Winter Dreams: Skiing the Frontside of Mount Timpanogos

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

The cold weather has moved into Utah this week and it got me dreaming of some winter adventures. One of my favorite backcountry ski lines is the frontside of Mount Timpanogos. Everyone who lives in Utah or has seen the mountain knows that it is an impressive mountain with a sustained and steep frontside. The line down the front is as aesthetic as it is fun. For years I would look at it and dream of skiing it. After a couple successful winter ascents, I finally felt comfortable hauling up skis with me and skiing down. A couple years ago I had my first ski descent and since it has become an annual tradition.


The line


Climbing Mount Timpanogos in the winter/spring is a challenging adventure that takes a lot of fitness and endurance as well as smart decision making. Having summitted many times during the winter over the last 4 years, I have also been turned back on multiple attempts by unsafe snow conditions or other safety considerations. For me, part of the appeal of this route is its physical difficulty. I like the challenge. The frontside approach is something of a "sufferfest" that involves a very long bootpack and is usually best done in the spring when the snowpack has consolidated and you can rely on a freeze/thaw cycle. You want the snow surface to be solid for the bootpack up but then soften enough for a smooth ski down. I have done ascents during the dead of winter where the snow has been unconsolidated, but it is much more physically taxing and I have not felt comfortable with the conditions to ski the massive bowls down. The best window seems to be late March to early April.


You begin the route up from the Dry Canyon Trailhead near Pleasant Grove. I usually start at 4 or 4:30 am and this puts me at the top before 11 am with the intent of skiing down shortly after. I am pretty quick on the uphill and many people start earlier and it is best not to underestimate how long it takes. Often the first couple miles will be snow free if done in the spring. I usually wear trail running shoes for the hike in and then stash them where the snow begins. The trail is a sustained uphill the whole way and is actually my least favorite part of the way up. The you follow the trail up until you get to a meadow where the trail splits and their is a sign marking the junction. At this point you should be on the snow and you will begin to head straight up the obvious ridge in front of you. You will climb until you have gained the ridge. Crampons and an ice axe are usually needed to do this safely.


Once you have gained the ridge, you will continue to climb steadily up the ridge. You will alternate from steep sections needing an ice axe and crampons to less intense sections. It is pretty straightforward and not very technical through this section. It is important to be aware of cornices and snow conditions. Keep an eye out for avalanche activity on your way up and if you are seeing signs, be smart and turn back. The mountain only gets more unforgiving as you go farther up.

Bootpackin'


As you near the top, you will get to a section known as "the step." This is a couple foot rock ledge that obstructs the ridge. You can climb up the step and through the subsequent short gullies, or if snow conditions are good you can traverse to the right and continue the steep snow climb up to the top. I have done both but prefer traversing because the conditions and subsequent difficulty of the climb up "the step" is hard to assess before committing to it. "The step" is a good area to begin your ski descent if snow conditions are not good. The section above it is very steep and has exposed rocks. So if the snow is icy or has thin coverage, it is best to ski from "the step." From here it is a short ascent to the top of the ridgeline. If you are going for the true summit, you will traverse along the ridgeline to your left (north) until you get to the hut which is about a quarter of a mile. When ready to descend, I usually put my skis on at the top of the climb and go skier's left to the top of the large bowl. There are some exposed rocks and this section is very steep, so be careful and down climb along the ridge if you need to.


The way down is a thousands of feet of beautiful and uninterrupted skiing. Go down the obvious bowl (if good snow conditions) until it starts to narrow and level out. As you get into the lower avalanche path gully, keep an eye out for some small cliffs in the gully and be looking for your way back to skier's right. You will come around a corner and see a mostly clear, terraced hillside. If you have enough speed you can ski along one of those terraces back to the path you took on the bootpack up. This leads back to the signed meadow where the bootpack began and your shoes await. Trust me, cut to the right sooner rather than later. If you miss the connection back to the bootpack you will end up lower in the gully, cliffed out, and facing a climb or bushwhack back to the trail out.

What a beautiful line


From here you'll need to pack up your skis and begin the hike back out. You'll most likely be exhausted and hungry. I always like to celebrate with some New York style pizza from Lucy's Pizza in Orem (https://www.lucysnypizza.com/). What's great is that while you enjoy the pizza, you can look out the window at the face of Timpanogos and revel in your accomplishment.


If you want to add Mount Timpanogos to your list of objectives for this coming winter, make sure you have some people to do it with. Going alone isn't as fun or as safe. Outdoorpals can help you find those people!