Join Thom Forster, volunteer patroller at Brighton and ER employee at the Alta View Hospital, as he rides all 14 Utah resorts the first 14 days of March. Enjoy his chronicles and storytelling below
Day 1: Saturday March 1st: Beaver Mountain
Located a short interstate jaunt up I-15 and a US 91/89 combo of paved smooth sailing blacktop; we pulled into 'the Beav in slightly under 2 hours from Salt Lake City.
Overnight reports boasted of 5", we jumped out to kneecap deep fluff. Quickly booting up and making our way to the lift, we boarded Harry's Dream chair, namesake of Harold Seeholzer, Beaver's founder. Beav triv? Beaver Mountain is the longest continuously family owned ski resort in the states.
9am on a powder day beginning with the letter S at most resorts would put you deep in the line behind the early-feen-gets-the-pow-crew. Gliding up thoughts of "Gosh darn Mrs. Cleaver, does the 'Beav not open until 10?" permeated our powder addled helmets. These are the things I like to be wrong about as the blue clad LSA (Lift Safety Attendant) waved us up and on.
If this is 5"...? Slicing through knee deep medium fluff I wondered where the people were and why there was no tracks in the direction we were headed, when over the breakover we’d go and a lift appeared through the mist.
Long, consistent pitched runs that take full advantage of it’s1600 vertical feet drop, Beaver’s 828 acres ski way bigger than it appears on the trail map. Lots of glades, enough steeps to keep us propelled and freeway wide trails without freeway traffic kept us hooting till late in the day.
Fueling up was light on the wallet: a tasty cheesesteak, fries and a drink for less than $7 in an amazing wood slatted A frame lodge with 60 foot vaulted ceilings. And cafeteria tables to get you back to your roots.
Clicking onto the Beaver report reflects the mellow vibe and friendly folk we encountered all day: “Updated 3:30 p.m. Saturday: We have had 12 inches of snowfall today since the morning report. App. 17 inches in the last 12 hours. Getting deeeep! More on the way tonight.”
Gotta love the Beav!
Day 2: Sunday March 2nd: Powder Mountain
Culling the glossy ski porn mags such as Powder, Ski and Skiing, there are thousands of words scribed regaling the goodness we call Pow Mow. Annually, readers of Ski Magazine dub Powder Mountain “Best Value.” Last season Ski Magazine rated PM as the #4 in the rankings for “Top 10 Resorts: Character” along with including it in the top “10 Best Mountains You've Never Skied.”
Powder Mountain touts as its expansive 7000+ acreage as the most of any resort in North America, but those in the know don’t need numbers to find inbounds untracked lines days after a storm. Lifts serve 2800 acres and a 2205 vertical foot drop. And that’s only a fraction of the skiable possibilities: Powder Country Shuttle (free with lift ticket: add 1200 acres); Lightening Ridge Snowcat ($18 with lift ticket: tack on 700 more). Outside the area boundaries the Backcountry Tour Area via the guided Snowcat Powder Safari encompasses 3,000 acres plus an additional 1,000 acres with DMI/Wolf Canyon Tours.
With all those stats and accolades, it’s no surprise families return year after year because of PMs “home away from home” vibe for out of towners. Locals (christened Powmanians) dig the 5 daily roundtrips via UTA bus 674 http://www.rideuta.com/uploads/route674dec2013schx.pdf which originates from the Ogden Transit Center (FrontRunner stop) and winds through Ogden before arriving in front of the ticket window. And Utah Powmanians, even if you leave the driving to UTA, don’t forget your Utah drivers license to score $50 day passes ($34 for you seasoned rippers 62 and older) Monday through Thursday.
No one personifies Powder Mountain and its laid back feeling like Richard “Woody” Wood, master for 30 years of what some call “The Backside” or what the trail map designates as Powder Country. Woody pilots the shuttle on its round trip journey from the Powder Country pickup and back to Timberline/Resort Center over and over throughout the day.
On the way back up from the Powder Country pickup I tossed Woody 4 burning questions:
How many times do you think you have made this loop?
“You know guys have tried to figure it out over the years… I average between 20 and 30 trips a day, some years we are only open 40 days, some years we open in October and run through April. It’s really hard to tell. Some guys have been up there in the seven to eight hundred thousand miles, so I don’t know.”
