Sure, it’s frigid on the Wasatch Range, but it’s also beautiful
By now you’ve probably heard enough about glamping: that eye roll-inducing portmanteau of “glamorous” and “camping.”
There are now legions of luxury camping experiences with platform tents, white linens under Pendleton blankets, maybe outdoor solar showers, plenty of staff on hand, and high-end cuisine.
In between full-on glamping and proper camping, with just a tent and some essentials to ensure your survival, is a nice middle ground and it’s how I recently stayed in the freezing tundra that is Utah’s backcountry.
The experience bordered on suffering; but in the good way, with nearly frozen beers, first-light backcountry ski missions, and some gourmet food.
Our accommodations: heated yurts. If you’ve never stayed in a yurt, winter or summer, well pal, you are missing out.
Despite temps ranging from -5 degrees F to a balmy 14 degrees F, this particular weekend was hosted by Allied Feather & Down, one of the largest down suppliers in the world for the last 30 years.
Thus, regardless of the fact that it was dumping snow where we were camping on the shores of a frozen lake in East Canyon State Park west of Salt Lake City, Utah, down pillows and comforters, and eco-friendly, water-resistant down Blue Kazoo sleeping bags from The North Face helped stave off the chill.
As we drank under the stars, socializing and sorting all the gear we would put to use the next day moving through thigh-deep Utah powder, professional ski mountaineer Caroline Gleich showed up to deliver some backcountry ski poles from Leki, a necessity for the avalanche-prone Wasatch terrain.
Tomorrow’s trek seemed light years away, especially when presented with a decadent dinner.
Allied’s director of marketing Matthew Betcher previously worked as a sous chef in a Michelin-starred eatery and cooked up a five-course survivalist-themed dinner served under the guise of military rations and winter foraging.
Starter courses like Miso Corn Soup with fresh Winter Truffles and Grilled Mackerel with Chili Tomato Sauce slid down easy, as did the main course: Tea Brined Honey Lacquered Duck Breast on Malted Pureed Potato. Not a bad meal for a bunch of frozen journalists. For a gourmet camping meal any guy could pull off, check out this recipe.
The next morning, when we reached the parking lot of Brighton Ski Area in Little Cottonwood Canyon, we geared up with some of the lightest alpine touring gear on the market: Blizzard Zero G skis mounted with the new Marker Kingpin binding, complete with new Tecnica boots.
After seeing a video of one of our ski partners pulling off a double back flip in the terrain we were about to ski the day before, plenty of those new boots began shaking.
Five guides from Utah Mountain Adventure assuaged our fears, and a quick lift ride up the face of Brighton put us within striking distance of the famed Wasatch backcountry — or what could be called a prime sidecountry expedition, given our breezy lift access and the fact that we would ski back in bounds and down to the base of neighboring Solitude Mountain Resort.
The snow was crashing down like wetted-out cotton balls. Beacons on, we skied the first pitch of untracked pow one at a time, landing us on a frozen, snow covered lake where we snacked up and transitioned, pulling skins from packs and switching boots and bindings into hike mode.
The uphill slog began with our objective barely visible in the background through the falling snow. Our mission: Twin Lakes Pass and Wolverine Cirque, a popular – yet remote – bowl of steep couloirs, where even the relatively few ski tracks already laid were quickly filling back in from the pounding snow.
That’s what ski bums call free refills.
Switching back and forth up the ridge through Heaven’s Gate, traversing one at a time to mitigate avalanche risk, we reached the top and transitioned back into ski mode.
The day would allow us two long, glorious, untracked and thigh-deep laps up and down, logging about 5,000 vertical feet in the process.
That night, as we again nestled down in goose down and settled in our canvas-wrapped, not-quite-luxury accommodations, I paused to consider all the incredible experiences I’d been afforded.
The warmth of the memories forged during the trip, augmented by the tired muscles, helped me speedily drift into a blissful slumber.
Here’s how to put a trip like this together yourself: