Posts Tagged With: powder

Is Epic Necessary?

“The storm dropped more than a foot in a day and a half, and left a sparkling blue sky in its wake. It wasn’t epic by any means, but whether or not something is epic is not how we should define our skiing experiences. Perhaps one of the reasons we skiers have found ourselves in such a predicament lately is that somehow, somewhere everyone decided that the only skiing worth doing was the kind that left us gasping for air and/or scared to death. While it’s good to test our limits and seek out adventure, we shouldn’t be afraid to pull back on the reins, or god forbid, enjoy a day of variable snow. Plus, I’m tired of being scared. I’m tired of being scared for my friends. And after this winter, I’m especially tired of hearing people complain about having less than amazing snow. Just give me a skin track, a chairlift or two, free parking, and the perspective to see my ridiculous good fortune at being able to ski, period, and I’ll be happy. We shouldn’t have to ask for something to be epic in order for it to be worthy day in the mountains.” – Matt Hansen, Powder Magazine

Epic days were definitely not the drink of choice in Utah this winter. In fact, epic days were not even on the menu. I had great days. I had memorable days. And I sure as hell had plenty of fun days. But epic . . . not so much. And you know what? This doesn’t bother me one bit. Because in the end I was skiing. While some people were stuck in traffic, I was on top of a mountain. While some folks were working out in a gym, I was setting a skin track. And while some people were watching TV, I was making turns. Is epic necessary? No. But skiing definitely is.

I think every person who calls themselves a skier should read these words by Matt Hansen. The man truly hits the nail on the head. Once youv’e done that, turn your computer off and go skiing.

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Slackcountry Saturday

I woke up Friday morning to an unexpected storm that proceeded to drop 12″ of the “Greatest Snow on Earth” on the Wasatch Mountains. This welcome, and much needed, taste of winter was then followed up by 50-60 degree temperatures. Yup, just another spring weekend in Utah. Question – What does one do with such a sweet little gift from Mother Nature? Answer – Take full advantage.

At 9 a.m. Wes, myself, Lauran and Ski Utah Powderhound, Matt Baydala, caught first chair at Canyons Resort with our sights set on 9990. From the top of 9990 we made a boot pack beeline for the infamous Square Top whose steep slopes offer what most consider the best skiing in the Park City area. Honestly, there’s no better feeling in the world than when you’re standing on the top of an untracked run, with your best friends, getting ready to drop in. It’s unbeatable. And believe me, the turns we made on Square Top did not dissappoint. Long, consistent vertical paired with deep snow is always a good combination.

After another ride up 9990 followed by a scenic boot pack to the top of Dutch’s Draw, we clicked into our skis and headed across the ridge for Main Mac. A quick side step brought us to the top of a completely untouched, untracked, and unblemished bowl. Naturally, it didn’t stay that way for long as one after the other we dropped in, arching long, deep turns down Mac’s shoulder.

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Now fully in “powderhound” mode, we slapped on the skins and headed for the zone known as “Powder Puff.” The gradual yet scenic route climbs along a ridge offering views of West Monitor to your left and Canyons Resort to your right. Once you reach the top you’re treated to a panoramic view of the Wasatch range. From the Jordanelle Reservoir to the Cottonwood Canyons and their four resorts (Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, Solitude), you can see it all. Dropping in on Powder Puff, we were rewarded with top-to-bottom turns full of face shots. Feel free to disagree, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing better than being the first one to get to the goods.

Looking to finish strong, Wes and I hopped on 9990, took the boot pack to the top and dropped off the back side towards Desolation Lake. A quick skin brought us to the rim of the bowl that surrounds Desolation Lake. After ripping skins, we dropped in on a north facing, treed run that was so good we had to do another. Following another quick skin, we dropped in on an open face that funneled into a north facing aspect offering perfectly spaced trees and the deepest, softest snow of the day. Skinning up for the last time, we hiked out of Desolation basin and up to the shoulder of Square Top where we skied our final run, again untracked, back to Red Pine Road and from there back to the base of Canyons Resort.

