Top 10 in 10 – South Face of Mt. Superior

| January 23, 2009 | 17 Comments

#10 – The South Face of Mt. Superior

If the Wasatch Mountains were to have one single classic mountain face, it would have to be the South Face of Mt. Superior.  It has been memorialized on the label of Wasatch Beers “Superior Ale” and anyone who has skied Alta or Snowbird can’t help but look up and see it.

The South Face of Mt. Superior.  It would be sacrelige and redunant to put a red route indicating line on this beauty.  Start at the pointy part and ski it to the bottom.  Note the cars on the road below for scale.

The South Face of Mt. Superior. It would be sacrilege to put a red route indicating line on this beauty. Start at the pointy part and ski it to the bottom. Note the cars on the road below for scale.

At first glance, Superior almost looks too steep to ski, but once you get a proper side view of it, most of the face is a very skiable 30-40 degrees.  It starts with a classic pointy summit, opens into a steep hanging snowfield, filters through a series of tight chutes (the crux), then hits a diagonal collector ramp which finally funnels skiers onto huge, wide open aprons.  In true Wasatch style, you can ski every last inch right to the road for a run that measures out to almost exactly 3,000′ vertical feet.

The South Face is almost like a ski area unto itself with variations like Little Superior (aka Inferior Superior), Suicide Chute (aka Country Lane), Pinball Alley and many other alternate lines.  Facing due south, it gets maximum amounts of sun, but some also has some deep dark features that, against all logic, shelter and protect pockets of powder.  It’s not uncommon to get anything from glare ice to soft powder, and everything in between, on a single run down Superior.

A video from Derek Weiss (Piton Productions) showing Superior as it should be:

 

In many ways, the South Face of Superior is the perfect antithesis of the Y-Couloir, which was the first ski descent of this project.  The Y is low elevation, north facing, narrow and sheltered, whereas the SF of Superior is high, south facing and wide open.  Oftentimes when one is good, the other will suck, as was the case today when Mother Superior was in the foulest mood I’ve ever seen her in with rocks, ice, flat light, frozen debris and rock-hard ski tracks.  To cap it off, halfway down it started to rain.  On the positive side, I had the entire slope all to myself.

The SF of Superior today - so bad it was... bad.  Flat light, rain, rocks, ice, frozen debris and low snow, yet still great just to be there.

The SF of Superior today - so bad it was... bad. Flat light, rain, rocks, ice, frozen debris and low snow, yet still great just to be there.

Superior can be ascended by going straight up the South Face (popular in the spring as alpine climbing practice), but most of the time it is summited via the shapely and aesthetic east ridge, which starts at Cardiff Pass (aka Pole Line Pass) right above the quaint hamlet (?) of Alta.  In a fat snow year, the ridge can be done entirely on skins, although most of the time there is a nice booter in for the final quarter of it.  One of my favorite sections of the entire outing occurs right near the summit where a rock rib forms a wild catwalk in the sky with big air on each side.

Kip and Courtney skinning the catwalk on a previous ascent of the east ridge of Superior.

Kip and Courtney skinning the catwalk on a previous ascent of the east ridge of Superior.

As a bit of Superior trivia, the true summit of Mt. Superior is what backcountry skiers commonly call “Monte Cristo.”  The summit that is commonly skied from is unnamed.

Tomorrow: New snow?

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Help support StraightChuter.com and ski Superior with the superior Mountain Hardwear Spearhead Mitten from Backcountry.com. Click on the photo below…
 

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About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

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  1. Superiority | Epic Riding | Grizzly Adam | March 23, 2010
  1. ron says:

    Holy Catfish Batman! that was a fun 10 days…and all I did was sit here and read about it.

  2. chris says:

    I am laid up with an injury and this series was the best vicarious pleasure a skier could ask for. Congratulations on the success of a very interesting and aesthetic “backyard” project with maximal turns.

  3. Andrew says:

    Thanks Chris – the skiing was as good as I could have hoped for and the project ended up being much more of an adventure than I had bargained on (a good thing).

  4. Ralph S. says:

    Well done. I’m glad the weather was good for the 10 in 10. We just got a nice dusting here in Idaho.

    It’s always a nice feeling to have systematic and known days/routes in front of you, but yet have variables from nature to give adventure. There might be pain, but there won’t be suffering.

  5. Congrats on the 10 in 10 Andrew and to all those that also joined in on the fun! It was fun to watch it all go down from the comfort of my sofa. =)

  6. Colin (aka SCUTSKI) says:

    Andrew, congratulations. This is my favorite feature you’ve done on here. Fine form.

  7. dan says:

    Congratulations, thanks for all the stoke!

  8. Darrell says:

    Cool! What was the total vert for the project? I’m on “light duty” and it’s fun and painful to read about skiing adventures while I wait for the Doctor’s clearance to get back into the game.

  9. Andrew says:

    Thanks everyone! That was a lot of good turns with a few bad ones thrown in for good measure.

    I was also wondering what the total vert was, especially on the last climb as my legs were getting a bit tattered. The shortest outing was about 3,200′ and the longest was 7,750′ with quite a few 5,000’ers thrown in there as well, so probably somewhere in the 45,000′ range. I’m interested in writing up a summary, so I’ll total it up more accurately later on. Regardless, I kept thinking of Greg Hill who went on a 10k per day X 10 day bender for a grand total of 100,000 a year or so ago.

  10. Jim Manos says:

    Congrats Andrew, to you and all the cast. Best show I’ve seen in years! I couldn’t wait to get home to see what happened next! Hey Fred M., say hello to us common folk next time your in town! Loved seeing you be a part of this you stud muffin!

  11. TC says:

    Great project Andrew, definitely inspiring. It’s got me thinking about a spring project like that (perhaps a wee less ambitious/smaller) around here in the Bitterroots. Keep’m coming.

  12. Bob says:

    Congrats on the 10/10. It was a great project.

  13. Jim R. says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the top 10 in 10. Your description of the lines (and your writing in general) is very good. One question though. Why do the N shots first? I would think you would want to do the S ones before the N based on both snow quality and avy danger. Thanks!

  14. Newman says:

    I second Chris’s post – I broke my leg and back in November, and this chronicle has been the most exciting part of my winter. Thanks for sharing the effort Andrew and can’t wait to get at it myself…

  15. neil says:

    Looks fantastic, wish i there!!!

  16. Eric says:

    A video of me and a buddy on Superior’s Suicide Chute

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