If a ski descent down 11,328-foot Winter Alta doesn't get you grinning ear-to-ear, we're not sure what will. Winter Alta, known also as Skiers Alta, is one of the gems of skiing in the Pear Lake area. In fact, it's one of the better intermediate backcountry ski runs in the Sierra. High above tree line, this north-facing bowl holds great snow during winter and offers over 2,000 feet of vertical along with stellar views and a backcountry ski hut to boot.
Located in Sequoia National Park approximately 8 miles by ski tour from Wolverton, Winter Alta rises high above the upper drainage of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River and sits to the west of the Great Western Divide. It is the lesser known but taller peak lying to the north of often climbed Alta Peak, sharing the same ridgeline.
For the pleasure of the powder seeker, Winter Alta lies within close proximity to Pear Lake Ski Hut, making it a common objective for Peak Lake skiers. While Winter Alta can feasibly be done in a single long day from Wolverton, staying at the hut or camping in the Pear Lake basin reduces the approach by 6 miles (refer to Wolverton to Pear Lake Ski Hut for route details). And with plenty of other interesting terrain to explore, you’ll likely want to spend another day or two in the area.
Note that the most straightforward ascent for Winter Alta follows a much different route than that of the Alta Peak Trail. Winter Alta is most easily accessed from Peak Lake Ski Hut, the summit lying a mere 1.75 miles away.
From the hut travel north toward the Matterhorn-like peaklet, referred to as "Matterhorn," laying a track that leaves the peaklet on your right hand side. Skin up the ridge on the right hand side, keeping the lower bowl of Winter Alta to your left. Take notice and caution of large holes that often open up later in the season within the lower bowl area, steering well clear of these on the descent. Ascend a ridge to a flat bench around 10,260 feet, approximately 1,000 feet below the summit. The safest route cuts across this bench and ascends the left side of the upper bowl to the saddle in the summit ridge.
From the summit ridge you’ll be rewarded with phenomenal views of the High Sierra and the peaks of the Great Western Divide. The safest descent option is to drop from the saddle. If avalanche hazard is minimal, you may want to take a look down the summit coulior, which offers a steeper line. As always, be sure to assess snow stability and avalanche hazard and choose your ascent route/descent line accordingly.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.