Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute

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Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute is a rite-of-passage for any Wasatch backcountry skier. The chute, located off the south ridge of Mt. Superior stares at you from Alta and beckons you to ski it. About this time last year, I watched a video of Angel Collinson and Erik Roner skiing the iconic line. It looked magical and certainly planted a seed with me.

Rise and Shine

It's still dark outside when a familiar twinkling sound softly causes me to wake.  I hear this sound every morning, letting me know that my slumber has come to an end and it's time to begin my day. But why is it still so dark? Then I remember. Chris and I decided to ski Suicide Chute before the next snow storm deemed conditions too dangerous to ride for a while. But my bed feels like the coziest place in the world at the moment; I'm warm and weightless in a swaddle of down. Please don't make me get up! Yet I do.

Our gear was all ready to go the night before. Bags packed with essentials. Shovel, beacon, probe. Helmet, goggles, gloves. Even our PB&Js are safely tucked away along with a bottle of water.  Chris begins making some oatmeal as I grind coffee for the french press to take on the road. We're efficient in our silent preparation for our day's venture and are out the door in 20 minutes. Skis and poles are thrown in the back of the truck, boots are up front with us to stay warm.

No more than 45 minutes later we pull into the upper parking lot at Snowbird. We were surprised at how quickly we made it over to Little Cottonwood Canyon from our home in Park City. When the roads are clear, the drive is smooth. Maybe too smooth. The caffeine from our coffee doesn't seem to have done much for me as we turn the engine off. I would much rather close my eyes and take a nap than step out into the cold to put hard plastic boots on my feet and a heavy pack on my back in order to climb a mountain. But, of course, I do.

Initial Approach

Before long, the alpenglo begins to illuminate our skin track. Headlamps are no longer needed to light our way, and I feel my body begin to wake up. And then... I see the mountains.

Jen Hudak Skinning Up to Suicide Chute

The last time I saw Mt. Superior covered in snow was last March. I had been a guide for Kristen Ulmer's Ski To Live camps, one of the most life-changing, perspective-framing events of my life, and was inspired to FaceTime my father from atop High-Boy at Alta. For some reason I felt that my father might never see those mountains again, and I wanted to give him the chance to see them one more time. So I called, and he answered. A lot of the time I resent the conflict of technology interfering with one's appreciation of nature, but that day I couldn't have been more grateful for the geniuses behind the internet and the iPhone. It turned out that my hunch was right, my dad passed away the following month.

Now, here I am again. Alive, and seeing this mountain shrouded in snow once again. I get to climb it and ski it. Who needs caffeine? Chris and I are the only ones on this mountain and suddenly I'm lit up with excitement and appreciation for our day. Who knows how many thousands have seen Mt. Superior before us, and how many thousands will after us, but this mountain, blanketed in this exact snow, is for our eyes only. It is changed as soon as we glide our skis across its surface and place a boot-pack in the newly fallen snow. The mountain is generous and welcoming. We are lucky to be here to enjoy its offerings.

Jen Hudak at the mouth of Suicide Chute

The Boot Pack

The approach up the apron was short and sweet. In just over an hour we began removing our skis and strapping them to our packs. Crampons went on our feet and our ice axes came out of our packs.  The boot-pack would be the brunt of this climb, so we were glad that the initial approach was so gentle.  Making one's way up Suicide Chute varies in technicality depending on what time of year you're making the approach. It's still mid-December and we haven't quite seen the effects of El Nino just yet... For us, this means that the entrance (and later, the exit) to the chute has a small ice fall (no more than 10 vertical feet) that we need to maneuver before the straight boot pack begins.

Despite some fresh snow, our feet easily find the icy surface below. Crampons were a great decision. The ice axe however, was debatable. At one point I told Chirs that I wished I had a whippet, and he replied "I wish I had another ice axe!"  The discrepancy could be due to the fact that I was using a 50 cm ice axe and his was 60 cm, but given that he's at least 10 cm taller than me, I'm not sure that reasoning is valid. Still, I had to bend over pretty far in order to find a firm surface that my iceaxe would plant on and I really didn't need to use the pick end of the ice axe at all.

Conditions were pretty easy for our approach, all-in-all. Neither one of us had serious issues with our gear, just minor details we'd like to improve upon. Jen Hudak entering Suicide Chute hike

Jen Hudak Boot-packing Suicide Chute

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Working my way the chute! Slow & steady...

It didn't take long for Chris to move well in front of me on this part of the approach.  I wasn't moving slowly, but I wasn't about to win an Olympic medal with my performance. So, I did my best to settle-in, something I've found very useful for my bouts with racing mountain bikes. Granted, I realize this chute is child's play compared to what's out there in the world, but it was still hard-work. The sound of my feet pressing through the snow and finding the ice below, served as a metronome for my thoughts. Day-dreaming about the skiing to come, reflecting on my past, letting go of my former-self step-by-step. My glutes were burning and I was sweating, but I could see the top. I could see the top for so long, and I just kept lying to myself, saying "you're almost there, Jen." My body seemed to believe me as I pressed on. Eventually that lie became truth and I stepped out of the couloir onto the saddle overlooking a view of the Salt Lake valley below.