Craziest thing you have seen driving the shuttle?
*laughs* “Well, there’s been so many I just can’t…One time while I was driving up there was this woman that comes up to the front panicked and says “you have to stop,” so I do. I open the doors and she runs out and up and over the snowbank. Pretty soon we hear yelling “help, help!” from beyond and the eight guys on board were all too happy to help rescue her.”
Words of wisdom for us amateur drivers coming up and down the Powder Mountain road?
“Treat her like a redhead as she’ll turn on you at any time” Woody says with a wide grin.
What epithet would you like on your gravestone?
“Well, I don’t know. The older you get, the more you think about it. But I still don’t know. It’s against the law, but I’d like to be cremated and the ashes scattered from Hidden Lake over to Moose Hollow and down. But I know they can’t do that…my girls won’t let ‘em.”
3:45 PM sneaks up on us and it’s last call for the Powder Country shuttle and time to start heading back to reality. Rather than taking the east route around Pineview Reservoir, we take the west side through Huntsville, home of Utah’s oldest continuously operating bar, The Shooting Star. Beginning in 1879, a bar has operated in that spot, previously under the names Holkin’s and Clarence’s. And since 1958 hangs the head of Buck, once attached to a 200 pound plus St Bernard who’s owner bartered him away to cover a bar tab.
Adorned with a ceiling plastered with dollar bills, “cash only” and “never mind the dog, beware the owner” signs on the wall and a jukebox playing 45’s, it’s clear this is not your hipster locale.
Saddle up to the bar (there is no table service) and order up. The menu is short and sweet: burgers, burgers and burgers. Seven varieties, served with chips. All served on a toasted sesame seed bun, sautéed onions, mild seasoning, mustard, ketchup, pickles and tomatoes. All except the house specialty, The Star Burger, which comes with two beef patties straddling a Polish Knackwurst topped with cheese. And before you get creative and ask for the Grey Poupon, take heed of the note at the bottom of the menu: “WE ARE NOT A RESTAURANT, PLEASE NO SPECIAL ORDERS”.
Verdict: Solid burger, lots of zest and flavor. Good brew selection too.
Fueled up, we set course for Salt Lake City.
Day 3: Monday March 3rd: Canyons Resort
I feel just the opposite of the guy that gets there the day after and has to hear “You shoulda been here yesterday the ____________ (fill in the blank) was epic!”
After back to back pow days at Beaver and Powder Mountain, I luck into a magic Monday at Canyons Resort. 9am and the spoils of the overnight groomer’s labor are all over; supersonic rolling cruisers with just a touch of softness on the surface to lay an edge into at speed. Lift lines are ski up, jump on, with just enough time to exchange pleasantries with the LSA’s* before we are whisked into the atmosphere.
*LSA=Lift Safety Attendants (they really do hate being called “lifties”, right up there with stewardesses being called “waitresses in the sky”, but that’s another diatribe).
Tucking into the Iron Mountain side, I was more than willing to play the “as the sun turns” game, finding where the sun had recently kissed and being taken aback by the lack of fellow snow sliders. The slightly lower elevation made the exposure just the right amount of creamy. We did this continuously, keeping ahead of the melt brought on by the mid 40’s temps. It’s easy to do when you have multiple facing aspects and almost 20 terrain assessing chairlifts and gondolas.
Having skied Canyons since they called it ParkWest, every time I come up here, I am surprised by a new amenity. I’m especially enamored with how Canyons has fostered the skiing for the day attitude the Euros take; where skiing is a daylong exercise peppered with long lunches (and good food), relaxing when you see a sun facing chair (see Ski Beach) and the best reason to ski hard and up until the chairs stop spinning: après’ ski. My newest fav: The Umbrella Bar. Situated in the middle of the resort village it has both an inside 360 degree “in the round” bar area and an outside deck with… FOOSBALL! We tossed a few frosty cold beverages along with a game of cornhole (bean bag toss). Who said Utah doesn’t have après ski? My only regret was that I was here on Lundi Gras instead of Mardi Gras and will miss out on the Umbrella Bar’s Mardi Gras soirée: http://www.canyonsresort.com/content/mardi-gras-party
I will not however, miss the FREE Steel Pulse concert on Saturday, March 22nd following Pond Skim http://www.canyonsresort.com/events.html%3Ftextid%3D169 as part of the Canyons Spring Grüv Series http://www.canyonsresort.com/content/spring-gr%C3%BCv-steel-pulse
Nor will my guide for the day, Ski Patroller Dave “Wavy” Reynolds, an 18 year Wolf Mountain/The Canyons/Canyons employee.