Start time: 9 a.m.
End time: 3:30 p.m.
Total Runs (not including groomers): 6
Total Tracks Crossed During Runs: 0

Sitting on the deck of the Umbrella Bar with PBR’s in hand, turns were re-told, runs were relived and laughs were shared. It had ben an amazing day to say the least. We had just skied fresh powder from first chair to last skin  . . . on April 7. Some folks will never experience such a feat. But to those who live in Utah it’s just another slackcountry Saturday.

If you need visual proof of the tale I told above, check out the edit that Matt put together.

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My Top Photos From the 2009-2010 Ski Season

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So, instead of using the written word to eloquenty describe to you how great my winter was at Solitude Mountain Resort, I figured it would be best to use photos.  No, I’m not being lazy and not wanting to write.  I’m actually doing this for you!  I want you to be able to SEE the terrain, SEE the snow and SEE the mountains, so that maybe, just maybe, you can feel what it’s like to ski in Utah and ski the “Greatest Snow on Earth.”

I’m not a professional photographer.  In fact, my skill with the camera would be more aptly described as a work in progress.  However, I did get to shoot a lot of photos this winter.  Some were good.  And some were bad.  Yet, no matter how many bad photos I took, the feeling I got when I captured an image that I knew was a winner made it all worth it.  Will my photos make it on the cover of Powder MagazineSkiing Magazine or Freeskier Magazine?  Probably not.  Nonetheless, here are some of my favorite photos I shot this season:

After being behind the lens and experiencing the pressure of having to get “The shot,” you would think that being the skier in a photo shoot would be less stressful.  I beg to differ!  In fact, I would say I was more nervous as the skier.  Not only do you have to concentrate on skiing, but you have to try and look good at the same time.  How’s my line?  How’s my form?  So many things to think about!  Here’s a few photos from this season where it all came together:

Jealous, huh?  Maybe wishing you’d spent your winter in Utah?  Or perhaps you’re regretting not skiing enough this season?  All reasonable feelings to be having after seeing pictures of Utah’s famous powder.  I believe Dolores LaChapelle summed it up best when she said, “Powder snow skiing is not fun.  It’s life, fully lived, life lived in a blaze of reality.”

Got any great powder shots from this winter?  Comment below with links to your favorite ones!  After all, I showed you mine, now you have to show me yours!

Check out Solitude Mountain Resort’s photostream on Flickr for more great photos!

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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!    

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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.

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20 Things I’ve Learned This Winter . . .

Moving to Salt Lake City to work in the ski industry was a big change.   Gone were the comforts of family, friends and familiarity.  Only to be replaced by the unknown and uncertainty of a new job, new city and new circumstances.  Sure, one could look at this negatively.  But what’s the point?  Why focus on the negative when there is so much to be learned from the experience?  In fact, I was thinking about how much I’ve learned this winter.  Some things have been important, and others not so serious.  Some have helped me develop professionally, and others have changed who I am personally.  Some have been necessary for survival and others have been purely for entertainment.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned: 

1. I learned that cat skiing is the poor man’s heli-skiing. Which means using a snowmobile is the poor man’s version of cat skiing. Which leads me to the conclude that I’m flat broke since I’ve never done any of the above types of skiing.

2.  When one thinks of great beer producing cities, Salt Lake City probably doesn’t garner a lot of votes.  But to leave Salt Lake City off the list would be a mistake.  Squatters Pub Brewery,  Desert Edge Brewery at The Pub, Red Rock Brewing Co., Wasatch Brewery, Uinta Brewing Co. and Bohemian Brewery are just the start of an impressive lineup of award-winning breweries that call Salt Lake City home.