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View of the Salt Lake Valley

Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute

The ski down always goes too quickly, yet somehow it makes the uphill well worth it. The further we worked our way up the chute, the more filled in it seemed to get.  This time, we seriously lucked out on conditions.  The skiing was a blast!  There is something that feels really exhilarating about chute skiing, even when the pitch isn't super steep. (Suicide Chute is also known as "Country Lane" because it never gets over 40 degrees). But charging between rock walls, and visibly seeing the valley floor getting closer, makes you well aware of your surroundings and your speed.

Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute

There was significant powder the entire way down, until the exit. Due to early season conditions, the chute wasn't entirely filled in. You had to be precise and calculated in your turns to avoid some rocks hidden just beneath the surface. Keeping speed under control was key.  The trickiest part was working our way through the choke at the exit. We side-stepped our way down and each did a quick jump-turn in order to straight-line the choke. It didn't exactly go as planned for either one of us, as the snow on the apron we exited onto was not ideal, but we survived. Then we got to enjoy some sweet and soft low-angle turns on our way back to the car.

I highly recommend skiing this Wasatch classic line. Be safe, get educated and only ski with partners that you know and trust. The mountains should never be taken for granted!

Gear Used:

Petzel Glacier LiteRide Ice Axe 50 cm

Under Armour Women's Nimbus GORE-TEX® Shell

Under Armour Women's Nimbus GORE-TEX Bib Pant

RAMP Sports Skis, Beaver

Backcountry Access Float 27

Black Diamond Neve Pro Crampons

POC Lobes Goggles

Backcountry Access Float 27 Tech Airbag Backpack - 1650cu in

Take The Backroads

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The Salt Lake City skyline juxtaposed against the Wasatch Mountains. Home. I have been living in Salt Lake City for 4 years now.  In that time I have found back routes from my house to locations that I frequent- the gym, Whole Foods, Sugarhouse Coffee, or Guthrie Bicycle for example.  If you were to measure the distance of my side-street-ventures, it would likely measure longer than taking the main roads, but I love my back roads.  There is less congestion, fewer traffic lights, and an ease with which I seem to flow from locale to locale.  Clearly I am not the only person who has lived in Salt Lake City for 4 years, I can't be the only person who has had the option of taking these alternate pathways, and yet, my back routes still remain full of flow and free of others.  More often than not there is uncertainty involved in choosing the backroads; they are the alternative, not the first choice, and everyone wants their first choice. It dawned on me recently that these opposing paths are much like life.

I fractured my tibial plateau just over a month ago in Russia.  In a season where I was returning from a major knee surgery the year before, getting injured again was not something that I had planned on; I suppose no one ever plans an injury, but I certainly didn't see it coming in such a flukey way, and definitely not if I was taking all the right steps in a gradual return to competition.  Last week I had a day where I was really down about having another season (my third in a row now) cut short by injury.  I asked myself, "when are you going to learn? when are you going to change so that you don't get frustrated and down?"  The reality is that we will never change; at least not completely.

There will never be a time that we are unaffected by difficult situations that arise in our lives.  We are human, and when bad things happen, it hurts.  But we can become more aware of how we handle these moments.  This awareness is what will allow us to flow through life with more ease, even when things go awry- just like my back roads.  The traffic on the main roads never really goes away, stop lights don't always stay GREEN, but if we are aware of the back roads we can begin to flow with what is happening around us.  Instead of remaining controlled by our ego, which was fixed on taking the main road, we open our eyes to other options.  When a light turns red ahead of us, we turn; where there is traffic, we get out of it.  We begin to see that there is more than one way to our destination and our future doesn't have to be exactly as we had envisioned.

Every now and again life catches up with us.  Our goals and dreams suddenly seem more daunting than motivating, we dwell on the past or fret about the future, instead of staying grounded in the present moment.  Once again this year, the path that I had outlined had taken a major detour; the future I had envisioned hadn't arrived.  The path to fulfillment is often a challenging one.  We set our heart's intent on achieving something outside of ourselves, something over which we don't have complete control.  Whether this goal is ending a war in Congo, like my friend Sean Carasso founder of the Falling Whistles Campaign for Peace, or winning an Olympic gold medal, there are only so many aspects of the pursuit that fall directly in our control.  The important part is following our hearts and creating the path along the way, remembering always that there is more than one road. For me right now, this means taking a little more time off of snow and a little more time giving my body what it needs more than anything: a break.  What does it mean for you?

"You do what you can for as long as you can, and when you finally can't, you do the next best thing. You back up, but you don't give up." - Chuck Yeager (first man to break the sound barrier)