Backcountry skiing Flagstaff Mountain

Flagstaff Mountain (also called Flagstaff Peak) is right across the road from Alta, is very visible to everyone skiing there, and is accessed by a skintrack that begins right in town. All of this makes Flagstaff arguably one of the most crowded backcountry ski areas in the country. But that's okay, because the terrain you can access from the top is worth leap-frogging with fellow skiers going after the goods.

Mike DeBernardo and Dan Finn scope out their line on a shoulder of Flagstaff Peak.

Days Fork, Reed and Benson Ridge, Emma Ridge, Davenport Hill, and Mill D South Fork are all backcountry ski areas that fan out around Flagstaff Mountain. Add a very straightforward skintrack to the top, and you've got a place full of possibilities to ski, with different aspects to choose from. If the south face is wet or crusty, you can drop into the north facing slopes of Days Fork. Emma Ridge all tracked out? Then seek out some technical skiing in the Holy Mole' Couloir.

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Getting to the top of Flagstaff may be straightforward, but the skintrack isn't always easy. Suncrust on the south-facing slopes, combined with lots of skin-clad skis sliding over it, creates icy conditions that can be challenging for novice AT skiers, especially on Flagstaff's notorious switchbacks.

Powder turns on the south face of Flagstaff Peak. Skier: Mike DeBernardo.

Once you reach the top of Flagstaff Mountain, you're treated to some of the best views in the Wasatch. You'll get your first view of the open faces and steep bowls on Days Fork in the north, and skiing laps here is one of the main reasons to summit Flagstaff. You can also access Reed and Benson Ridge with an easy traverse to the west, or you can ski the flutes and gullies that spill from Emma Ridge to the east. But sometimes when the conditions are right, or you don't have much time, skiing back down the way you came on Flagstaff's south facing slopes is the way to go. Flagstaff is especially good here during the spring corn cycle.

Dan Finn finds good turns on Flagstaff's south face, and good turns can be hard to find here.

If you go: Getting to Flagstaff Mountain is easy and obvious. Simply drive to Alta and park near the Shallow Shaft Restaurant. The skin track begins behind the Our Lady of the Snow chapel. Follow this track with the rest of the hordes toward Cardiff Pass. When you reach a fork, go right toward Flagstaff Mountain (going left will take you to Cardiff Pass beneath the powerline.) From here the track goes straight up a ridge and the steep upper slopes of the peak in a series of switchbacks.

Mike Debernardo skis high above Little Cottonwood Canyon after dropping in from Flagstaff Peak.

The slopes around Flagstaff Mountain can pose an avalanche danger, even though Alta blasts the area to protect the town and ski resort below. Even so, always check the avalanche forecast from the Utah Avalanche Center before heading out, and always bring a beacon, probe and shovel.



GPS track for a typical ski tour on Flagstaff Mountain above Alta, Utah.



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This article is by Jared Hargrave from


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