When asked which of the many winter concerts he’s seen here at Canyons Dave deemed as most memorable, Dave replied: “my most memorable would be seeing Santana during the Wolf Mountain years.”
Which lead us into as many questions as I could fit into a ride on the Orange Bubble Express.
We’re going to call you King Dave for the day what are going to be your first three edicts?
Dave: “Teach everyone in California and Utah how to drive, requirement that they take a test using blinkers and all that stuff. Bring back stretch pants. What’s the third one…? I don’t know, I’ll have to mull that one over a bit.”
You have a guest coming out to Canyons, what are your words of wisdom for that guest?
Dave: "Make sure your boots fit. That’s pretty much the most important thing. Eat and drink lots. Acclimate. Have fun."
What’s your favorite run at Canyons?
Dave: "Anything on the south side of Condor."
Burning question everyone wants to know. How do you get assigned to patrol the Pond Skim?
Dave: "Well, you can volunteer for it, I did. Previously. Until I had to go in the water to fish someone out. Then I didn’t volunteer again."
Happy Mardi Gras and Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Day 4: Tuesday, March 4th: Snowbird
Probably a million pictures have been snapped and a trillion words have been written about Snowbird since it opened in December 1971. Ask any self-proclaimed pro where they ride when visiting Utah and Snowbird is always one of the first names dropped.
And its reputation for being steep and deep is well earned. But while the ‘Bird has a well-deserved rep for having declivitous terrain, it’s following amongst destination skiers and riders who want a wide choice in terrain, but aren’t going to drop chutes is growing with every visit. 27 percent of Snowbird’s terrain is classified as beginner, 38 percent intermediate, and 35 percent advanced/expert. And nothing validates Snowbirds commitment to improving the 65%’s experience like the new Gad 2 chair, slicing the ride time to 4 minutes for covering ¾ of a mile.
Topping out at 11,000 feet above sea level, Hidden Peak is the jumping off point for the Aerial Tram. And today resembled what skiers call “socked in.” A sage mountain guide once told me that skiing in a whiteout was the best exercise for relaxing while trusting your legs and skis. I tried to remember that as I glided down the ridgeline, realizing that the white room also had an additional bonus: less traffic.
With a resort as immense as the ‘Bird, there are always options. Just like a commercial pilot climbs or descends to find smooth air, taking advantage of Snowbirds 10 Chairlifts and a tram can mean a way better ride. Dropping our elevation to Mid Gad and using the trees as contrast, we lapped the freshly fallen goodness. As the day progressed, the clouds lifted and settled, but an unscientific polling of out of towners on the lifts resulted in a 98% approval rating for the snow and crowds. Could go higher if the forecast of 8” tonight holds.
Just like Snowbird has a wide variety of terrain to suit all levels, they have the same variety in their food options. Locals tip: El Chante’s daily 2 for $5 deals from 3-5PM. And El Chante’s Thirsty Thursday for $2 drafts and $3 Margaritas. Tip #2: The Lodge’s $12 All-You-Can-Devour-Mussels every Sunday, 4-6PM Check out http://www.snowbird.com/events/apres-ski/ where all of the après ski deals are listed. Or the bulletin board at the steps to the plaza near the water fountain. While you’re there, grab a “what’s up at the bird” sheet as it lists all of the groomed trails, activities and weather.
And know before you go. While many resorts have taken snow reporting to a fantasy interpretation, Snowbird’s Time Lapse SnowCam reveals the real deal: http://www.snowbird.com/snowcam/ Watch the snow fall in whatever increment you desire: week, last 24 hours or down to 2 hours.
