Hello Wasatch Backcountry enthusiasts,
We trust that you are getting out and enjoying our rare early winter bounty these days; let’s hope it keeps up!
We would like to provide an update on recent changes that have occurred in Cardiff Fork.
As many of you know, Cardiff is unusual in the Central Wasatch by the presence of some development in the upper reaches of the canyon. Like much of the range, mining dominated the use of the canyon long ago, but unlike the other prominent drainages, there is still active private ownership of land and both surface and subsurface mining claims.
After many years that saw periodic conflict between landowners and skiers/hikers/snowshoers etc up there, about 10 years ago the local National Forest office (FS) negotiated a deal with the landowners: in exchange for allowing the landowners to access their claims using motorized means, the landowners agreed to in turn allow access across their property to the adjacent public lands.
This was codified in a Special Use Permit (SUP) that was in place for the last decade or so until this past spring when the Cardiff Canyon Owners Association (CCOA) did not seek a renewal of that permit. The permit expired, which means that the claim owners cannot legally access their land using snowmobiles or trucks/OHV’s, and it also means that they have the ability to deny access to adjacent public lands.
WBA has been working with the FS, Salt Lake City, and Salt Lake County on this tricky issue. For example, in order to access George’s bowl, a skier is on public land at the beginning near Doughnut Falls, crosses some private land that extends up onto Kessler but has an unknown owner, goes back onto public land until below the George’s Bowl access where it crosses another small swath of private land that crosses the road, goes back onto public land until the old mine, where there are lots of individual parcels, then there are large swaths of both federal and Salt Lake City land. Confusing!
We have attempted to figure out a way to stay on public lands if coming up Cardiff from the bottom, but the organic nature of the terrain and the existing jagged lines of ownership don’t correspond well, so it’s challenging.
Basically, if you want to access the skiing in upper Cardiff Canyon, it’s best to come over from LCC, which has historically been the most common means to access Cardiac Bowl, the Eyebrow, Cardiac Ridge, etc. There is private land in the upper reaches in the Holy Toledo/Black Knob area, but that landowner has informally assured us that accessing that terrain is okay.
In order to avoid conflict — and we do want to avoid conflict — it’s probably best if you avoid dropping your runs all the way to the mine (only really an issue if you drop the Hallway and Tube to the bottom). The FS has locked the gate down near Donut Falls, but whether by foot or by machine the land owners may be up there this winter and may — or may not? — be looking to monitor their lands and challenge trespassers.
We have already received reports that there has been a person there — on public land — who is trying to block skier access beyond Doughnut Falls to the road on behalf of one of the upper-canyon landowners. If you are approached/challenged on the road above the gate please let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org) and you can reach out to the local Forest Service as well.
WBA has engaged a GIS professional, Christian Johnson, who has created a good map with current SLCO ownership information. View the Upper Canyon aerial map here and the terrain map here. View the Lower Canyon aerial map here and the terrain map here. With the Avenza app you can see where you are relative to the property lines. You can find instructions on using the app and accessing the maps here.
However, the county records could be incomplete, and the FS hired a contractor to survey the area but work was scuttled by the early copious snow.
If you see snow machines up there this winter please let us know, and if you feel like it, photo documentation may be helpful. If you are challenged by landowners, be cool! They may or may not be looking for a fight, and it’s not one worth fighting at a personal level. Just apologize, say that you understand the complexity of land ownership in the area, you appreciate the value of private property rights in this state/country, but there is a lot of public land in the drainage and you are endeavoring to stay on that land that you have every legal right to be on. Do not be antagonistic; flipping them off, yelling at them, etc. will not help your cause, and in fact, may lead to a backlash against you and the broader community.
Additionally, you may have seen that there is a yurt up at about 9500 feet just south of George’s Bowl; it is on a private claim but motorized access has always been illegal and they do not have a valid building permit with the county. The county is working to rectify this situation.
And of course, Wasatch Powderbird Guides have a permit to fly/ski on the public lands in the upper reaches of the drainage and an agreement with the landowners to land in the lower drainage.
There is a well-publicized court case in Wyoming happening now that has some similarities to our situation, which is covered in an extensive NY Times article here. And in High Country News here.
Cardiac Bowl, Cardiac Ridge, Holy Toledo, the Black Knob, Ivory, etc. all are iconic ski lines in the Wasatch and we all look forward to skiing those this winter, but please keep in mind that the complexity of Cardiff means that we need to be more thoughtful there than in the adjacent drainages.