Monthly Archives: March 2010

What’s Your Fantasy?

From the first time I saw Fantasy Ridge, towering high above the east face of Solitude Mountain Resort’s Honeycomb Canyon, I knew that I wanted to ski it . . . I just didn’t know if I had the guts.

Fantasy Ridge as seen from Evergreen Ridge

You see, Fantasy Ridge isn’t your normal ski run.  In fact, it’s not a ski run at all.  There is no lift access.  There is no groomed terrain.  And there is certainly no easy way up or down.  It’s a bootpack, and one of the gnarliest bootpacks you’ll ever encounter.      

A section of Fantasy Ridge

Last week, after months of excuses, some good (avalanche danger) and some bad (scared stiff), I finally set out to hike Fantasy Ridge.      

Backpack and helmet – check.  Beacon – check.  New Blizzard Answer skis – Check.  No time like the present to see what they can do!  It might seem like I’m overpacking, but believe me, when skiing in the Wasatch mountain range, particularly lines like the ones off Fantasy Ridge, you’re better safe than sorry.  With all gear ready and accounted for, I left Solitude Mountain Resort’s village and caught the Sunrise chair up to the Summit chair which brought me to the south edge of Honeycomb Canyon and the base of Fantasy Ridge.     

A spiny, knife-edge ridgeline, Fantasy runs north, northeast above the Honeycomb Canyon cliffs creating chutes or “shots” 1-26.  These 26 distinct spillways are not for the faint of heart as some require mandatory airs and most feature rock lined no-fall zones.  With my skis strapped to my backpack and my beacon turned on, I stepped through the Fantasy Ridge gate and started hiking what some have called the most technical inbounds hike in North America.     

Fantasy Ridge from the Black Bess Traverse

The first pitch is pretty mellow, bringing you to the Black Bess traverse and giving you your first view of Mt. Millicent, Patsy Marley Peak and the famed Wolverine Cirque.  But from this point on, there’s no turning back.  This may sound cliche, but it’s absolutely true.  When it comes to Fantasy Ridge, turning around and trying to climb back down is much more dangerous than continuing to hike  up.      

Mt. Millicent and Wolverine Cirque

From here the hike gets interesting, and by interesting I mean down right sketchy.  For the next 10-15 minutes, you’ll climb pitches so steep that you have to use your hands (or the cable that has been bolted into the rock) to pull you up.  You’ll walk along sections of trail so narrow that there’s barely enough room for your boots to be next to each other.  You’ll tight rope your way across narrow sections of trail with steep, long drop-offs on both sides.  And you’ll inch your way around rocks that jut out into the path by holding onto a cable so you don’t take a tumble down one of Fantasy’s many rock strewn chutes.  Before I hiked Fantasy Ridge, I’d heard the stories of people freezing part way up and having to be talked down or helped down by Solitude Mountain Resort Ski Patrol.  And after hiking Fantasy Ridge I now understand why.      

Climbing the steeps of Fantasy

“Don’t drink too much coffee if you’re gonna hike Fantasy Ridge. It’s like walking a high-wire; you don’t want to shake yourself clear off.” – Kristen Ulmer, extreme skiing pioneer     

“During the hike, if you can bear to look around, you’ve already started to come to grips with the steepness. The terrain falls away on both sides, but it’s particularly intimidating on the Honeycomb side: cliffy slabs of snow hanging in space. Thus, when you get to the top, and look into the gut of the first line a hanging triangle of snow which funnels into a mandatory straightline which then dumps you out into a huge apron you are ready for steep.” – Matt Harvey, Editor, Freeskier Magazine       

The top of Fantasy - Mt. Superior in the background

But if you can conquer the climb and your fears, the end result is worth its weight in fresh, untouched tracks.  First, the view from the top is breathtaking.  On a blue bird day there’s nothing more beautiful!  Mount Superior, Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, Alta Ski Area, Silverfork, Brighton Resort, Honeycomb Canyon, Wolverine Cirque and Twin Lakes backcountry area are all visible.  Not only can you see some of the best backcountry lines the Wasatch mountain range has to offer, but because of your willingness to hike, you’re about to ski some of Solitude Mountain Resort’s best, and most advanced terrain.      