Getting up the 8 miles of Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird on powder days can sometimes can be challenging with avalanche control and four wheel drive and chain restrictions. Signing up at http://updsl.org/services/canyonalerts for texts, tweets, emails or even Facebook updates saves sitting at the mouth waiting. Or getting turned away.
Day 5: Wednesday, March 5th: Deer Valley
Everything you have heard about Deer Valley is true.
They have ski valets. Amazing food. Tissues in lift lines (lift corrals, there are no actual lines). The ends of the toilet paper are folded into triangles in the restrooms. Free overnight ski check.
What Deer Valley doesn’t publicize is how nice the people are. Everybody. The “guests” (how they refer to us). Especially the staff. At first, I was borderline skeptical. All the staff smiled. They made eye contact. Most said hello. The last time this happened to me so frequently was when I first visited Salt Lake, wandered through Temple Square and attractive girls wearing Sister_______ nametags did the same. Right before offering me a tour.
Granted it was an amazing day. Sunny. New snow. Temperature peaking at 40 degrees with a light wind to keep it comfortable. Plenty to grin about.
And lifts. Lots of them. Comfortable. Padded. Did I mention no lines? Deer Valley has the greatest uphill lift capacity in Utah. Speaking of capacity, Deer Valley limits 7,500 skiers a day to experience its slopes. Imagine that…guests are lining up to pay $100+ and they turn them away. But they are nice and really don’t want to, so reserve your ticket in advance via phone at: 435-645-6625 or online at: http://www.deervalley.com/Tickets/Ticket/TicketLanding
The superlatives abound. Ski Magazine Readers Poll has named Deer Valley as the #1 Ski Area in North America 5 times. Zagat’s No. 1 Food score in the Salt Lake City/Mountain Resorts Survey for The Mariposa.
I have a personal superlative for DV: Best Outdoor Ski Resort Amphitheater in the US. And this isn’t your parents’ musical lineup either. Running the gamut from symphony to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and showing some love for those itchin’ for a String Cheese Incident, the programmers at Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater bring something for everyone. Do yourself a favor and get out here this summer! http://www.deervalley.com/WhatToDo/Summer/Amphitheater
Pre String Cheese Incident Summer 2012
True confession: I have not skied for 28 years. I realize some of you are huffing “blasphemy!” at the top of your lungs at this moment; imagining the virgin slopes of Deer Valley defiled by a snowboarder wearing skis to see what the hubris was about. True confession #2: If I was ever put in the witness protection program, this is where I’d want to be relocated to. I felt like I blended in. We all had the same equipment. We all had poles. We all shared a commonality akin to going to a sporting event and all cheering for the same team. Worn out by Deer Valley’s impeccably groomed pistes, quaffing a frosty cold beverage on the deck of Edgars, while tossing a game of cornhole on the Deer Valley monogrammed cornhole board as the lifts stopped spinning, I thought to myself: I can’t wait to come back.
I have but one complaint. A full day of skiing, no Stein Erickson sighting.
Day 6: Thursday, March 6th: Wolf Mountain
Arrived at Wolf Mountain and became immediately concerned as I pulled my car in the parking lot filled with…4 cars. Fears quickly allayed as I saw chairlifts spinning on the horizon. Booted up in the light liquid falling from the sky and caught up with Paul Crezee, Ski Patrol Director at Wolf Mountain to make some runs. Once thoroughly soaked, I asked Paul, “What makes Wolf so special?” replied:
“Wolf Mountain is special because of the family feeling you have here, the camaraderie you have amongst the patrollers. If you can ski at Wolf Mountain you can ski anywhere because our conditions change all the time. It’s a wonderful place, a very family friendly place. And we have all conditions you can imagine. Today it’s raining and were still skiing.”
Surveying the runs beneath us, I count one skier taking a lesson, two skiing and myself.
A few runs in, it’s time to seek out the long timers of Wolf, ski patrollers Jim Furlong and Lloyd Barney sitting top shack at the top of Howling Wolf Double Chairlift. I walk in, see six patrollers. Counting the two in the base clinic, they have the skiing public outnumbered by a 2:1 ratio. Reassuring if you plan to get hurt, even better if you like to have a private mountain to yourself.
