Beyond Boundary: Yurt Skiing in Utah’s High Uintas

The sled is piercing into my hips. I’m six and a half miles into Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness heading toward Boundary Creek Yurt, and from my waist, I’m pulling 40-pounds of supplies. It is rhythmic and almost monotonous…and painful. Why did we bring so many beers? I glance up at the High Uintas cloaked in snow. A light wind dusts powder off the peaks, and I gaze farther into the distance. Oh yeah…that’s why. I’m not drinking tea after we shred those stashes.

Two miles to go. The author and Mansfield trudge past the Ridge Yurt linking blue markers along the way. [Photo] Anna B. Catino

Two miles to go. The author and Mansfield trudge past the Ridge Yurt linking blue markers along the way. [Photo] Anna B. Catino

Boundary Creek Yurt is the final yurt in a string of five shelters managed by the Bear River Outdoor Recreation Alliance. Boundary is best accessed from The Lily Lake XC Touring Area in Evanston, Wyo. and is located in the High Uintas, a refuge from summer heat for Salt Lake ski bums. The Uintas are the highest east-to-west running range in the contiguous United States, and the main access, off The Mirror Lake Highway, offers stunning views of bald mountaintops reaching 11,000- to 13,000-foot peaks. A winter closure, however, morphs the highway into a snowmobiler’s paradise and deters a majority of skiers from the Uinta’s continental snowpack. Instead, Utah skiers flock to the Wasatch.

But an early-spring warm-up consolidated the typical weak layers found in the Uintas, and eight inches of mid-March snow fell right side up. So my wife, Anna, and I left the Wasatch, heading farther off the grid yet closer to home—to a yurt with untouched powder rising from its door to 11,000 feet.

The burnt forest beyond the Ridge Yurt shows remnants of a 2002 forest fire. [Photo] Anna B. Catino

The burnt forest beyond the Ridge Yurt shows remnants of a 2002 fire. [Photo] Anna B. Catino

Meandering through an aspen and pine forest, the skintrack offers solidarity, and the rhythmic pacing, a chance to tune out. Pulling the sled slows me down (something Mansfield, our Bernese Mountain dog, seems to appreciate), and Anna laughs as I gulp energy blocks and heave a sled like a track and field athlete in training.

Out of Bounds: Climbing the slopes behind Boundary Creek Yurt. [Photo] Erme Catino

Out of Bounds: Climbing the slopes behind Boundary Creek Yurt. [Photo] Erme Catino

The first four yurts don’t offer much downhill skiing. The fourth, the Ridge Yurt, is five miles from the trailhead where snowmobile access ends and we begin climbing through rolling terrain. Through the quiet serenity of a burnt forest, it’s another two miles to the Boundary Creek Yurt. It’s a carry-in/carry-out site, with a few stocked amenities and plenty of firewood ready for chopping.

A skintrack out the front door leads to powder stashes facing all aspects. But we see just one single ski track. My guess is it was a ranger checking the woodpile prior to our arrival. After getting the lay of the land, we begin working the area.

Anna Catino carving powdery goodness in the forest. [Photo] Erme Catino

Anna Catino carving powdery goodness in the forest. [Photo] Erme Catino

Rising quickly above the yurt, several switchbacks lead to a forested enclave. We tour around a few open slopes, reaching a hump halfway upslope on the nameless mountain. Thinking a few mellow steps lay ahead, my eyes are greeted to several hundred more feet of perfectly spaced pines that hold sheltered and shaded powder. We descend the main face, and then begin weaving through the forest. Anna and I take turns dropping first, splitting the north-facing gullies for 1,400 feet as Mansfield chases us in a powder bliss. Rather than racing for tracks with others, we are racing our stamina. With just three days and warmer air in the forecast, it would be a shame to let all the powder go untouched.

Long-john time is the best time, especially inside a cozy yurt. [Photo] Erme Catino

Long-john time is the best time, especially inside a cozy yurt. [Photo] Erme Catino

Ski pow, chop wood, melt snow, boil water, ski pow, drink beer, and repeat…. Life in the yurt is work yet easy living. Taking turns boiling water, drying out gear and cooking on the wood stove, we became accustomed to the yurt life. Each morning, one of us makes breakfast, then we ski a few laps. After a quick stop back at the yurt to warm up and refuel, we return for more skiing ’til dusk and closing out the day with beers on the porch. On our second night we’re greeted by a full moon that illuminates the mountains, filling the yurt through a glass ceiling window with a broad landscape painting.

Four days later, we make our way back through the burnt forests, this time with a lighter sled. Spring is making its first debut. Mansfield barks as we pass an open field that trickles with the sound of snowmelt. Perhaps she hears a bear rustling from hibernation or maybe she too is sad to leave the simple yurt life. Ski pow, chop wood, melt snow, boil water, ski pow, drink beer and repeat….

The north-facing gullies near the yurt preserve powder for days. The author slashes in for more. [Photo] Anna B. Catino

The north-facing gullies near the yurt preserve powder for days. The author slashes in for more. [Photo] Anna B. Catino

Details:

The Boundary Creek Yurt is maintained in a cooperative venture between the Forest Service and the Bear River Outdoor Recreation Alliance (brorayurts.org). Reservations can be made through the Evanston Recreation Center (307.789.1770). As with most wilderness trips, expect to file some release/trip forms, and check the Utah Avalanche Center for current weather and avalanche conditions (utahavalanchecenter.org).

 

 

Comments

  1. Hey Erme,

    I’ve reserved the “Ridge Yurt” for 3 days in early January. We’re hoping to earn some turns from that yurt and i’ve never been there. Will it be a trek from there to find good terrain daily?

    ciao,

    Jon

  2. Hey Jon,

    THere are some quick laps just under the ridge yurt, basically skiing the burnt forest. THey’re not super long, but great for a quick hit… The two miles to the boundary area is fairly quick, so you could easily hit that zone and glide back to the ridge yurt in the evening. Have fun!

    Cheers,
    Erme

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