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Deer Valley's Empire Canyon


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Empire Canyon is a 1,000-foot-long, north-facing ridge topped by a broad meadow. South or southwesterly winds frequently blow in new snow, filling the canyon with fluff and erasing the previous day’s tracks.


Head 200 yards skier’s right off the Empire Canyon lift (not shown) and you’ll pass through a gate that deposits you above the ridge’s first official run. Don’t drop in yet. Anchor Trees is a few hundred feet shorter than the rest of Empire’s runs, and the woods look uninvitingly tight from the top (they open up a few turns later). Nearly everyone bypasses it, which preserves the deep pow on this gladed 30-degree shot. Hit it when the rest of the ridge is tracked out.


Without fail, the left shoulder of this mid-30-degree bowl slides every time ski patrol lobs an avalanche-controlling explosive. Hence the formal name Old Reliable. Ski this line and the gut of Daly Bowl — also known as Chutes 1 and 2 — first on a powder day. Most people stick to the main fall line, so duck into the China Closet, a shaded mini-glade often spangled in snow crystals called surface hoar. Blasting through these crystals can sound like shattering china.


The cornice above Chute 3 grows to at least 15 feet thick by February. If it’s a powder day, summon your courage and drop in — you’ll be rewarded with at least five untracked, clean lines through the three prominent vertical bands of trees below.


Locals call it Chute 4, but the official name is Challenger. At 200 feet wide, and with a pitch of about 40 degrees, though, this run’s actually something of a breeze. For a real challenge, slide skier’s right to Chute 5, a.k.a Cataract, which rolls over to 50 degrees at the top and demands a 10-foot jump over cliff bands halfway down. Only a select few attempt this no-fall zone. Chute 6 is easily 45 degrees in spots, but less committing, with no mandatory air. All the chutes flush you into the gentle, open Apron.


Chutes 7, 8, 9, and 10 pour off the ridge in 30- to 35-degree pitches and are collectively known as Niagara. Build up your confidence on these smaller, roughly five-foot cornices onto 35-degree landings. Watch for traverse lines beneath you. Most people refer to these chutes by their numbers, but Chute 10 is also known as Corvair, a reference to the ’60s-era Chevrolet Corvair buried at the bottom of the run.


If visibility sucks and the Daly Chutes are closed, traverse far skier’s right to the X-Files, a series of glades and de-limbed trees 10 to 15 feet apart on a 25- to 30-degree pitch. The runs may be shorter, but open it up underneath the canopy and you’ll feel like Agent Mulder heading to Roswell.