I asked the pair how long they had been at Wolf.
Barney: “I’ve skied here ever since it was built, in 1970, so this is season number 44”.
Jim: “Same amount of time”.
Who’s been here longer?
Jim: “I’ve been here three weeks longer than he has”.
Barney: “We figured out one time based on the elevation and how many runs we make on average a year that we probably have done somewhere close to 50 million vertical feet”.
Jim: “If we figured right. Probably figured wrong as old as we are...”
What makes Wolf Mountain special for a guest?
Jim: “Friendly people”.
Barney: “It’s a great family resort. The terrain and everything is suitable for families to come and really enjoy it.”
John Lundstedt joins in when asked: What is the strangest thing you have seen here you have seen at Wolf?
John: “The bota bag incident. When guy who had a bota bag on, fell, burst the bota bag and we thought it was a major trauma situation, so we showed up with all the bells and whistles and then got closer and you could smell the alcohol. He woke up and said “where’s my bota bag?” and we got to tell him it was empty”.
Back to Barney: “What are some of the changes you’ve seen in this business?”
Barney: “When I started skiing Snowbasin, I could buy a day pass for a $1.75 for an all day pass. You could buy a 50 ride ticket for $5.00 and they would punch it each time you went through the lift line. And there was only one single chair and sometimes there was a 45 minute lift line. And no one even cared because they didn’t know any better. I’ve watched that grow to high speed quads and gondolas and $105-$110 lift tickets over the time I’ve been skiing and it’s amazing. It’s just one of things. If you live long enough you get a ski run named after you”.
Barney goes on to explain how his run got its name: “It’s named Barneys Way. And it was the first year that Wolf Creek bought the resort we were working on the lift tower and we needed a tool. And I jumped on an ATV and headed down the mountain to go to the shop and get the tool. Stuck a wheel in the wash and I rolled the ATV right over the top of me, 750 pounds and broke a leg and broke a couple ribs. Well, two days later a committee of women were meeting to rename the ski runs. Wolf Creek had just bought the resort and were renaming the ski runs. And when they did, I was laid up with broken ribs and the legs and they named the run Barneys Way. And when I called my son and told him they named it, he said “Well, that’s really great Dad. There’s two kinds of people that get ski runs named after ‘em: Olympic Champions and dead guys”! And I said “maybe they thought I was going to die?”
Back out into the liquid sunshine, we schussed through very thick mashed potatoes, for a few runs, alternating wipes of the goggles with gloves like windshield wipers, before ducking in to the base lodge. There we caught up with Craig Olsen, Owner of Diamond Peaks Heli-Skiing and GM of Wolf Mountain which is soon to be…
Craig: Skyline Mountain Base.
What makes Wolf Mountain, Skyline Mountain Base special?
Craig: “Well there’s a couple reasons, it’s very family oriented, it has a lot to offer, everything from one of the best beginner hills in the state, to world class racing. We hosted the Masters race here two weeks ago. Freestyle skiing started here. It’s the most accessible ski resort in the state. We have lots of school programs, so we get busloads of kids up here. As you can see we have a brand new rental package here and the skis are the top of the line. So it’s fun, it’s affordable and a great place, a safe place to leave the kids up here for the day if Mom and Dad even want to go shopping for the day. They can leave the kids here and know that when they get back, everything is going to be good. Our night skiing is probably some of the best anywhere. Our mountain is fully lit with state of the lighting. Even our expert runs right down to our terrain parks are well lit”.
Tell me about Skyline Mountain Base.
Craig: “Skyline Mountain Base was started by some friends, a bunch of us got together, went out and found some investors, I’m not one of those investors, I’m not an owner, just a manager for these guys. We have some great people in from France that are investing here, so it will increase the quality of the food already being French. Some of their ideas for growth including new lodging, hotels and condominiums are really taking hold. And this valley is kind of the new thing, Park City might be built up, we have a lot of room for potential here. Not only the quality of the skiing and ease to get here guests will actually be able to ski in and ski out so the entire resort they are developing is designed around ski in and ski out. And that doesn’t mean take your skis off and walk 20 yards across a parking lot, you can ski right up to your door, so it will be a lot of fun”.
