Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Last night Emily and I got home from a fantastic long weekend skiing the light, dry,
heavenly snow of Utah with our good friends Chris Holm, Aaron Hartz, and Tiffany Gregg. Back in early November when it was actually dumping snow in the Northwest Chris had suggested the trip as a birthday present to Tiffany whose birthday was on the 8th. I had never skied in Utah before and I knew a friend in Park City (Bob Matott) who might be able to cheapen the trip by putting the 5 of us up for a few nights. After a quick message to Bob we all agreed and bought plane tickets for just under $200 a pop for the 1.5 hour flight from Portland to Salt Lake. Gradually the winter has worn on and it has been one of the worst for skiing in the Northwest. For almost a week in January SkiBowl (my favorite mountain) had to shut down due to lack of snow. Many of the normal trails are still closed and the backcountry still isn’t open. Therefore, the 5 of us really had our
hopes up for a
fantastic trip to Utah, but alas, they weren’t seeing any snow either. Finally, two weeks ago we started to hear crazy reports of 7 feet in 7 days in the canyon resorts above Salt Lake!
Chris volunteered to drive us to the airport on Thursday afternoon. We had to meet Emily at his brother’s place near the airport because she had a meeting in Portland that morning. We all squeezed into Chris’s Subaru legacy with Emily pretty much sitting on my lap for the short drive to the airport from his brother’s. As usual with the three Amigo’s we ran into some issues at the airport. First, Chris and Tiff really got hassled about their bags at the check-in and almost got charged double by some stupid woman at the computer. Then Hartz forgot that he had a full nalgene at security and had to be escorted back around and dump the “hazardous” (water) material out before going back through. The flight was quick and Hartz got to sit next to a beautiful young lady in her 3rd year of undergrad
who chatted with him the whole fight. Emily actually met a bartender
that worked in Park City (never did find the place) and the co-pilot of our flight was one of the most beautiful blondes any of us had ever seen... weird... When we got to the Hertz rental desk they sold me “cheap gas” (actually was 5 cents cheaper than gas stations) for our Ford Escape that I had booked with a ski rack... I had been quoted $410 on the phone for the escape with the rack and was told Suburban’s would run $750 for the 4 days. Thus, when she told me that gas was $80 I couldn’t believe it and asked, “wait, how big is the tank?”... “30 gallons” she replied.. This seemed like a ridiculously large tank for a Ford Escape but I didn’t questions it and grabbed the others to head out to the garage where our rental was. After hitting the “horn” button several times to search for it a shiny black 2010 suburban next to us kept honking... yup.. they gave us a huge 4x4 surburban for the
price of the Escape... awesome!
We piled in our ski bags in the back which had plenty of room with the back row of seats down and headed to the Quality Inn hotel near the airport for the night. When we got to the hotel we noticed the ski rack wouldn’t hold any of our fat skis so after settling in we returned it to the airport for $50 back. Thankfully, all our skis fit in the back behind us just fine. We then went to an Albertson’s grocery store to load up on food for the week so we wouldn’t have to buy ski lodge expensive food before crashing for the night around Midnight. Let the snoring begin!
We woke up (early thanks to Aaron’s alarm) at around 6:30 am and got some breakfast at the hotel breakfast buffet (free for two of us at least) before heading up to Park City to meet Bob who had gotten some cheap Deer Valley tickets for us. The drive was way shorter than we thought (30 minutes) so we had some time to check out main street and downtown for ideas for later that night. We met Bob at 9am at his girlfriends huge house
(after many emails and her asking us for too much money to stay there we decided to just crash at hotels). Bob joined us and we headed up to Deer Valley for the day.
