4/17/05 – La Sal Ski Trip ReportAfter posting on this site and TelemarkTalk and getting almost 300 “views,” I received no responses from anyone that had any info on skiing the La Sals. The Avalanche web site and phone number are done for the season, so we had nothing on current conditions. Arrived in Moab on Saturday afternoon (it was close to 80 degrees) and went to the Visitors’ Center, Poison Spider Bike shop (which sponsors the Avalanche Report), several other bike shops, and Pagan Mountaineering (strictly a rock climbing store), and was not able to get any first hand or current info. Rim Cyclery has a book of photos and route info, but no one there knew anything about current conditions. There are no ski shops in Moab, but there is a small group of local hard-core backcountry skiers.
Finally found someone that gave me a phone number of a local skier who was very helpful and gave me specific directions on finding the up skin track, and generally where to ski. Left the motel in Moab at 6:15 am, and it was already about 60 degrees. One hour drive to the trailhead on Geyser Pass Road, last 4.5 miles were dirt and frozen mud, but no problem to drive.
Trailhead is at 9,600 feet. Fairly mellow skin track climbing almost exactly 2,000 vertical along ridgeline through aspens and pines to the avalanche weather station (on a small pole you can’t see until you are almost right here) just above tree line. Climb was 2 hrs. at my old guy steady pace. At this point we were about 6,000 feet above Moab.
Since the skin track is climbed mostly in the early morning on frozen snow, it was pretty vague in places. The views were absolutely incredible. The Gold Basin peaks were right in our face, with all the red rock canyons to the west. Two guys from Steamboat at the top when we got there. They had dragged sleds into the valley and were camping for 3 nights at about 10,500. We could see their tracks coming off the tops of the surrounding peaks. Also saw two other guys climbing a west-facing chute on Mt. Mellenthin (12,646’) that was 45 degrees in places, which they were going to ski. Very little evidence of slide activity, just sun point releases from the rocks.
The weather station is on a spur ridge between Mt. Mellenthin and Mt. Peal, and there is skiing on every aspect. The number of possibilities from this one spot were amazing, both mellow and extreme. Cool wind from the south kept the snow hard until about 10:30 (hour later than usual). While we waited for the snow to soften 5 locals showed up who had also skied there the day before. We all skied the south face right from the weather station that was 30 degrees of perfect corn and 1,000 vertical down to the heart of the valley where the Steamboat guys had camped. From there the locals and Steamboat guys climbed the 1,200 northeast facing chutes on Mt. “Tuk” for a much steeper run. My wife and I decided to ski our way out the valley, and we did about a 600 foot climb up a lower west facing chute that had corned up perfectly by then.
I would highly recommend the spring skiing in the La Sals, the only problem is getting out. You cannot really ski down the up skin track. Off some north facing slopes you can ski out to the Geyser Pass Road, but the south facing skiing feeds into the central valley of Gold Basin, which is the best way to get out, but if you ski too far down you end up in a canyon. The trick is to find a track that traverses north and climbs back up to the Gold Basin Road. We got lost for a while and did not get back to the car until almost 3:00, which was just before the locals who climbed and skied at least 1,000 more verts than we did. If you go without a local I would suggest taking a GPS.
The snow should be great for at least another two weeks, and getting thin down low on any exposed areas after that. It was incredible skiing with the only drawback being (as one of the locals said) “it’s up going in and up coming out” due to the climb back to Gold Basin Road.
PM me if you want specific directions to the uptrack. It is easy to find. It’s getting back to the trailhead that gets interesting.