When will see this break ground?
“We hope to start to breaking ground this spring for some of the condominiums. Actually, we have seventy interested parties that have put money down to start, that want in. The lodge, maybe two years from now. We are also currently flagging, we have groups out today, flagging for new ski runs and new ski lifts that will go in the canyon we own and we hope to put in a ski lift, I doubt this summer, because they have to build it, but it will be the following summer, the summer of ‘15 we will be putting new lifts in the canyon, so we are increasing”.
As I look at the ticket specials and see Monday night, family of 4: $60, I know what Craig means by affordability and look forward to returning soon in cooler, albeit dryer conditions.
Day 7: Friday, March 7th: Sundance
I’m at work last night and one of my favorite doctors asks me how the quest is going. I told her of the resorts, the people and the amazing time I’m having. I pull up the blog so she can read it during the (hopefully) slow overnight period. She takes a brief look and exclaims “there’s no pictures! I want to see pictures!” I explain that there are millions of poster quality pictures all over the interweb of Utah resorts, far better than I could ever take (as clearly evident above). Not to mention that most of my days have been white out, or yesterday, rain days.
Ascending Provo Canyon, in the shadow of Mount Timpanogos, I thought of doc’s exclamation, except this time it was my voice “I want to take pictures!" The sheer beauty and magnificence astounded me.
Time from the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon to the top parking lot next to Jake’s Lift: 53 minutes.
Jake’s Lift Parking Lot is wide open and provides the fastest access uphill. We jumped on Jake’s and the scenery only got better. By time we were on Arrowhead to reach the top, we were blown away. Not only from the vistas surrounding us, but the terrain and open lines seemingly all over. Sundance reported 1” new overnight, dropping in the trees at Hill’s Headwall was a solid 4” of new goodness.
We took lap after lap, line after line. Using the angle of the sun as a guide to work the different aspects and faces we worked the outer ridge, Far East and according to locals, the recently opened Pipeline out to Flathead Chairlift.
At the top of Flathead, with Timpanogos as a backdrop, I caught up with Cöbi, lift operator, who opined on working in the most visually stunning top shack in the valley:
What makes Sundance different?
“It’s definitely a smaller resort, but its very family oriented, very small and quaint, but at the same time, that’s what makes it awesome.”
Do you ever get tired of this view up here?
“Ah dude, I can never get sick of this view. I’ve skied at a lot of other resorts, outside of Utah, in Utah, but I have to say, by far, my favorite view of all. Especially on those days where you have to open up the mountain early for avalanche control. I absolutely love it! Working up at Arrowhead summit, watching the sun come up, it’s an absolutely breathtaking view.”
Why do you like working at Sundance so much?
The people I work for and the people I work with. I’m biased, because I work here, but I just feel like our employees try to make things a lot more personal. We invite guests back, we ask them how their run was, give them good advice, tell them the snow conditions. We try to make a more personal relationship with our guests and make sure they enjoy their stay and enjoy the mountain, that’s what it’s all about!”
I had the good fortune to ski the middle of the day with John Peterson. Once an overnight security guard here at Sundance during his college days at BYU, John made the quick 10 minute jaunt up for his lunch sojourn to make some runs. John weighed in on what makes Sundance special:
John: “I love the beauty of this resort, more than the other resorts here in Utah. It’s really pretty on the backside of Mount Timpanogos. The trees and it’s great skiing, not to crowded compared to the other ones as well.”
I agree with everything they said and more. Some locals were more guarded. One told me, “I’d rather you didn’t tell anyone, we like it just the way it is.”
Another solid day in the books and I have but one complaint. A full day of skiing, no Robert Redford sighting.
Day 8: Saturday, March 8th: Brian Head
Quick, what’s the highest elevation ski resort in Utah? Nope. Nope and nope.
Brian Head’s base is at 9600 feet above sea level, it peaks out at 11,307.
Located 243 miles south of Big Cottonwood Canyon and 204 miles north of Caesars Palace on the strip, it boasts 2000 beds, but just 70 residents.
I used to come here as often as possible in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Pulling in last night, things looked familiar. And that is a good thing.
