“So then what are you guys doing in Utah?” asked our friend after running through the list of typical Utah desert activities, i.e. biking, climbing, boating and hiking. I interrupted and said,”We’re skiing.”
In Colorado, the mountains are often the destination, but when visiting Utah’s canyon country they are usually relegated to the backdrop of the photos, if they even find their way there. Coloradans usually head to Utah to escape the snow and mountains, not seek it out. But with elevations exceeding 10,000 feet, the satellite ranges of Utah can actually make for pretty good skiing. And on at least a few occasions in the past, Sean and I found ourselves looking up towards the snow capped peaks from the sweltering heat of the canyons and talked about how we’d someday like to check them out. So after years of talking about it, we decided to head to Utah for a little ski road trip– and to the Henry Mountains we went.
The most dramatic feature of the Henry Mountains might not be the mountains themselves but instead their location. To their north lies the Maze, San Rafael Swell and Goblin Valley. To the west, Capitol Reef National Monument and to the south and east, Lake Powell. So as you drive towards them through the desert moonscape with a truck full of ski gear and the A/C cranking because it’s near 80 degrees outside, it feels a bit odd. Also interesting is the fact that John Wesley Powell originally named them “The Unknown Mountains” while on his historic run of the Colorado River in 1869 which was an appropriate name as this little chain of peaks is reported to be the last mountain range in the lower 48 to be mapped and surveyed.
Nowadays, the Falcon Guide to Backcountry Skiing in Utah has it pretty well dialed.
Naturally, we set our sights on the range’s highpoint, Mount Ellen. At around 11,600 feet, a 3 hour hike and skin got us up to the summit ridge where we picked a line to ski back down to camp. The skiing was good and the spring snow was much like home in that it had been hit with the dust. The terrain felt similar to Colorado, with one difference being the presence of giant ponderosa pines, something you just don’t find in Aspen.
It was awesome to finally get here. That said, we both agreed that while it was worth the visit, it wasn’t quite exciting enough to require any further exploration, though the prospect of sticking around to try and see the famed Henry Mountains buffalo herd– one of only three or four free roaming herds believed to exist in North America– was compelling. Then again, and I’ll speak for myself here, I can’t really claim to know much about tracking buffalo.
So I can finally check “Ski the Henry’s” off my list. Next stop, the Abajo Mountains.