the part near the resort boundary, this area was devoid of tracks. The only other soul we encountered was a bearded ski patroller who kindly stopped to ask if had our backcountry gear, and then freely offered us beta about where to find the best snow.
Another zone, skier’s left of Engens, had a huge swatch of completely protected trees. The light grew dim from the passing clouds. Snow and ice draped over the trees, giving the forest a Dr. Seuss-style ambience. I dropped into short-and-sweet, deep-powder line after powder line, getting faceshots well into the afternoon.
The next day, Louis and I drove from Cedar Breaks Lodge to False Breaks. The snowpack had been questionable. Between the recent snowfall and strong winds, Brian Head ski patrol had warned us to be careful taking on the chutes that pour over the False Breaks’ sandstone ridges. Still, Louis pointed out, we should go and see what it looks like.
A glance at this natural amphitheater induces a strange mix of awe, humility, mild fear and sheer excitement. Snow fills the pockets between building-size sandstone cliffs. Each exposed stretch of couloir rolls over into steep trees. Part of the amphitheater seem almost unrideable. Without substantial snow coverage, monstrous cliff bands protrude and create no-go zones. This is a place where you have to wait for the snow to fall for it to be stable and choose your lines wisely.
We skinned across a broad, shaded gulch and began our ridgeline ascent on sun-baked snow. Up and over logs, under tree branches, and around bushes, we climbed to the top of the ridge and traversed just below a building-size cliff to reach the area we hoped to ride.
In all transparency, I felt uneasy. Going into this area blind, with limited snowpack information, could be potentially dangerous. I didn’t want to take any chances. We picked a relatively safe area–a moderately steep powder face topped by two finger-like chutes–and identified where I’d need to manage my sluff.
I hiked up to the top of the ridgeline, which revealed another much smaller natural amphitheater on the backside of False Breaks. Mountains extended across the horizon, seemingly in every direction. I dropped into perfect snow, hardly able to pay attention to my snowboarding because of how uniquely beautiful this landscape was. Blood-orange buttresses flanked the right side of the face. The rest of False Breaks unfolded behind me to the left. It was unforgettable.
We rode down to the car around mid-day, and headed back up to Brian Head to get ready for night skiing. The temperatures drop into the single-digits. I hovered around the fire pit the base, intermittently warming up between afternoon riding sessions. The sky was cloudless by nightfall, giving my final twilight skiing laps a cold, beautiful alpenglow.
Written by MacKenzie Ryan (@TheRealMacKenzieRyan)