Sick Inbounds Skiing at Alta’s Baldy Chutes

One of the biggest thrills for any visitor to Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, home of Alta and Snowbird ski resorts, is a chance to ski the Baldy Chutes. Together, the prominent, snow-choked couloirs on the face of Mount Baldy, comprise some of the most classic, recognizable, and exciting in-bounds ski lines in Wasatch ski country.

At a towering 11,068 feet, Mount Baldy is a massive rock that forms the distinct dividing line between Alta and Snowbird Ski Resorts. “Main Chute”, which is the widest and most popular of the 3 chutes, is about 30 feet wide with a consistent 40-degree pitch that drops for about 750 vertical feet. While there is certainly steeper and more challenging terrain in the surrounding backcountry, the chutes are a perfect opportunity to push your limits as a skier and scare yourself in-bounds. After all, you didn’t come all the way to Utah to ski groomers, did you?

The Baldy Chutes are accessible by way of a 25-40 minute hike from the top of Alta’s Sugarloaf Lift or Snowbird’s Baldy Express on the other side of the ridge. Once the bootpack has been set by ski patrol, it’s a moderate hike up Peruvian Ridge that takes you to the chutes. Depending on your level of fitness and comfort level in the high alpine, the hike to the summit might just prove to be harder than the skiing.

Adding to the appeal of the legendary Baldy Chutes is that they are open only about a dozen days each season. This is due to high avalanche danger during and immediately after a snowstorm (which to the delight of everyone in the canyon, tends to be most of the time). Once recent snowfall has had a chance to settle over a few days and ski patrol has done their job of bombing the slope, if and when weather is clear and sunny, there’s a good chance the chutes will open.

If you are staying in Little Cottonwood, you’ll probably be able to hear the sounds of avalanche blasting from the early morning hours and often throughout the day, depending on recent snowfall and weather conditions.

On February 24th, I found myself in the right place at the right time, standing at the top of the Sugarloaf Lift when Alta Ski Patrol dropped the gate and gave us the go-ahead to ski the chutes. I started up the bootpack from the Alta side to take my first shot at Baldy Main Chute this season. Once I reached the top and peered over the edge of the cornice, I knew I was in for the run of my life.

The snow was still fresh and smooth, nary a bump in sight, skies were bluebird clear and I was feeling excited to say the least. Looking back, I could see the ridgeline was getting crowded with others on their way up to ski the chutes.There was no time for pictures or a water break — I clicked into my skis, buckled my boots and got after it.

Dropping into the rock-lined walls, the snow was soft from the first turn at the top, though still black from the recent bombing. I gained confidence with each quick turn, letting my skis run, yet taking care to keep clear of the surrounding and menacing red rock. I didn’t let up — and the 40 degree pitch didn’t either. Before I knew it, i was down, looking back at the mark I left on the mountain.

I wanted to yell and scream and celebrate the killer line I just skied, but I didn’t. I didn’t need to. It was a beautiful line, on a beautiful day, in a beautiful place.

Instead I hiked back up via Peruvian Ridge and skied Pearla’s, another gnarly chute on the flanks of Mt Baldy.

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~ by SickSki on April 7, 2010.

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