Skiing Utah's Tushar Mountains

Strap on the skis and glide across wind-sculpted snow into alpine solitude.

A bitter cold evening was descending as we broke through timberline and skied up into the alpine tundra of southern Utah's Tushar Mountains. Our legs disappeared into a ground blizzard, constellations twinkled frantically overhead, and freezing wind pounded our backs. Who'd want to be anywhere else?

The tailwind gales blew us through the pass and dropped us onto the leeward side, where we made camp in a sheltered grove of lodgepole pines. Soon we were peering from deep within our cozy sleeping cocoons, watching a half-mile veil of moonlit spin-drift trail from Mt. Holly.

The next morning broke brilliant and calm. We skied across wind-sculpted snow that looked like a sea frozen in mid-hurricane, and we hiked tundra scoured jet-stream clean. As we neared the summit of Mt. Holly, several snow mounds (mountain goats) stood up and trotted along the ridge. The absence of surrounding tracks told us that the shaggy herd had slept on the peak, completely exposed to sub-zero temperatures and 80-mph winds.

Despite such magnificence, this corner of the Fishlake National Forest in southwest Utah sees little backcountry use in any season. The Tushar (TUSH-er) Range runs north from Utah Highway 153 for 20 alpine miles, from Mt. Holly through Mt. Belknap at the northern end. Along the way, the Tushars top out at Delano Peak, a suitable weekend skiing destination at 12,173 feet elevation. From its summit, you can see Belknap's southern couloir in the distance beckoning to telemarkers.

Ski conditions vary from freeze-dried gravel to excellent spring corn snow, depending on the vagaries of the post-storm winds that often rake the southwestern mountain ranges.

Contact Information:

Fishlake National Forest

Beaver Ranger District

Box E

Beaver, UT 84713

801/438-2436

Location:

The Tushar Mountains are located on the southern end of the Wasatch Plateau in southern Utah. Las Vegas and Salt Lake City are each four hours away. Nearby towns include Beaver to the west, Junction to the southeast, and Marysvale to the east. For more information on the surrounding area, call 801/438-5384.

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Getting There:

From Interstate 15 at the town of Beaver, take Utah Highway 153 (closed in winter) up Beaver Canyon to the trailhead at Elk Meadows Resort.

Seasonal Information:

There's ample snow December through mid-May, with warmer and more stable avalanche conditions from mid-March on.

Summer temperatures range from the 40s to the 70s.

Wildlife:

Rugged, forested canyons drape east and west from the crest of the range. These areas are populated by dense herds of mule deer and, consequently, well-fed cougars.

Within the past few years a small band of Rocky Mountain goats was transplanted to the Tushar Mountains. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing a goat and her kid perched high atop a windswept alpine crag.

There are also bears and mountain lions, although they don't make their presence as well known.

Insects:

Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

Much of the lower elevation land is covered with sagebrush, pinyon pine, and juniper trees. At higher elevations, meadows are interspersed with bands of aspen and conifer.

In summer, wildflowers vie for your attentions.

Facilities:

There are nine developed campgrounds of which two are suitable for large groups. Campgrounds are equipped with toilets, tables, grills, and pottable water and operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Stays are limited to 14 days.

There are also many primitive sites throughout the area. Camping at dispersed sites is limited to 16 days.

FEES

Camping ranges from free to $8 per night.

Parking:

Contact park office for information.

Permits:

No backcountry permits are required, but you are requested to contact and leave your itinerary with Elk Meadows Ski Patrol, 801/438-5433.

Policies:

Contact park office for information.

Hazards:

  • As with all high mountain ski tours, winter camping and self-rescue skills are mandatory.
  • High, open mountains capable of severe weather.
  • The terrain is appropriate for intermediate skiers.
  • Avalanche hazard is occasionally high, and there are no recorded avalanche forecasts available.

Leave No Trace:

  • Pack in, pack out.
  • The forest service prefers campers use fire rings.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

USGS 7.5-min topos "Shelly Baldy Peak" (trailhead), "Delano Peak" (most of terrain), "Mt. Brigham" (N.E., approaches) cover the area.