Fish Lake Snowkiting... New Sled Access Spot
New Snowkite Location logged, south of I-70 in central Utah.
The Fish Lake complex is a potential Snowkite destination, offering roadside access along with groomed Snowmobile trails leading into the high country. Located south of I-70 and above the red rock deserts, the area has a limited season and receives less annual snowfall than its sister ranges to the north. The Fish Lake area would be considered the southern end of the Skyline range and the Wasatch Plateau, if it wasn’t bisected by Highway 70 running east to west across the middle of Utah. The uncertain snowpack in the region and a remote location that is 4 hours south of Salt Lake City have kept Snowkite Sorties to a minimum in past years. 2011 however, has brought thick snow pack to central Utah, and northerly storm patterns have driven kiters farther south in search of clear skies and wind, when northern Utah is in a white out.
History on the region is limited to the past few seasons, with only a few attempts annually. The first revealing images were seen on topo maps, showing high elevation plateaus. Following that were summertime drives along mountain roads, revealing huge open areas for potential kiting. The next attempts in winter proved futile, as the snow pack seemed non-existent at the road side elevations that were located in the 8,000 to 9,000 foot range. A limited season was discovered, lasting only from mid January to mid February. During this short period, it proved even more difficult to line up fresh snow conditions with the prevailing winds, although several pioneering sessions were also enjoyed.
During the 2011 winter we have made the first attempts to access the high terrain via snowmobile, and it is all good up there. Reaching the 10,000 foot height brought us into a basin that held better snow conditions and was exposed to several wind directions. The trailhead access from the lower roadsides may prove to also have a limited season, but the access during mid winter is perfect and makes for a relatively easy 15 mile foray into the upper areas of Fish Lake.
Backing it up for a moment, let’s look at the roadside park and ride options. The first area discovered and to turn out good rides is the Hogan Pass area on highway 72 to the east of Fish Lake. The road parallels the riding area for several miles, opening plenty of options. In general Hogans faces south to south-west and slopes up to the north funneling the prevailing wind thru the area. Next is Fish Lake proper, the large frozen lake is typically snow covered and funnels wind north and south down its valley drainage. Just before reaching the Lake itself is the last roadside spot, right at the mouth of the canyon, with terrain and open fetch for wind from the South to Westerly directions. There is sage brush and exposed rocks during thinner snow pack years here, and miles of riding on a good year. There are cabins lake-side that make for a nice base camp and allow the possibility of kiting on the lake right from the door step.
The primary sled access is from the north end of Fish Lake, where the trail begins at the end of the pavement. Large flat areas lie immediately north of the lake, and provide more riding area if the lake is not suitable. You can walk or kite from the trailhead and reach this spot easily. A few miles beyond that lies Johnson Valley Reservoir, another kite spot and the turning point on the trail to either Hogan Pass or Mt. Terrill. We headed north following the trail for another 10 miles to the high basin at the base of Mt. Terrill. This basin lies at 9800 feet and is the primary Snowkiting area, and is also the junction for 2 other sled access trails that lead in from the North and East respectively. The area is open and exposed to prevailing winds from the South and West, as well as storm winds from the North-West.
Mt. Terrill is the primary goal of any Snowkiter heading into the Fish Lake backcountry providing open fetch, high elevation and a huge riding area. The mountain itself is an ideal Snowkite hill, with intermediate runs leading to the summit, and challenging runs between trees, along with the gravity potential for down hill rides after summiting. The entire basin is open and offers flat to rolling terrain. Different wind directions will of course open up more options and challenges, but 80% of the area is accessible no matter what the wind direction.
With sleds, one can obviously park and launch anywhere, setting up for the wind perfectly. However, the ultimate option is to base-camp near the Forest Service Cabin that is sheltered in a small forest in the middle of the area. There is a wood burning and propane stove inside for heat, along with several beds for an overnight mission. From the cabin window one can view Mt. Terrill and watch others Snowkite the south face. Within a hundred yards from the cabin door you are clear of the trees and can safely launch your kite.
Our trip in to the area on February 5th 2011 proved highly successful. Average snow for roadside riding turned into perfect trail conditions making it easy to access Mt. Terrill. 15 miles on groomers to the riding area where we were powered on 9 meter Frenzy’s. We went during a North-West storm that was a bit gusty and forecasted to punch into the mid 30mph range, which it did. We covered several miles in the first session, reaching across on long tacks from one side of the area to the forested hillside on the other. Found a few ‘skate parks’ to play in, and generally scouted the area. The gnarly gusts had us with bars out hanging on, and was not conducive for summiting the peaks that kept coming in and out of the clouds. Regardless we were stoked for the powered session and we were excited to have more new terrain to sample on our next visit.
Marty Lowe managed to get rigged quickly and became the ‘First’ Snowkiter to shred the gnar in the upper Fish Lake Region. Matt Dadum and I initially followed and then laid down our own fresh tracks across the basin. We all loved the hospitality of the cabin for warming up in between sessions, and dreamed of future nights there. On the ride out at sunset I realized the potential for a massive downwinder following the high valley back to Johnson Valley Reservoir, as the whole place is wide and open and funnels the wind down. Future plan would be to stay at the Fish Lake cabins as an easy base camp, and sled up daily to hit the goods in the high country, and enjoy road side rides when the conditions were prime. If you are heading thru central Utah on I-70, check this place out. If you are looking for some new terrain on a sled accessed Snowkite trip, Fish Lake should be on your late January hit list.