Bald But Beautiful
When I first moved to Utah, I had one skiing goal: Alta’s Main Baldy Chute in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Having seen it on previous trips and heard rumors of it, Main Baldy was elevated to legendary status right along side of Jackson Hole’s Corbet’s Couloir. I made the mistake of sharing this desire with Alex Lowe, who immediately suggested “Let’s ski it tomorrow morning before work.” I had to hesitate a bit, as I was envisioning a more traditional approach, like waiting for one of the rare days that Alta has it open, ride the lift, boot to the top, and ski it with the rest of the world, but my male ego forced me to accept Alex’s offer. Little did I know that this event would lead to a 14 year chuting spree and my indoctrination into the Dawn Patrol Club.
With virtually no backcountry skiing experience, I followed Alex’s headlamp through the resort, up Baldy Shoulder and to the rounded namesake summit of Bald Mountain, arriving sometime around 7:00am. With its high, north facing and leeward location, Main Baldy Chute is a natural snow collector and even though it was early November, it was already completely filled in. We hung around on the summit for a while, drinking tea, watching the sunrise and ogling over all the other couloirs we could see. When it was finally time to go, Alex dug a quick pit, declared it safe and we slipped into the head of Main Baldy.
It was too good to be true.
This was one of the first runs of the year for both of us and it was thigh deep, unbroken powder down a perfectly straight, rock-lined couloir lit up with early morning alpenglow. Being much wider than it looks, there was plenty of room for two sets of tracks as we leapfrogged long sections of endless face shots right down the center of it.
The only thing that troubled this idyllic scene was a pesky snowmobiler in the valley below that seemed to be vectoring in on us as we skied the finishing apron. His first words were spoken into a radio: “Yeah, I’ve got them both.” followed by “You guys are in a lot of trouble. Do you know anything about avalanches?” How could we be in trouble? The area wasn’t even open for the season yet, and besides, as Alex said, “We dug a pit and it looked stable.”
“I know. Alta and Snowbird are sighting in their avalanche guns this morning and we’ve been watching you for the last hour. You’re lucky you didn’t get blown up.”
While perhaps it’s not worth dying for, Main Baldy Chute can be the descent of a lifetime. The trick however, is to ski it in primo conditions, which rarely happens when Alta has any say in the matter, which is whenever they are open. That leaves preseason and postseason as the prime opportunities, but don’t worry, it fills-in early, melts-out late and can collect a foot of new while the lower elevations only get 4 inches.
Bald Mountain, aka “Mt. Baldy” – Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
UTM Zone 12T Easting 445994/ Northing 4490982
Elevation – 11,049’
When the Alta resort is open, the access gate is located at the top of the Sugarloaf chairlift. From there, it is a 15 – 30 minute shuffle/boot to the top of Mt. Baldy.
When the resort is closed (be sure about this), skin up to the bottom of the Germania lift, drift to skinners right, and head for Ballroom, which is the cirque immediately below the peak. Skin as high as you can, then boot up the main couloir.
High, north-facing, 40 degrees and plenty of wind loading means that it’s a prime candidate for avalanches, so watch out. On the positive side, it sees lots of control work and skier compaction throughout the season.
The Chuting Gallery by Andrew McLean, of course.