Skiing the Henrys: That One Mountain Nobody goes to
By | Emma Renly
A story of hope. Of trust. Of triumph. Of skiing in the middle of the desert.
What/where/who are the Henry Mountains?
The Henry Mountains are the last mapped mountains of the lower 48. The area is located in the middle of Utah's vast deserts, around five hours south of Salt Lake City and two hours west of Moab. Very few people make the pilgrimage out to explore them—so much so the range was initially called The Unknown Mountains.
It’s overlooked by most locals and tourists because nearby destinations offer world-class versions of the same outdoor activities. There’s some hiking and some climbing, and if you arrive at the right time, some skiing too. Literally anywhere else would offer better options.
As a self-proclaimed expert at laccoliths, my goal was to ski them.
For my birthday I was able to wrestle a friend away from one of the last bluebird powder days in the Wasatch to go ski the leftover snow of The Henrys. He was apprehensive that there'd still be snow in April, but caved and brought gear on the chance that we might be able to take some turns.
Thus began our five-hour drive south on the eve of my birthday. The next morning we woke from our camping spot in Hanksville to a picturesque view of the mountains. Even from a distance there was visible snow left in the upper reaches of the mountains. As we drove up higher along the winding road more snow appeared, just enough to ski down and still deep enough to get my 4-wheel-drive truck stuck.
I called the first skiable snow we saw The 80s Patch. The small landing strip of snow was the initial line we planned on skiing.
However, when we neared the end of our approach to The 80s Patch, we only continued our scramble up. The higher we went along the ridge, the more snow appeared on the opposite side to ski down. Was it desert magic? Or was it because the west-facing slope got less sun? I say it was the latter.
As we finally reached the top of the south summit, we saw that the mountain was surrounded by an ocean of red rocks. The crystal-clear day offered a view of the San Rafael Swell, Escalante, the Colorado River, Lake Powell, La Sals and even Telluride. The only thing that could have made it better would be more snow.
Alas, it was time to make our descent down. We geared up. We shotgunned a beer. Then, we skied. The conditions were a bit crusty and snow made a chhhHCHChchchHChchchch sound, but skiing that one line was still more fun than most powder days. We were able to continue skiing right down to the snow-covered road to where my truck had gotten stuck. It was almost like a chairlift accessed run except that we had to hike for two hours.
Will I ever ski The Henrys again? Probably not. But taking some turns in the middle of the desert sure was a fun way to start off another lap around the sun.