Deer Valley was named the #1 ski resort in the country by readers of Ski Magazine. Those readers must all be millionaires who prefer boring terrain and groomed runs because, yes, the hospitality of everyone at the resort was amazing, but the terrain (except for one peak) put us all to sleep. Also, we had never seen so many people with Obermeyer and Spider clothing on as well as a plethora of one-piece uni-tard suits! We searched for powder all day and only found a few decent places that weren’t tracked out. At one point Bob took us to a cool area with a cornice that we could drop into but most of the steep terrain and cliff drops were closed off to the public and Bob said that if we were caught outside the ski boundary ropes it was a misdemeanor in Utah! Of course that didn’t stop me from searching for fresh pow! Bob ate lunch
with us then headed back on the bus to his place to get ready for his job in the wine
program at one of the fancy hotels at the resort. We headed back up for a couple more runs before the end of the day and then headed downtown to check out the apres-ski nightlife. We ended up going to the No-Name Bare where Bob had met his girlfriend. It was a pretty cool place known for it’s buffalo burgers (which Chris got of course). I got the pulled-pork sandwich was pretty good. Our food came amazingly fast (pre-prepared we assumed) but the beer selection was definitely lacking. We then walked up and down the street checking out some amazing art galleries and of course the usual couple t-shirt shops. It was cool to see all the old Olympic signs and structures from the winter games. Some of the statues in the town were really amazing. On the way back to the car we stopped at Flanagan’s Irish Pub which had a Wii setup downstairs for guests. I immediately jumped onto the one working controller and began playing Tiffany at Bowling (she kicked my ass... in fact all of our asses with her score.... what’s up with that Tiff!). I ordered baileys on the rocks which came a bit short in my mind... All-in-all the bar was pretty cool but we decided to move on and head out to the Holiday Inn Express I had booked us in Heber City 20 miles to the North of Park City. Before leaving town we stopped at a great liquor store across from where we met Bob and picked up a plethora of different beer, hard cider, and a bottle of chocolate mint baileys (Hartz got a small bottle of Jameson’s too). We were surprised to find the large selection because of all the rumors we had heard about the lack of alcohol (or low alcohol content) in Utah due to the large Mormon presence and influence on politics in the state. Our hotel in Heber City was really nice and we spent over an hour in the awesome hot tub and warm pool drinking baileys on ice before watching “Fun with Dick and Jane” and going to bed.
next morning we ate the free continental breakfast then headed out of town for Solitude (took longer than we thought because a pass road was closed that I thought was open). We ended up driving around Salt Lake City again to get to Solitude in Big Cottonwood
Canyon but boy was it worth the drive. The road up through the canyon was beautiful with steep slopes rising from each side to high mountain peaks. The mountains around Salt Lake City just seem to rise out of the desert straight up. We passed over the Wasatch Fault line (which I later read is overdue for a big quake) on our way to Solitude. Solitude reminded all of us of SkiBowl. It seemed like a quaint resort of locals without all the money and prominence of Deer Valley or the other big resorts like Alta. The ticket price of $62 was reasonable compared to the other resorts (Deer Valley was $86!). It had snowed about 5” the night before so we were finally greeted to some fresh powder for the
powder skis Aaron and I had decided to bring on the trip. Immediately on the lift we realized that this resort had far better steeps, drops and overall terrain compared to
Deer Valley. From the top of the first lift we took we dropped into some chutes and double black diamonds to get to the summit chair. At the top we skied down through some trees and met a guy named Jon on the next lift who was a local and wanted to show us all the great powder stashes and best terrain at the resort. We were delighted and followed him for 4-5 runs, hiking up side-step paths to ridges with deep powder. It was tiring doing all the side stepping but where he brought us was well worth the effort. Tiffany wasn’t feeling so hot so she skied by herself most of the day but Emily kept up with the boys like a champ. I literally watched as her skiing ability tripled
that day! She finally realized that for stability you really do need to go fast and she kept up with us just fine all day. It felt like we explored most of the mountain throughout the day, stopping briefly for lunch at about 2pm for
30 minutes before catching a couple more runs before the end of the day. We had lost Hartz at lunch time but later caught up to him at the end of the day. We saw a big avalanche on one of the slopes across a valley from the resort. It didn’t look too big but it was down to the rocks and we later learned that someone had died there the previous day. Solitude was a really great mountain and the day ended far too quickly in our opinion. After a couple beers in the parking lot we cruised down to Salt Lake City and got a hotel room at the Best Western Cotton Tree Inn in Sandy near Little Cottonwood Canyon where we would be skiing the next two days. For dinner we decided to get microwave meals from a local grocer to save some cash. I got a Bertoli package and bought a bowl to cook it in. We then relaxed at the hotel watching Beer Fest and Balls of Fury.