A few lifts have been added. The Giant Steps Base Lodge upgraded the food service inside, but kept the same façade. A bridge connects two of the three mountains that make up Brian Head. A few new condos and a Doubletree Hotel dot the area. But when the sun goes down, it’s still a place where you feel great that you rode hard from 930am (more on that later) till close. Because there still isn’t much to tempt you in the way of nightlife and debauchery. It’s serene. There’s a few solid places to eat (Double Black Diamond Restaurant; wings at the new Last Chair Saloon), but once that’s done, it’s time to relax and recharge for the next day. If I were to ever sire offspring, this is where I’d take them on a snow sliding vacation.
On the lift with Rick Valentine:
How long have you been skiing Rick?
I just started boarding on Thanksgiving Day. I had never skied before then.
How old are you Rick?
What made you take up snowboarding?
I went to a friend’s house and watched a video on snowboarding in Alaska and decided I need to try that.
So friends of mine were coming up and said come up with us, we’ll show you the basics. And I spent most of the day on my bottom, but I made it home and it took me a week to get over it, so the next week I went out and bought all the gear.
And you bought a seasons pass?
And I bought a seasons pass.
I try to learn something new every year, it keep me young.
The problem with people my age is they get it in their mind that they are old, when it’s just in their mind, they just need to get out and do it.
You see 35 year Brian Head employee Larry “Chili Dog” Lay strolling through the parking lot with a clipboard and wonder, “why is he writing tickets?”
In reality, Larry is doing demographics.
Larry explains: “Demographics means that we need to see if people are from California, Utah, Nevada and so we generally get on a day like this, 230 cars. We want to know where to put our money and advertising. On a constant basis, it’s Utah and Nevada, always. We’ll have a race between Utah and Nevada and I believe my money is on Utah”.
Josh Madsen is the new (18 months) marketing director at Brian Head. He has a wealth of knowledge and ideas culled from competing as a telemarker worldwide; publishing a magazine: Telemark Skier; making stellar telemark films: http://joshmadsen.com/filmography/telemark-ski-movies/ ; playing in a punk band; heading a record label and now landing in Brian Head. Josh is the front runner for “The Most Interesting Guy in Brian Head” even if the Dos Equis beer guy makes an appearance.
After the big air contest and awards ceremony, I caught up with Josh, seeking answers today’s burning questions:
Why do you rock the mask?
The Balaclava, as I like to call it, is my neck protector. I get kinda cold neck and there’s lots of wind up here and sun, we’re at 9600 feet at the base, lot of elements and I am kinda a wuss, so I like to protect the neck region.
What’s up with the 930 in the morning lift opening?
930 yeah, the funny thing is, we open a little bit later than everybody else which was curious to me too when I first came here. Traditionally people don’t tend to come ski here until later, and so that’s what they historically kinda moved into. Years ago it was an earlier lift times. Vegas people are an hour behind us, and that’s a lot of clientele, so that seems to help them out too.
What makes Brian Head different?
Ah man, there’s endless things about this place: red rock vistas are amazing, nowhere else that I have ever been you can ski with a true sandstone red rock in the distance with snow on it. It’s got a really rolly terrain, tons of fun transitions, it’s not a crazy steep valley like some ski areas are, it has a bunch of interesting wind features and it’s a volcanic background, so it’s unique in how it was formed.
Random Story of the Day (inspired by Josh’s neck region protector): Back in the 90’s, the sun wasn’t much further away than it is today. A bunch of friends gathered here in Brian Head before the Ski Industries shindig/trade show in Vegas.
Day 1: Socked in. Riding by Braille was the mode of the day.
Day 2: The Heavens and the Firmament open up. Epic bluebird pow session had by all. One of our crew (we’ll change his name to "Roberto", to protect the innocent) declines sunscreen on multiple occasions, despite our pleadings.
Day 3: In Vegas. Roberto visits an instant care center for 2nd degree burns.
Night of Day 3: Crew goes to see Blue Men Group at the Luxor. Tradition has it that the cast from the Blue Men Group stand by the exit shaking hands and posing for pictures, but in the true Blue Men character, never change their stoic facial expression.
