Moab river guide Carl Dec expands into backcountry skiing.
The Y-Couloir. Coalpit Headwall. Mount Superior. These are the crown jewels of backcountry skiing in the Wasatch. Like most skiers, I’ve gazed at these faces and chutes for years—sometimes before I even knew they had a proper name, let alone had been skied.
I learned more and more about this terrain from reading the venerable Chuting Gallery by Andrew McLean and from watching locals like Noah Howell, who I’d routinely bump into at the Alta Peruvian Lodge bar (the P-Dog), through his many Powderwhores films. In the past decade, I’ve ticked a few runs off my list, a lucky side perk of being an outdoor writer and maintaining a loose connection to the local ski industry.
Lacking competent friends to help arrange excursions to these challenging and difficult-to-access lines, my options to earn a safe introduction to these iconic runs were severely limited. Even if I had the funds to drop on heli-skiing, many of these gems are inaccessible to ’birds, whether due to terrain or wilderness restrictions. So, what’s a ski bum to do?
Over the past decades, a few guiding services sporadically offered tours into some of these backcountry areas, but the U.S. Forest Service is always hesitant to allow more permits. Enter Carl Dec and Red River Adventures. If you’ve ever wanted to take a raft down the whitewater of the Colorado River beneath the Fisher Towers and climb sandstone spires, or canyoneer through the narrow crevices of Arches National Park’s Fiery Furnace, a call to Southern Utah’s famed Red River Adventures is the only one to make.
As the head honcho for Red River team, Dec recently expanded from his usual desert haunts outside Moab to offer guided backcountry skiing and ice climbing in the Wasatch mountains this winter.
I spent a week playing phone tag with Dec, receiving voice messages from him along the lines of: “Hey, Como! Sorry I missed ya. I’m just getting back from an ice climb. The GWI in LCC is in, and it’s great. So, you wanted to talk about something for an article? Give me a call back tomorrow. Oh wait, I’ll be out skiing from 5 a.m. ‘til about noon—so sometime after that.”
When I finally caught up with Dec—who, it turns out, is a New York-transplant like myself—he briefed me on Red River’s new endeavors with enthusiasm and optimism. “We’ve lined up some of the world’s best ski guides including Noah Howell of Powderwhores [named one of the 50 Icons of Backcountry Skiing] and Andrew Mclean [author of The Chuting Gallery] to lead these amazing tours,” he says, noting his guides have the most experience in this terrain. They’ll guide their clients to experience the best snow, he says.
Dec is starting out slow, only booking 100 guests this season. From introductory tours, up to and including the steep and deep, his goal is to offer an unforgettable backcountry experience to small groups using his hand-picked guides. The classic tour is suitable for kids as young as 10 and aims for moderate ascents between 1,500 feet and 2,500 feet vertical.
Intermediate and advanced tours range anywhere from 3,000 feet to 8,000 feet vert in a single day’s (ouch!) outing. Depending on group size (ideally around three or four), rates can be as low as $200 per person—an affordable price given the complexity of these routes and the experience Red River’s guides can lend to a day in the backcountry.
With spring around the corner, many of the Wasatch’s prime cuts are “in-season” toward the end of the ski season. Thanks to a generous snowpack—the best I can remember in the past few years—several routes that were off limits are game this year. And who better to show the way than the man who wrote the book (McLean) and the guy who documented it (Howell)?
Red River Adventures
1140 S. Main
Toll Free: 877-259-4046
We asked Carl Dec for his top adventure treks in summer and winter, north and south:
I’d go with Castleton Tower (north face). An incredible route on an incredible tower. Steep and clean.
Red Rock Canyon (Outside Las Vegas):
Inti Watana, an intricate semi-long approach to keep the crowds away. Twelve pitches with a little bit of everything. Mini big wall fun.
Big Cottonwood Canyon:
Ice: Storm Mountain Falls—steep ice and usually a bit of mixed climbing to ice the cake. Always a treat to get this one. A rare former—blink, and it’s gone.
Ski: Gods Lawn Mower. Steep, long and, when filled in, it skis like the big north face that it is.