Skiing the Bear’s Ears National Monument

The Bears Ears National Monument is known for pristine desert canyons, cedar forests, pueblo dwellings and the best crack climbing in the world. This area also includes 11,000 foot mountains with steep pine forests and a solid snowpack good for skiing.

The Abajo Peaks form the roof of the Bears Ears region
Skiing gully scraps of May on the first day. Northeast slopes would yield better skiing later on, I hoped!

This spring I ventured into these mountains with the goal of reaching the highest peak in the monument.

The first thing I discovered was that the monument as originally proposed had lost much of its edge terrain during the compromise with opponents, despite this the Bears Ears National Monument is still big at 1.3 million acres and most importantly it protected the bulk of the area from oil and gas development.

The Abajo Mountains were cut in half, with the western half being under the monument, and the eastern half left as National Forest (which has no guarantee of protection).  Going in the latter side of the month of May was a large risk because no one has written about skiing in this range at that time. There isn’t much on the Abajos anyway because the La Sal mountains nearby take the trophy for the best skiing in the area. The Abajos are a place for those of us who value solitude and who like to explore strange new lines in strange places. Most of the time in strange explorations I find contrived lines and bad snow. This time seemed like that would be the case, but I hoped not.

The mountains have landslides which turn into avalanche paths as well as bowls with gullies that can be skied. Access is fairly good as a paved road provides access to the north facing slopes. The highpoint of the monument however is not easy to access as it requires driving on steep dirt roads to get closer. This sounds fine except that dirt roads become muddy roads as they rise in elevation to wetter climates. There are many types of clay, but in some places like Dinosaur National Monument and the Bears Ears you can find some clay that will cake onto your tires and its impossible to continue uphill, even with chains, that just makes it cake even more. This mud stopped me from getting to the more convenient access from the north side of the target peak. Instead I went to plan B and skied other peaks with prime access.

Plan B turned out to be a good idea as the adventure led to good things. Read more about the ski trip here on the Winter Wildlands Alliance site.

The La Sal Mountains from the Abajos. The entire mostly pristine desert foreground is in danger of a “carpet of destruction” of gas wells and access roads.

Gas and Oil threats to Bears Ears and Southeastern Utah >

About the Skiing States Project: