During our visit to Solitude, Utah, it became obvious how this area got its name. It felt like we owned the entire area as we geared up to head into the back country. Our guide, Ian, looked at us with curious eyes and asked the age-old question: "What kind of skiers are you?" Having been around long enough to understand the traps of this question, I gave a conservative answer, "expert." So many times guides hear this answer and often find themselves with a free afternoon of paid-for service when their suspect can't last in the area for more than one hike. I believe our honesty was much-appreciated. As we began our hike, it was obvious we were heading into big time avalanche territory, with two slides occurring a couple days before our visit. As a precaution, we made sure all things were straight.

Jay Burke shows us the many different chute options that are only a short but tedious hike away.

"Ian", I fearfully choked, "how do you know this area won't slide?"

His response: "I manage this area daily. About two days ago, as you can see, we had two human-triggered avalanches. Because of the new snow content after the storms we've had this week, the back country has been pretty funky. We maintain this area. In the mornings we drop charges throughout the area. We truly manage this back country like it is a part of the resort. The area we are visiting today is a different facing slope than where the recent slides occurred."

It was during the third sentence of his response that I felt a little guilty asking the question. But it was obvious that we were in professional hands and that, beyond a doubt, this operation was oriented for fun.

Stunning views of our paths out of the resort as clouds wisp through the area.

Pausing, he began again.

"O.K., time for a receiver check."

Ian switched his beacon to receive and made sure we were working. Cleared to travel, we plunged on.

Truly more of a traverse than hike, we are near to the first drop in point.

The accessibility to this area is what has made this program so popular. After riding two lifts from the bottom of Solitude, we were a 'two-pole push" off into our grand traverse into several feet of epic Utah snow. What seemed even more exciting was the marketing savvy of a resort which offered a program that allows folks to buy passes to use the two lifts that can carry people directly to the back country. It's called the 10-ride ticket, and it's only $45*.

Ian Reddell, long time ski patrol, free heeling and showing us his elite qualifications.

Our day long journey headed into the terrain of Big Cottonwood Canyon. With many options, it seemed impossible to ski everything we wanted.

*Prices for 10 ride pass are for 2002/03 season and are subject to change in future years. Feature written and photographed by Phillips, February 2003. Information regarding location and details was provided by Solitude Mountain Resort.


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