Cross-country Skiing the Uintas
When I moved to Utah from Michigan 16 or so years ago, a Nordic skiing set up was among the “essentials” I hauled across the country with me. I’ve used those skis maybe three times since then, a fact lovingly pointed out to me by my husband every time he walks into our shed. So, you can imagine my surprise when last Sunday he suggested we spend the afternoon cross-country skiing in the Uinta Mountains.
Like Utah’s famous Wasatch Mountains, the Uintas are a sub-range of the Rockies but unlike almost all other U.S. mountain ranges, run east to west rather than north to south. The Uintas’ peaks range from 11,000–13,528 feet with the highest point being Kings Peak, which is also the highest point in Utah. The Uintas gently rolling foothills are ideal terrain for both hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in winter. After packing a lunch, throwing my dusty skis in the back of the truck and stopping at REI for additional rental equipment, we headed on up.
REI’s rental shop staff recommended the Provo North Fork Trail, which turned out to be the perfect outing for our crew. The trail is a relatively flat double-track winding through Ponderosa and Lodgepole pines on its way to the North Fork of the Provo River. The altitude is about 7,500 feet. There's about 200 feet of elevation gain over the two miles of this trail. The trail can be skied as a four-mile out-and-back, or as a loop.
I fully expected our alpine-skier kids to think getting around without the help of gravity boring, but they giggled and messed around almost the entire trip and didn’t complain even once. They both fell at least 20 times – our seven-year-old probably took around 50 spills – but even then were undeterred. Overall, I’d say it was a huge success: we got some exercise, spent the afternoon outside and did something together we don't normally do. And it was very affordable: two child and one adult cross-country ski package rentals were just $23 for the day; the trail usage fee is $6 for a one to three day pass.
If you go:
- The Uintas' Mirror Lake Highway fee station is 44 miles from Salt Lake City and 16 miles from Park City. From Salt Lake take Interstate 80 east to Highway 40 toward Heber City. Exit at State Road 248 toward Kamas. (From Park City take Kearns Boulevard, which turns into S.R. 248, to Kamas.) Take a left in Kamas onto Main Street and then right onto State Road 150/Mirror Lake Highway. The Provo North Fork Trailhead is about four miles past the fee station. Parking lots are on either side of the road; we parked on the left.
- Bring cash. The Mirror Lake Highway fee station is not staffed in the winter, but the $6 fee is still required. Use the envelopes and a fee tube at the fee station.
- The Mirror Lake Highway runs through to Evanston, Wyoming but in winter is plowed to the Soapstone trailhead only, which is located about 12 miles from the Mirror Lake Highway fee station.
- The trails are not groomed in the Uintas, so if you go during or after a storm, be prepared to break trail.
- Popular groomed Nordic ski trails in the area include the Solitude Nordic Center, White Pine Touring Nordic Center and Mountain Dell.