It’s been fairly warm the past few days, with no new snow. There was also a lot of wind last week that messed everything up, and so today we set out to ski Santaquin Peak. Our hope was that we could find North facing terrain that had been protected from both the sun and the wind. It was our first time skiing here and so we figured it was also a good time to do it because there would more likely be a skin track since it hasn’t snowed in a while. We were correct about the skin track.
Starting in Woodland Hills at Deep Forest Circle, we found skin tracks leading to the hiking trail that switch backs up the mountain. This trail is super awesome because it makes it so you completely skip any bushwhack at the beginning. And otherwise I imagine it’d be a disaster. The skin track takes you up over 1,000 feet and puts you out on an open shoulder that you can take all the way to summit Santaquin Peak.
It’s super exposed to the sun and wind here, and so we had some problems. 1. It was really hot. 2. The snow was SUPER variable. It was inconsistently either as firm as concrete or squishy enough to break though. At one point we thought it’d be faster to boot, and so we slung our skis, but only ended up taking 6 or 7 steps before we determined it was worse than skinning because you would randomly sink to you hip. Not fun.
This maybe 500 foot ascent on the steepest part of the shoulder was by far the most difficult part of the day for me. It was hard to keep traction, and I often felt like I was going to slide sideways down the mountain. My confidence in my skinning abilities was low. When we finally made it past this section, it was reasonable for the rest of the climb.
The snow stayed variable, but it was more often soft and it wasn’t as steep so we were able to move much faster. At one point on a steeper pitch, my partner decided to start booting. I was a couple hundred yards behind getting snow off my skin, and when I got to where he had started booting I kept skinning and it was WAY faster. Skinning is definitely a better way to get up the mountain if possible.
The top was a little bit spicy with a few sections that had no snow because the wind had so consistently blown it off the shoulder. There were also some huge cornices that we had to watch out for, but it was mostly consistent progress. We were just 3-400 vertical feet from the top when it was time to turn around. (I had to make it to class at 5). We made it 3734 feet.
At to the top we found a spot where there weren’t any cornices to drop in. It was super wind loaded and so we were frightened of wind slabs. When my partner dropped in I watched him closely and thankfully there were no issues with avalanches, just problems with difficult skiing. Unfortunately even on the North facing in the trees the snow was SUPER variable due to the wind. We made cautious turns down the steepest part until we were in the bottom of the bowl. It had clearly slid, and the entire bottom was a HUGE slide path.
The next 2,000 vertical descent was sketchy. You’d have a couple of descent turns and then you’d hit a weird bit of snow that would grab your ski and make it hard just to stay up right. It was more about “getting down the mountain” rather than good skiing. At a certain point it was clear that if we stayed in the trees it would get way to thick and super questionable, so we headed for the avalanche path at the bottom of the gully.
This is what we finished the rest of the descent on, and it was great because it made it so we had zero bushwhack the entire tour, which would otherwise be impossible. But it was also terrible because skiing down an avalanche path isn’t the easiest thing in the world. When my partner got to the bottom he said he had forgotten how to ski, and that it was the hardest and worst skiing of his life. It certainly was not good skiing. The views were good and it was cool to see the avalanche path, but there were very few good turns.
I’m not completely opposed to returning to the area, I think there’s some great terrain up there, and after new snow with no wind it could be really great. For me skiing down the avalanche path was difficult, but it wasn’t a complete dealbreaker. It’d also be kind of nice to actually go to the top since were close, but didn’t quite have time today.
If you want to go and ski Santaquin Peak, be prepared for a long and difficult descent, especially if it hasn’t snowed in a while.