DEER VALLEY, Utah — Carving turns through light, puffy powder at just one of the resorts in Utah’s Wasatch Range is plenty to write home about for most skiers. But to ski six of the state’s premier areas in one day — linked by way of the backcountry — is a true coup, especially when the sky is a cloudless deep blue and untouched snow lines the bowls.
You don’t have to be an experienced mountaineer to pull this off. Schussers can navigate the route on a guided tour on the Interconnect, which starts at Deer Valley and weaves through Park City Mountain Resort, Solitude, Brighton and Alta — with dips out of bounds — before finishing at Snowbird.
I’ve skied this day-long, 25-mile route several times over the last decade, and although it wears me out, I would recommend it to any advanced-to-expert skier who likes to get off the beaten track.
If conditions are right, skiers will get thousands of vertical feet of untracked powder, a good workout and enough stunning views of craggy peaks to overload their brains. On one of my adventures, we were blessed with 10 inches of light, fluffy snow that billowed over our knees as we linked turns down the slopes. Alas, snowboarders aren’t allowed on these trips because they’re not permitted at Deer Valley and Alta resorts.
I met Dan Griffith, who has guided for Ski Utah on the Interconnect for three years, and fellow guide Bob Merrell at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Lodge, where they reviewed our route and briefed us on how to use avalanche transceivers. Then our small group, which included five other skiers, headed for warm-up runs off Bald Mountain and Flagstaff Mountain.
Though Deer Valley and Park City are contiguous, the resorts don’t share lift tickets, which means you can’t duck under the boundary rope unless you’re on the Interconnect. Griffith checked in with the ski patrol as we left Deer Valley, something he did several times that day with various ski patrols. Once inside the Park City boundary, we jumped onto a trail called Tycoon, followed by a tree run in the Black Forest area.
Primed for the backcountry, we skied to the Jupiter lift and rode it to the top of Park City, elevation 10,026 feet. There, we waited while Griffith told the ski patrol we’d be heading out the so-called Back Door into Mill F Canyon.
Once we were through the trees that hid our escape from Park City’s groomed runs and chairlifts, the terrain opened up into a vast glade of untracked snow, surrounded by tall peaks. We double-checked our avalanche beacons and set off down the slope, carving broad arcs in the powder. Then we were into the trees for more whoops, hollers and big-time fun.
We descended more than 2,000 vertical feet, ending at Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. We clicked out of our ski bindings, hoisted our skis to our shoulders and walked across the highway into the classy little Solitude Mountain Resort. After a quick break, we stepped back into our skis and skated over to the Sunrise lift.
Once on Solitude’s slopes, we got in a few runs on Paradise and Paradise Lost, as well as a few turns in the trees off Queen Bess. At the top of the Summit chair, we skied onto the Sol/Bright Trail that connects Solitude with the Brighton Ski Resort, also in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
By that time, our stomachs were beginning to growl, so we did only a few turns off Brighton’s Milly Express lift before returning to Solitude for lunch at the Last Chance Sunrise Grill. With all those runs under our belts, the tomato bisque and chicken fajitas hit the spot. We also shared stories about ski adventures in Latin America, Europe and North Africa.
Then, bellies full, we rode the Summit lift back to the top of Solitude, paid our respects to the ski patrol and began the seemingly long trudge on the out-of-bounds Highway to Heaven, which leads to the Alta resort, also in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Though the avalanche risk was low that day, we stayed about 50 feet apart just in case.
It’s not that far — only a quarter-mile or so as the crow flies — from Solitude to Alta. Trouble is, crossing the Highway to Heaven — which some wags call the Highway to Hell — means sidestepping and traversing up about 200 vertical feet (the rough equivalent of a 20-story building) across a relatively steep and exposed bowl. Add to that, you have about 12 pounds of gear (boots and skis) attached to each foot. And you’re at an elevation of 10,035 feet.
Though I’m in pretty good shape, I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath, wipe the sweat from my brow and enjoy the view. But it was well worth the effort.
Depending on the snow and the physical condition of the individual skiers, Griffith said it can take 15 to 40 minutes to do the traverse. (My group’s time was about 25 minutes.)
When we’d regrouped on the far side of the Highway to Heaven, Griffith had a glimmer in his eye.
“Want to climb some more?” he asked.
Suckers for punishment and always on the lookout for untracked powder, we tossed our skis on our shoulders and marched up an additional several hundred feet above Twin Lakes Pass.
We found some of what Griffith called “hidden lines” in a north-facing glade of trees and set off, dropping about 1,800 vertical feet through the powder and ending at Alta’s Albion base area. Because time was starting to run short, we did only a single run in the Secret Saddle area.
Then we rode the Sugarloaf lift to the top of Alta and crossed into Snowbird, the last ski resort on the Interconnect, as the daylight was beginning to fade. One by one, we dropped into Mineral Basin and headed down the Bassanova run — named for Snowbird founder Dick Bass — going off-piste a few times when the powder called.
We had one last chairlift to catch. At the bottom of Mineral Basin, we hopped on the Mineral Basin Express and rode it to the top of Hidden Peak, elevation 11,000 feet.
Then we began our descent, heading down by way of the Middle Cirque and Silver Fox runs. At the bottom of the mountain, my legs felt like jelly as we grabbed some libations and snacks at the General Gritts store and settled into our van for the 40-minute shuttle back to Deer Valley.
Within five minutes, I was asleep.