3. When skiing deep powder, it is smart to ski with your mouth closed.  Even though you may be laughing or have a case of the powder yelps, a mouth full of powder can choke you and result in having to stop midway through one of the best runs of the year.

4. Not all journalists who cover the ski industry are good skiers.  When skiing with a journalist it is wise to discuss ski ability before committing to a run.  Though entertaining, the end result is not always good . . . particularly for the journalist in question.

5. Anyone with half a brain – yes, I’m talking about you Scott Willoughby – knows that Salt Lake City is far superior to Denver when it comes to ski town supremecy.

6.  Contrary to popular belief, Salt Lake is a very diverse city, particularly when it comes to the culinary scene.  My favorite new restaurant so far – Himalayan Kitchen.  Delicious Nepali and Indian cuisine!

7. Utah really does have the “Greatest Snow on Earth.”

8.  SugarHouse Coffee is the ultimate coffee shop in Salt Lake City.  Great coffee, great food and even better live music.

9.  Despite sounding very similar to the word “Skeezy,” which carries a negative connotation, the word “Steezy” is actually a good thing when talking about skiing or snowboarding.  For example, “Dude, that corkscrew 720 was straight steezy!”  Note:  I have never actually tried a corkscrew 720. 

10. A month-long backpacking trip through Europe is a great idea and a life changing experience.  Becoming a ski bum is a fantastic idea and a great experience.  However, speaking from a strictly financial point of view, a month-long backpacking trip through Europe immediately before becoming a ski bum is not what you would call a  fiscally responsible decision.

11. Once the gas light comes on in a 2001 Kia Spectra, you can drive exactly 24.1 miles before running out of gas.  Not 28 like I originally thought.  Lesson learned.  Oh, and you can carry a lot more than you would think in the back of those Spectras.

12. As a AAA member, you are only allowed four free calls per year.  After the fourth call you get charged.  Bummer.

13.  Top Ramen comes in six delicious flavors: beef, chicken, shrimp, oriental, picante beef and chilli.

14.  A bad ski day in Utah is a great ski day anywhere else.

15.  Simple Fact:  The Ski Salt Lake resorts (Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude) get more, and better snow than the Park City resorts (Park City, Canyons and Deer Valley).  Live with it!

16. Steve Lloyd, Adam Barker and Mike Brown are amazing photographers and artists.  It has been a pleasure picking their brains and watching them work.

17.  Even more than other industries, I think Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media are transforming the way the ski industry connects with their customers.

18.  The reporting of snow totals is a very misunderstood “science.”  However, ski areas do their best to accurately report the snow fall totals.  And for those of you wondering, yes, two resorts which are very close to each other (2 miles) can report different snow totals!

19.  It only costs $1.50 to watch a near new-release movie at The Cinemark Sugarhouse Movies 10 in Salt Lake City, UT.  Score!

20.  Feel free to disagree with this statement if you’d like (please comment below) – Salt Lake City is the mecca of skiing in the United States.  Where else can you find seven world-class resorts, each offering a unique experience, within a 40-minute drive of a city?  Nowhere! 

Pretty impressive list, huh?  Sure, some of them may not seem very important.  But in the end they’ve all played a part in the amazing experience and adventure that this winter has been so far.

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Just Another Day on the Job

Working in marketing and public relations for Solitude Mountain Resort allows me the opportunity to do some pretty sweet stuff.  A few days ago, I went out on the mountain with Neil Amonson, Solitude Mountain Resort’s resident GoPro helmet cam expert.  Neil had a new prototype backpack that GoPro wanted him to test out.  Luckily, I was available to act as a guinea pig!  Though it’s still in the development stage, and could use a few tweaks (which we temporarily fixed with duct tape and a plastic cup), the backpack cam offers a very unique viewpoint.  Check out some of the footage (unedited) we shot of our runs at Solitude:

Should I even try to convince you that it was a tough day at work?  Probably not.  Oh, and if you’re feeling jealous right now, don’t worry, it’s completely normal.

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