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The Untracked Line: Utah's Interconnect

The Untracked Line: Utah's Interconnect

Travel
By Doug Schnitzspahn
posted: 12/28/2005



The Utah Interconnect is the skiing equivalent of one of those samplers you order at a brewpub: a little taste of six of the state's bigger areas—Deer Valley, Park City, Solitude, Brighton, Alta, and Snowbird—washed down with secret backcountry powder shots on the ridges that separate the resorts. Mix it all together and you get one Euro-size über-stein of a touring experience: a one-day, whirlwind tour of the Wasatch's most famous resorts.

While you'd expect a backcountry tour to be heavy on earn-your-turns slogging, the Interconnect's biggest selling point is that, thanks to the chairlifts, there's virtually no uphill—and only one traverse of any consequence (the five- to 10-minute Highway to Heaven between Solitude and Alta). In fact, the touring is so easy that alpine-touring or telemark gear isn't even required: You can do the whole trip on alpine gear, which is ideal for backcountry newbies. But, at the same time, there are plenty of spots where you can hike up to long, lovely powder shots.

MAX ELEVATION: 11,000 feet (Hidden Peak, at the top of Snowbird)
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 3,400 (from the top of the Patsy Marley area down to Alta)
AVERAGE VERTICAL PER DAY: 10,000—20,000 feet
PRICE: $175
GETTING THERE: Tours depart from Deer Valley (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday) and Snowbird (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday). Ski Utah provides transportation back to your starting point at the end of the day.
INFO: 801-534-1907; skiutah.com

SNOWPACK
Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, and Brighton are all blessed with roughly 500 light, dry inches annually (and Park City and Deer Valley get more than 350). All that pow can create a potentially catastrophic snowpack, but the danger on the Interconnect route is minimal and the guides customize each trip according to the day's avalanche forecast.

TERRAIN HIGHLIGHTS
On-area, Snowbird's 35- to 45-degree Mineral Basin has some of the best steeps anywhere. Plus, a hike to Alta's rock-walled Baldy chutes should get your blood pumping. In the backcountry, Grizzly Gulch, between Solitude and Alta, is the main attraction—especially if your group is strong enough to hike Patsy Marley for 3,400 additional vertical feet of face shot after face shot.

WEATHER
John Clatworthy, who's been an Alta local for 27 years, puts it this way: "We get pineapples and salmons. Translation? The pineapples are wet storms from the south, which bring tons of relatively heavy snow. The salmons—big storms from the Northwest—are the legendary light, dry dumps that convert visitors into residents. You can always bet on a storm of mythic proportions sometime in March. Statistically speaking, January is your best bet.

THE GUIDES
Ski Utah employs six guides who work in teams of two and know every tree, gully, glade, and cliff on the tour. All the guides are AMGA certified and hold Level II or Level III avalanche certification.

THE LODGE
Stay slopeside at The Lodges at Deer Valley (from $560 for a two-bedroom; deervalleylodging.com). Or try Snowbird's sleek and concrete Cliff Lodge (from $239; snowbird.com).

THE CHOW
The tour includes lunch at Solitude's base area, where you can fuel up on the usual pizza, grilled meat, Red Bull, and snacks. But it's a good idea to fill the tanks at the start of the tour in Deer Valley. The breakfast buffet includes everything from eggs benedict and waffles to granola and fruit.

BANG FOR BUCK
While the Interconnect backcountry skiing is not on the level of a snowcat tour or heli trip, you'd have to go to Europe to find this type of multi-area ski experience. And even on a bad day, you're guaranteed to find untracked snow—for 175 bucks.

MUST-KNOW
The guides take groups on terrain that corresponds to their skill level. Make a reservation with a bunch of like-minded friends and you'll get more powder skiing. Ski Utah will run thhe trip with as few as three skiers.

DECEMBER 2005

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