Little Superior SE Face, UT
I was hoping to somehow thread my day skiing Little Superior–what was undoubtedly one of the most incredible ski days I’ve ever had–into a wider yarn encompassing a nearly-month-long trip I took in UT/WY/MT, but I can’t really figure out a way. In light of my inability, I’ll just go ahead and share some thoughts on a trip I took back in mid January up and down Little Superior in Little Cottonwood Canyon. In case you aren’t familiar with the face, it is the big wide open expanse that you stare at (and which stares back at you) from across the street when you ski Alta or Snowbird. Here is a view of Superior cloaked in clouds as seen from Snowbird. The tram is visible in the lower left. The SE face is actually completely obscured by clouds in this shot on the right. A better view is at the end of this trip report.
Here is Superior as seen from near Flagstaff peak on the day of our trip.
The snowpack in early January 2010 was interesting…and spicy. A layer of facets near the ground was making things fairly tense across the entire Wasatch, and although many things were skiable, all backcountry travellers needed stay on their toes. Slides in these conditions don’t ask questions, and don’t offer forgiveness. North west through north east facing slopes were most prone to avalanches since they held (and rotted) the early season snow the most, but above 10,000 feet, all aspects held pockets of deep instability. The one saving grace was that there was, at that time, a deep layer of fresh snow which had been sitting exposed and unaffected for several days, and which had nearly all it’s energy baked out. This top layer was quite strong, and our working theory was that this top layer would support us and dissipate our bulb of impact, and thereby avoid having our weight be the trigger of a deep instability. From our tests and experience around other slopes in the area with a similar aspect, but with less exposure, this was true. One problem on the face of Little Superior however, is that if you happen to trigger an avalanche near the ridgeline, you are almost certainly going to be taken for a ride over a cliff and into a terrain trap where a thin early season snowpack all-but ensured a fatality. To make a long story short, we deemed the risk acceptable, and at the end of the day, our working theory on Little Superior’s snow stability verified in early January. That, or we just got dumb lucky. If anyone has any specific comments on their experiences with high elevation south east facing slopes in the Wasatch with similar conditions I’d be glad to hear them.
As we descended west, we left the Flagstaff massif, and gained the first ridge of Little Superior. After having taken in beautiful scenery on Flagstaff for several days prior to this one, I didn’t think it was possible for the scenery to improve in the Wasatch, but somehow it did. Porter ascends the first part of Little Superior.
Porter and Dwyer quickly realize we’re not on Flagstaff anymore. Skinning is more solitary and exciting up here.
Read about the author: Greg