“The rowdy access deters most, if not all, of the tourists who vacation in this beautiful part of Utah, which is one reason that the lines off of the top of the ridge back down into Honeycomb Canyon stay fresh. The other reason that most of these lines stay fresh is the fact that they are steep. Very steep.” – Matt Harvey, Editor, Freeskier Magazine        

From here, the only question you have to ask yourself is, “How gnarly am I willing to go?”  Looking for mandatory airs, mandatory straight lines and super skinny chutes?  You can find all this and more in the first 10 shots.  For my inaugural Fantasy Ridge run I chose shot 12, a steep and mildly technical run in the middle of the ridge.  After dropping in and making 4-5 turns on the spring like snow, I straight lined it through a chute and into a wide apron full of untouched powder.  Pure bliss!      

Shot 12 - my first run on Fantasy

Were the turns worth the hike? Definitely! Would I do it again? In a heart beat!  In fact, I made another fantasy lap later that same day.  Is Fantasy Ridge for everyone?  Definitely NOT! If this article makes you nervous, or if you’re not completely and utterly confident in your ability to hike and ski advanced terrain, then it’s probably best to leave the fresh tracks off of Fantasy Ridge for . . . me!    

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Ski Salt Lake – A Contrast in Personalities

Every ski resort has one.  It is what differentiates them from their competition.  It is what people remember most.  It is a combination of terrain, amenities, apres ski activities, reputation, service and of course, the attitude of the locals.  Resorts spend thousands of dollars every year trying to enhance, fix and promote it. It is one word, yet it describes so much.  It is personality.

Personally, experiencing the personality of a resort or mountain is my favorite part of skiing.  There’s nothing quite like exploring the mountain on your own and finding fresh stashes, riding the lift with the locals, chatting it up with the mountain staff and telling stories that may or may not be true in a crowded ski bar at the end of the day.

It’s a ritual I’ve repeated on ski trips through Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Western Canada.  I’ve fallen in love with the personalities of resorts like Big White Ski Resort and Schweitzer Mountain Resort.  And I’ve been turned off by the personality of resorts like Deer Valley Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort.  Yet never, in all my travels, have I made tracks in an area that boasts resorts with such unique and strong personalities as Salt Lake City.  Four world-class resorts.  Four drastically different personalities.   Four completely different experiences.  Here’s my take on each one.

Brighton ResortBrighton is chill.  From the parking attendants striking yoga poses in the parking lot (No lie, I saw it happen!), to the “Bro Brah” attitude embodied by everyone from lift operators and bartenders to rental shop staff and the locals, the whole mountain is laid back.  As the nice guy who I hitched a ride up the canyon with so eloquently put it, “Dude, Brighton is just laid back.  There’s no drama.  Everyone  just wants to shred the gnar.”  I’m not kidding, that’s a direct quote. 

But seriously, I’m a fan of Brighton.  And for more reasons than their chill vibe.  I like that Brighton is known for its snowboarding, despite being open to both skiers and snowboarders.  I like how 100% of Brighton’s terrain is accessible by high-speed quad lifts.  I like that Brighton features legitimate night skiing.  None of that “one lift and a few runs” stuff.  It offers 22 runs on 200+ acres, three lifts and the mountains main terrain park.  I like that Brighton offers sweet cliffs . . . easily visible and accessible from its lifts.  I like that you won’t get jeered or looked down on for sporting rear entry boots or wearing camouflage, Levi 501’s or duct tape.  I like the mix of locals who call Brighton their home mountain.  And I like that there is no valet parking.  Bottom line – Brighton is a no frills, no-nonsense kind of resort where it’s all about the boarding and skiing – Just like it should be.

Snowbird Ski & Summer ResortSnowbird is legendary.  Ask anyone, skier or non-skier, to name a resort in Utah and Snowbird is likely be the first one out of their mouth.  Don’t get me wrong, this recognition is well deserved.  Snowbird boasts arguably the best terrain, the most vertical and earns a tram load of awards from ski publications every year.  Even I, a Solitude Mountain Resort and Big Cottonwood Canyon advocate, can admit to skiing Snowbird whenever I get the chance.  Let me tell you why.

