Powder Mountain hardly needs sidecountry, being blessed with ample space and precious few crowds. However, sidecountry is one thing it has a-plenty. The 7,000-acre resort is surrounded by additional skiable terrain. In fact, the resort is so very accommodating that it will help you access the backcountry via cheap snowcat rides, free shuttle bus rides, and discounted tickets for Sundown-only rides (this lift is a main point of backcountry access).
As always, check the avy forecast first, and run your itinerary by a ski patroller if you get the chance. They usually have the latest beta on conditions and safety. And ideally, you’ll bring a pal who’s a local and knows the lay of the land.
The resort’s Adventure Center, a small yurt outside the main lodge, is where you can sign up for an $18 snowcat ride to the top of Lightning Ridge. It offers hundreds of acres of exceptional, barely-tracked skiing, and as an added bonus, you end up at the bottom of an inbounds chairlift, so no hiking out is required.
Lightning Ridge is also accessible via skinning if you don’t want to fork out the dinero for a cat ride. Just follow the obvious route up the ridge, assess your options, and drop in. (Pro tip: if you want to ride the ski lift back, make sure you’ve bought your lift pass first.) With runs known as Motherlode, Candyland, and Carpe Diem, you get a sense of the contents of this delightsome powder bowl.
BACK SIDE OF BALDY
One special treat at Pow Mow is the ability to ride the Sundown Lift for $40/day. This offers inexpensive access to the cascading wonders below Mt. Baldy peak. From the top of the lift, head southward toward the peak and drop in wherever things look tastiest. These east- and south-facing runs descend 1,500 joyful feet down to the Powder Mountain Road. As long as you don’t angle too far south, you can land back at the main access road where a free (!) shuttle bus will pick you up and take you back to the upper resort. Which means you get to do it all again.
It’s pretty quick and easy to ascend James Peak by skinning from Lightning Ridge; you can find excellent moderate skiing off nearly every aspect of the peak. The only tricky question is how to get back. If you descend too far down, not only will you end up far from the resort but you’ll be in private property where they don’t love trespassing skiers.
If you ride the James Peak ridgeline northward and then drop down on the northeast face, you can scoot your way eastward at the bottom and end up at the resort’s Paradise lift. If you descend another direction from the top of James Peak, you’re probably looking at skinning back up, so short shots are a great way to farm this area without setting yourself up for a large-scale undertaking to get back.
A great resource on the Powder Mountain area’s backcountry is the book Backcountry Skiing Utah by Tyson Bradley. Get detailed info before you go, and to shred safely, always consult the Utah Avalanche Center’s detailed daily forecast.