It’s Roberto’s turn to shake hands with the cast member, he extends his hand, when I launch into an introduction: “Blue Man, meet Red Man”. Blue Man breaks into a wide grin.
Moral of the Story: Always use Sunscreen and neck region protectors!
Brian Head is the place where a vacation is relaxing, while still riding challenging terrain. We made our base camp of relaxation at Cedar Breaks Lodge and Spa. http://www.cedarbreakslodge.com
Very modern condo style rooms with all the amenities: spa, gym, sauna, hot tubs and both a bar and restaurant. Once the vehicle was parked (inside no less), it stayed there. Take the shuttle to the mountain (or ride Cowboy Mike’s horse drawn carriage).
Day 9: Sunday, March 9th: Eagle Point
Next up was a Sunday at Eagle Point. The day of the week is relevant as Eagle Point operates Thursday through Sundays only. Seemingly to make amends, they throw down some amazing all day ticket deals: Thursdays are just $10, while Friday, Saturday and Sunday are $25. Have a seasons pass at a California or Nevada resort? You ski free.
Often you get what you pay for, but Eagle Point bucks that myth. The Canyonside Lodge was clean and modern (with dual 12 person hot tubs on the deck slopeside); lifts solid and seemingly new; and terrain well worth that meager pittance. As I dipped into the trees off of Hoodoos for some more freshies a week after the last storm, I mentally flogged myself for not being there on Thursday when it opened for the week.
In order to have some relevant content in this blog, aside from my rambling, I try to talk to people while riding the chairlifts. Lots of people equal a little bit of interesting content. The “lots of people” part was a problem here at Eagle Point. Not due to personal hygiene issues, but there was no one to ride the lifts with. Multiple times I stalled at base of the Lookout Quad Chair waiting for my prey, rarely did they appear. Scanning the chair cable forward and back from its high point, seldom did I see anyone else dangling.
“Maybe they are all in The Warming Station at the top?” Checking in to a very attractively built structure at the top of Lookout, it contained a patroller taking a lunch break and a guitar hanging on the wall. And a hearty wood burning stove. And true to its name, quite warm.
Evan was cornered, so I threw a few questions at him:
Surrounded by powder, what are your favorite runs up here?
My favorite powder shots on this mountain? Hoodoos. Or Satisfaction.
Words of wisdom for a guest coming to Eagle Point?
What comes to mind at first is ride hard early in the morning, totally enjoy the views we have from every location and lay it up a little bit in the afternoon. We like to see people go home with big smiles on their face. Ride hard early, go home tired and enjoy yourself while you are here.
The backbone of a ski resort is the Lift Attendants. Without them, why be there? They are also the soul of the resort. They know everyone. They have the finger on the resorts pulse and with a few words and a smile can make it a better place. We checked in with Talon at the base of Lookout for his Eagle Point outlook:
How did you end up here?
Talon: “Well I came out to help my family move some cattle, winter hit, heard about Eagle Point and came up to check it out, this mountain’s amazing man”.
Why is the mountain amazing?
“The powder is unlike anything I have ridden before. It’s light and fluffy and you can’t do anything with it besides ride it”.
Talon’s words of wisdom for a guest coming to Eagle Point?
“I’d make sure you have snow chains and appropriate gear to wear. We go from extreme cold, to nice warm sunny days”.
As I pulled in this morning to the first entry lot by Canyonside Lodge (access to advanced terrain; Skyline Lodge is the beginner base lodge) I was amazed at the smorgasbord of license plates represented. Next to me plastered in Utah ski resort stickers, was a truck with Arizona plates belonging to Scott Larson and his family, schoolteachers from Kingman, AZ. Scott is an Eagle Point seasons pass holder and makes the 660 mile roundtrip every two weeks. Here’s Scott’s take on Eagle Point.
Eagle Point By The Numbers:
*66 miles NNE of Brian Head, 216 miles south of Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Fishlake National Forest
*1500 vertical feet drop
* Base elevation: 9,100 feet
* Top elevation 10,600 feet
* 600 skiable acres
* 320 days of sunshine
* 450 inches of annual snowfall
Lots of steeps to be ridden off of Lookout chair: expert/black diamond runs encompass 45% of the skiable acreage. 35% intermediate, 25% beginner.