On Sunday we drove up to Alta to check it out. After eating the free breakfast at the hotel (horrible eggs & bacon btw) we got cheap tickets from the front desk and the drive to Alta only took about 20 minutes. When we rode up the chairlift it became pretty obvious that Alta/Snowbird where the biggest combined resorts in the area and expansiveness of the terrain in the upper bowls was mind blowing. At typical mountains in the east
and the Northwest the lower slopes of the mountains are usually green circles
or blue squares but here black diamond steep runs ran directly down to the parking lot! Throughout the day we did a lot of side-stepping up trails and traversing wide-open bowls to get to stashes of powder. We didn’t have any local showing us the way like yesterday but I think we did pretty good on our own. Once again Emily followed the guys the entire day doing awesome! Hartz and I were able to find some decent drops and we got some great helmet cam footage going off a couple jumps and following each other down open slopes. At the end of the day (today I finally wore my headphones so had a little more balls) I started to push my luck off some sketchy drops and one of them I
came down on hardpack and tomahawked over a band of rocks knocking my hip pretty bad. I had tumbled over a small cliff at Solitude the day before
but didn’t get hurt and no one had seen it ;). Today was different and my hip was very sore for the last couple runs. Emily had headed to the lodge for the last hour and a half of the day which was good for her because thick clouds came in out of no where obscuring our view for the last run. We met her at the bottom where I was able to pick up a new basket for my broken pole and Hartz got a t-shirt. It was a fantastic day of skiing yet again. There wasn’t any new powder but the snow was still light and fluffy.
When we got
back to the hotel we changed and showered then headed downtown for some pizza for Tiffany’s birthday. Unfortunately for us everything, and I mean everything, closes down completely on Sundays in the very Mormon run town of Salt Lake City. Not even pizza joints were open. Thus, we
found ourselves at a bar called the Beer Hive where they had a great selection of beers (many from Oregon) and German food. I got the hungarian goulash and thought it was great along with the local nitro stout. Quin Ourada (who now lives in SLC) met us out with our buddy Ben Neilsen (who climbed St. Helens & Bailey with me) at the bar just before ten for a couple drinks. Quin said he’s loving his new job and living near the mountains. Ben apparently used to work at Alta so knew the area well. I was glad that we got to meet up with them for a least a drink or two. When we got back to the hotel we watched the South Park episode “major boobage” which became a running them of the weekend along with “gam-gam” from beer fest.

Monday morning we checked out of our hotel and headed up the canyon again to Snowbird (which we had seen from the lifts the day before). Once again the hotel hooked us up with cheap tickets for the chairs and the tram. Although snowbird allows snowboarders (unlike Deer Valley and Alta) I
thought it was a cooler mountain then Alta. It had what seemed to me to
be a bigger bowl on the backside, was newer (1980’s) and the tram was wicked fast that we took twice near the end of the day. They opened up one of the peaks for skiers to boot pack to. Yesterday just before we left Alta they had opened up a previously close slope as well but there was a line of about a hundred people heading to it so we passed it up. After two days of ski patrol bombing the slopes they apparently deemed them safe now. So, all of us took off our skis and started to hike up 11,069ft Mt. Baldy. We did this hike 3 times with Aaron going to the top the first two times and me waiting below with the helmet cam to get him coming off a cornice.
I followed Hartz down some wonderful untouched powder for two runs. One of the runs I veered off to hit a drop I had scoped and got about 20ft of air but soared about 30 feet down the slope to land in powder. With the little fresh pow that was all
I dared on this trip. Hartz later hit the same jump and unbeknownst to us Holm had found his own cliff drop and stepped up his game hitting what I would consider a serious drop for someone only two years into skiing! Way to go bud! The 3rd time up I ducked in early to a chute with Emily. She went down one side of the rocks but I went down another and at the top it fractured a little so I pointed it and straight-lined out of it. After a sunny lunch below watching helicopters come back to their landing pads we headed up for a couple runs off the tram. By
this point all of our legs were jello and we simply took the fast groomers down to the base. At the parking lot we hung out for nearly an our packing up our stuff for flight and trying to consume all our left over lunch food ( I put down nearly a pound of deli turkey!). We still had time to kill so we drove in
to Salt Lake City and got some quick munchies and beer at the very
cool Squatters Brew Pub (one of the few pubs in Utah). When we returned the rental the guy credited me for only have the gas because the tank was still half full resulting in us getting the rental for $400 total with gas! Pretty good :) The flight home was uneventful and everyone seemed to crash out. The drive back from the airport in the fog of the Willamette Valley was tiring and challenging but boy was Emily and I happy to sleep in our bed for a good nights rest.

In the end it was a fantastic trip with wonderful friends. I have no idea where everyone will be next year but I certainly would love to plan another trip somewhere to ski in the U.S. if possible for a long weekend.

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