Adjacent to Alta Ski Resort, Grizzly Gulch provides easy access to great skiing. While perhaps not the best place to find solitude, the short approach, good snow, and variety of terrain and aspects make this drainage popular with beginners and avalanche classes. Situated at the very head of Little Cottonwood Canyon, reliable early-season snow makes this a good destination for tours before Alta opens. By mid-season, Alta plows a cat road up Grizzly Gulch for their cat-skiing operation, making the approach a cinch.
From the upper Alta parking lot, follow the cat road up the right side of the drainage. Note the narrow gully at the bottom as you climb: This is a terrain trap where avalanches occur frequently and people have been buried. The road leads to Twin Lakes Pass, with spectacular views of Mount Superior and lower Little Cottonwood Canyon just behind you. From the divide separating Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, you have several choices. To the right (south), Patsy Marley’s north-facing slopes can hold some of the best powder in the drainage. Continuing east from Twin Lakes Pass leads into Big Cottonwood Canyon. The south-facing runs just north of the pass are called Michigan City, and the west-facing runs lower in the gulch are known as Black Bess. To access these areas, follow the ridge up to the prominent high point known as Davenport Hill. From this point, it’s possible to ski north into Big Cottonwood Canyon’s Silver Fork, emerging at Solitude Ski Resort, where you can catch a bus back to Alta. This route passes through a long terrain trap below a number of slide paths.
Grizzly Gulch is rich with mining history—the few very large trees are those too gnarled and weathered to have been taken for lumber, and the prominent conical mounds in the lower end of the drainage are tailings piles. You might see local freeskiers building jumps here, where a number of film segments have been shot. Chad’s Gap and Pyramid Gap are two of the better-known spots for aerial high jinks. Chad’s Gap is a 120-foot gap between tailings piles made famous by Candide Thovex.
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.