A summertime snowpack of unheard-of proportions is making for perilous backcountry travel in parts of northern Utah.
It also promises skiing through September for those hardy enough to hike to 10,000 feet.High-altitude conditions are anything but summerlike, said Tim Garcia, recreation manager for the U.S. Forest Service's Pleasant Grove Ranger District, which includes in its jurisdiction the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness Area between Heber City and Provo.
"Hikers have been going up in tennis shoes and wind breakers without realizing it's still wintertime up there," said Garcia, who said the popular Emerald Lake Basin at about 10,000 feet elevation is still under two feet of snow. The basin is usually open by July.
This year's snowpack in Utah is several times its normal depth because of an unusually late spring.
Garcia said because of the slow melt the Forest Service is on pace to record only 70 percent of last year's estimated 20,000 to 24,000 hikers into the Timpanogos area from June through September.
In the High Uinta Wilderness Area of Duchesne County most trails are open, though Rocky Sea Pass east of Mirror Lake reportedly remained closed to all but experienced and well-equipped hikers.
At Alta Ski Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, ski patrol director Gus Gilman said access to Mount Baldy and elevations above 10,000 remained blocked. He said devoted skiers who pack their skis in have been skiing the Ballroom and Devil's Castle areas of the resort, some of them on their way toward realizing a long-cherished dream.
"Over the course of several years up here I've met people who have tried to ski every month of the year. Usually you run out of snow in September, but they're going to have it this year," said Gilman.
But downhillers best beware, cautioned Garcia, who said numerous accidents have happened this summer on Mount Timpanogos' snow-fields.
While skiers, snowboarders and sledders have taken to the summer slopes, so have less-equipped thrill-seekers, he said.
"They'll just slide down on their seats," a practice that can prove painful when obstacles surface.
"They hit rocks and stuff," said Garcia.