There’s almost always fresh turns to be had within Solitude’s resort boundaries, but those who come prepared with packs and avy gear can be amply rewarded with a jaunt into Solitude’s even less-tracked backcountry. Even as things start getting skied out in the days after a storm cycle, there’s always another nook or cranny you can lay a few more soft turns into.
As always, check the avalanche 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.
Wolverine Cirque is one of the most majestic vistas you can find in the Wasatch. Its splendor greets anyone who pauses at the Highway to Heaven gate at the top of the Summit ski lift to have a look southward. It offers a multitude of options that range from high-adrenaline, no-fall chutes to gloriously open powder fields. Getting to the top of Wolverine requires a relatively short schlep from the Highway to Heaven gate.
If the Wolverine chutes’ pucker factor is a bit high for your tastes, you can stop on Twin Lakes Pass and gaze down into Grizzly Gulch, a wonderful little side-canyon that ascends from Alta and meets up with Solitude’s periphery here. You can angle southward and drop into Grizzly from the ridge known as Patsy Marley, or skin up to the northwest and drop in from elsewhere on the ridgeline between Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons.
Either way, Grizzly Gulch is full of playful terrain features, many of which are holdovers from the canyon’s early silver mining days. (Century-old tailings piles = amazing takeoffs for jumps.) Know in advance that if you ski all the way down Grizzly, you’ll need to take a long bus ride back to Big Cottonwood Canyon to get back to your car. Or you can skin back up the way you came and return to Solitude.
The ultimate Solitude sidecountry experience is found in the form of a bootpack-able hike, Fantasy Ridge. Recommending Fantasy Ridge comes with quite a few qualifiers: the gate is only open when the snowpack is stable, and the hike is very exposed (at times, you’re walking on a knife-edge ridgeline as wide as your two boots). You need a backpack to strap your skis or board to so your hands are free for scrambling, and you darn well better know where you’re going when it comes to the descent. So if you’re prepared, okay with heights, and take the time to research your line of descent, then you’re set for adventure.
You can either ski one of the steep, narrow chutes on the ridge’s front side and end up back in the resort, or you can duck off the back side and end up in the splendid environs of Silver Fork Canyon, whose upper bowls are prime for limitless powder-farming. One of the best things about Silver Fork: you can descend all the way to the bottom of the canyon, and a quick skate or hike on its snow-covered entry road will take you right back to Solitude’s lifts.
Before you venture into the backcountry, do your research. Printed maps of the Wasatch Backcountry are available through the Utah Avalanche Center’s online shop. And Wasatch Backcountry Skiing’s website offers amazingly detailed satellite maps of the entire range, with every single backcountry run labeled. And to shred safely, always consult the Utah Avalanche Center’s detailed daily forecast.