Thursday, February 11, 2010

Skiing Wheeler Creek

Without a doubt, Ogden’s best easy ski touring is on the Wheeler Creek trails, below Snowbasin. While the better skiers are risking their lives on higher, avalanche-prone slopes, I find plenty of challenge--and great exercise--on twisting, narrow trails over gentler terrain.

My favorite tour, when snow conditions allowed, was to ascend the East Fork of Wheeler Creek from the Art Nord trailhead to Green Pond. After an initial 1.5-mile climb, the terrain opens out and you’re suddenly rewarded with an expansive view of Mt. Ogden and its satellite peaks. The photo above was taken from that magical spot on my very first trip up this trail, 15 years go. (That’s Jock up ahead.)

The final leg of the three-mile trail to Green Pond is now crossed by the new Snowbasin highway, which has ruined several of the old routes in the Green Pond area. So now the best option is to stop just short of the highway and descend the lovely trail along the Middle Fork of Wheeler Creek, closing a five-mile loop either on the old highway (now unplowed and groomed for skate skiers) or on the more challenging trail that parallels the highway just to the north. Ten of us went on a Sierra Club outing around this loop last Sunday, enjoying it as much as ever.

Fifteen years ago, navigating any of these trails in winter required good route-finding skills and a high tolerance for oak brush. But the Forest Service rebuilt all the trails shortly before the 2002 Olympics, clearing the brush and building excellent bridges across the many tributary creeks. Now the trails get packed down by snowshoers soon after each storm, so navigation is rarely a challenge.

The East Fork / Middle Fork loop outlines a small peninsula of public land, bordered by private land on the east, west, and south. It’s just a matter of time before those private lands will be developed with trophy homes and golf courses. The solitude and sense of remoteness will then be nearly gone, but at least the trails themselves will remain.

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