Ski Touring American Fork Canyon

Posted by on Jan 27, 2010 in Ski, Wasatch | 7 Comments

American Fork Canyon* has some incredible backcountry skiing. However, because it resides in Utah County (far from the majority of ski tourers) and especially because of the long approaches, many requiring snow machines, AF Canyon sees minimal backcountry traffic. Recently I have started to explore its touring options because, well, I feel it is my duty and obligation, living as I do, just a few miles from the mouth of the canyon.

So far my explorations have been limited to a small portion of the Deer Creek drainage, northwest of Tibble Fork Reservoir and below the 11,000 foot Box Elder Peak. However, there is good quality skiing in this area, even at elevations as low as 7,800 feet. The “Moraine” specifically is a low angled, well anchored, southwest slope that is an excellent option for beginners, or for when the avalanche danger on steeper, northerly aspects is elevated – like it is right now.

There are two obvious drawbacks to touring in this area: The approach, and the exit. The approach consists of at least 1 hour of hiking (that’s an hour of hiking before you even start to climb your ski slope) along a benign jeep road that is often packed down from snowmobile traffic. It’s not an unpleasant walk. In fact, it’s quite scenic, even on low visibility days. But it takes time. And when time is short, a long approach means fewer turns. The exit is a snowboarder’s nightmare. Even a skier will grumble here and there trying to sidestep or boot through the flat (sometimes uphill), heavily wooded summer trail that follows the floor of the drainage.

However, both of those problems can be eliminated by either riding ones own snow machines into the Silver Lake Reservoir area, or by bribing one of the many weekend machinists who are heading to or from the lake (where they seem to drive in circles for endless hours) for a ride. Alas, if you are heading to the area at 5 AM on a weekday dawn patrol, as Aaron and I did yesterday, your chances of finding anyone at the trail head, let alone a willing taxi driver, are nill. In that case, start walking.

There are two major areas for touring in the Deer Creek drainage. Box Elder Peak, and the Three Temptations.

Box Elder Peak: Box Elder Peak can be reached from Dry Creek in Alpine, or through the North Fork of AF Canyon. There are several skiable aspects and cirques, as well as many superb looking shoulders, and chutes. None of which I have skied – yet. But nonetheless, it’s worth at least looking at the a general map of the peak, and its slopes, which offer Big Mountain lines worthy of any peak baggers trophy case.

The Three Temptations: These might be one of the best named lines in all of the Wasatch. And because my foray into this area is in its infancy, I’ve also yet to ski them properly. Although I did scratch the surface of the eastern most Temptation during yesterday’s tour. There are lines that are must-ski throughout these three drainages. However, because they all feed into terrain traps, picking those lines becomes paramount. Staying high on the ridge lines is recommended.

An access ridge of the Three Temptations is known as the Moraine. It is the most easily accessed ski slope in the entire Deer Creek basin, and is also one of the safest. Because it is a southwest aspect, the snow is often crusted. But after a storm, and before the sun has a chance to bake the surface, it offers a fine series of turns through the scrub oak. It’s a great line to cut your backcountry teeth in, and one that can be quickly lapped.

There are several more lines that I want to ski in the Deer Creek drainage, including some very nice looking northwestern aspects on the east side of Silver Lake Res. Above and beyond that there are slopes in Silver Creek, and the Major Evans and Mary Ellen Gulches that look absolutely fantastic. And this is to say nothing of upper American Fork Canyon – Mineral Basin, Dry Fork, and the distinct possibility of shots in the Forrest Lake area. While it does not have the cachet, or the amazingly short approaches of its neighbor to the north, Little Cottonwood Canyon, American Fork Canyon offers some massive backcountry terrain that is almost entirely devoid of human traffic. It is in it’s own right, world class ski terrain.

Now, I just need to find a way to eliminate that long approach…

*This is not a definitive guide, only an overview of my own observations. See here for a more formal guide book. And as always, use proper avalanche safety gear and travel protocol when venturing into the backcountry.


  1. Aaron
    January 27, 2010

    Nice write-up. So you have this “Wasatch Tours Volume 3 – The Southern Wasatch” book, right? What’s with the $60 price tag? Is it a black market book or something?

  2. KanyonKris
    January 27, 2010

    Good intro to AF Canyon skiing.

    I’ve gone up (and down) that Deer Creek (not to be confused with other nearby similar named drainages, sheesh) on snowshoes and touring skis and I agree with your assessment of the terrain. I’ve seen tracks down the headwall and that looks nice to ski.

    I noticed the moraine while snowshoeing a few weeks ago, but didn’t consider the ski potential.

    My friend bought an old $50 snowmobile and fixed it up to solve the trudge in issue.

    I’d like to get into AT skiing so each of your reports gets me excited then bummed that I’m not out there too. The price of the gear and other factors are holding me back. Maybe some day.

  3. Grizzly Adam
    January 27, 2010

    Aaron: That book is available locally for more reasonable prices. Or you can borrow mine.

    KK: One step at a time.

  4. Andrew Brautigam
    January 27, 2010

    Pugsley. Bike training, plus ski touring, plus more ice in that manly beard.

  5. bjchild
    January 27, 2010

    Cool post Adam. I was up Tibble snowshoeing on Saturday and was thinking how sweet it is to have this awesome canyon so close. I’m looking forward to exploring the areas you described.

  6. Dave
    January 28, 2010

    Adam, a snow bike would make an excellent approach vehicle for this exact situation. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

    • Grizzly Adam
      January 28, 2010

      That is really a pretty good idea.

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