Little Water Peak’s rounded summit sits on the ridgeline between Mill Creek Canyon and Big Cottonwood Canyon. At 9,605 feet, it may not be the tallest or the most rugged peak, but it offers a great variety of prime backcountry ski lines.
The usual approach is up Mill D North Fork, although the ambitious skier can skin up from the Big Water Trailhead in Mill Creek Canyon. Approaching from Mill Creek Canyon is not popular; just getting to the Big Water Trailhead in winter will require an additional 4.5 miles and 1,500 vertical feet of skinning from the Maple Grove gate, where the road is closed to vehicles in winter.
For touring parties with a half-day or more to burn, Little Water Peak is an attractive destination—just far enough from the road to escape some of the crowds you might encounter on Short Swing or Tom’s Hill. Heading up Mill D from the Spruces parking lot, the approach follows a road north through a group of summer cabins, veering slightly left to remain in the Mill D drainage. At a fork marked by a sign—which is completely buried in big snow years—go left to continue toward Dog Lake. From Dog Lake, a skin track ascends to the north (right), leading to Little Water Peak. On the way up, you’ll reach a false summit (Peak 9401).
Just beyond this point, several sheltered runs descend to the north on the Mill Creek Canyon side including Shangri-La, Walt’s Trees, and No Water. Beautiful moderate lines in pines and aspen glades characterize this area. While much of the terrain here is below 30 degrees, the western edge of Shangri-La was the site of a serious accident in 2008. Be aware of avalanche danger and choose your line carefully.
Continue up the ridge from Peak 9401 to the summit of Little Water Peak, which provides outstanding views of Big Cottonwood and Mill Creek canyons. From the top, exciting runs abound in all directions, conditions permitting. To the northeast is a steep face known as Fire Water, which is often wind-loaded. Low-angle runs on the open south face of Little Water offer the most direct return into Big Cottonwood Canyon, but this slope is frequently sun-crusted. Returning down the ridge toward Dog Lake, you’ll get another look at the north-facing runs mentioned above. Bear in mind that if you take one of these options, you’ll need to skin back up to Dog Lake in order to return down Mill D.
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.