I don’t ski Snowbird because of its vibe.  It’s a bit too intense for me.  I ski Snowbird because it’s terrain is unmatched.  In bounds, off piste, trees, chutes, bowls; I’m NOT lying when I say that Snowbird has it all. I ski Snowbird because of the Tram Club.  Awesome apres ski scene offering $5 “Shot and a Beer” deals.  I ski Snowbird because I like riding the conveyor lift from the top of Peruvian, through the mountain (literally, you’re in a tunnel) to Mineral Basin.  I ski Snowbird because of The Cirque.  Steep, deep and technical!  I ski Snowbird because I like comparing myself to some of the best skiers the Salt Lake City area has to offer . . . even if I don’t stack up. I ski Snowbird to catch up on the latest and greatest in ski industry fashion and gear.  I ski Snowbird to rip the bookends.  And I ski Snowbird to poach the hot tub at the Cliff Lodge at the end of a great ski day (Shhh!).  Bottom line – Snowbird rocks!  But no matter how much I love skiing its terrain, I’m always glad to leave the lift lines and attitudes behind and head back to Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Solitude Mountain Resort: Simply put, Solitude lives up to its name.  In fact, I’ve never skied a resort that more thoroughly lives up to its name and slogan.  You might think I’m being biased (Solitude Mountain Resort is my place of employment), but I’m being completely honest when I say that I love Solitude.  In fact, if I created a “Joe’s Top 10 Favorite Places to Ski” list, Solitude would be numero uno.  I just love it.

I love Solitude because there are no crowds.  I love Solitude because lift lines are non-existent.  I love Solitude because the FOG’s (Friendly Old Guys) are exactly what their acronym suggests.  I love Solitude because it DOESN’T get tracked out by noon on powder days (see Little Cottonwood for the opposite).  I love Solitude because working for your turns makes them that much better.  I love Solitude because it has a bar called The Thirsty Squirrel.  I love Solitude because Honeycomb Canyon is as peaceful as it is epic.  I love Solitude because Fantasy Ridge is gnarly, tasty, scary and sweet!  I love Solitude because lounging on the patio at the Sunshine Grill on a blue bird day is perfection.  I love Solitude because it really is family friendly.  I love Solitude because of EGP (This acronym has been used to protect the identity of some of the best skiing Solitude has to offer).  I love Solitude because you can find untracked powder days, and sometimes weeks, after a storm.  But most of all, I love Solitude because it’s my mountain.  Bottom line – Solitude might not be the biggest mountain, or the most well-known.  But to those who know and love skiing, Solitude is truly a secret.  A secret that is worth keeping.

Alta Ski AreaAlta is to skiing as Germany is to beer.  The two are synonymous.  From its logo and reputation to its faithful skiers and die-hard locals, Alta is known as THE classic ski hill.  But don’t think for a second that this reputation isn’t well deserved.  Alta consistently ranks at the top of ski industry lists when it comes to snow quality and terrain.  And I can’t help but agree with the writers and readers handing out these awards.  Alta is awesome!

I dig that Alta is for skiers only.  Sorry snowboarders! I dig that you can “Ski Free After 3” at Alta.  I dig that you can easily access Snowbird from the top of Alta’s Sugarloaf lift – using the AltaBird pass of course!  I dig that Alta, despite being one of the premier ski areas in North America, has yet to become “resorty.”  And yes, I did just make up that term.  I dig the spectacular views Alta has to offer.  I dig Alta’s terrain.  I dig that Alta’s stickers are everywhere – literally!  Talk about grass-roots marketing at its finest.  I dig that Alta’s reputation has spawned a group of haters.  Bottom line – Despite the intense vibe, the “We’re better attitude” of the locals and the tracked out snow by noon, I dig Alta’s terrain and would gladly ski there any day of the week.

Do I like certain Salt Lake resorts better than others?  Sure I do!  Who doesn’t have their favorites?  But the fact remains, that if given the opportunity I would rather make tracks at Salt Lake resorts than anywhere else in the U.S.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.