No country for old knees - bountiful skiing in the US
Late February, 2010
Late February, Charlie Georgiou, Paul and Simon Maxim and Murray Fitzgerald departed for a ‘once in a lifetime’ ski holiday - 11 days in Salt Lake City, to experience some of the 13 ski resorts located an hour away. Judith joined us mid-trip.
Twenty-four hours and a few detours later, we arrived at our rented house below Little Cottonwood Canyon. Fifteen beds, but roomy enough for five; almost everyone had their own bathroom.
If you are a skier, you’re reading this to check Utah's claim to have ‘The Greatest Snow On Earth’. So we can safely answer with a resounding ‘YES’. Apparently, south westerly’s pass over salt pans and desert, removing moisture from the forming snow, giving Utah its famous ultra dry, fluffy and deep powder. Almost daily the clouds sat over the mountains, while only a few miles away, SLC was bathed in sunshine.
First up - Little Cottonwood Canyon. Three inches of fresh soft fluffy powder greeted us after only 25 minutes drive to Alta. Pre-validated electronic passes automatically opened lift gates. Sunday morning, but no queues, few people on the slopes. (Mormons don't ski Sundays.) We rapidly explored tree-lined runs, hunting un-skied powder off groomed runs.
Next day - Snowbird. Situated beneath Alta, these two fields share a gate, enabling skiing of both in a day. Imagine Whakapapa and Turoa being linked! A tour found us 50 metres below the mountain top, quite literally. A lift deposits you alongside a small tunnel with a 100 metre 'magic carpet' conveyor belt inside it; you, skis on, are carried underneath the ridge to the other side of the mountain! Costing $1.5M but allowing gentler learner access than expert drops above the Snowbird, the tram carries 125 people in 8 minutes to 3200m - an exposed altitude, well above tree line, with weather and snow conditions sometimes similar to New Zealand.
Our next trip further afield was 45 minutes to Park City, a larger condo style resort where we found wi-fi cafes to catch up with NZ while Simon tested several skis before making a purchase. Drizzly conditions but a few patches of old powder hidden amongst thickly gladed slopes.
Drizzle turned to large flakes and we awoke to 30 inches of new snow. Back to Snowbird. Strangely, Mormons may not ski on Sundays, but they're ok with the odd mid-week sick day. Resorts were busy and a 20-minute drive became 40. The tram PA system announced the back basin opening. With 125 cheers ringing in our ears we spread out along the 1 km ridge, threw ourselves off into its steep ‘n deep dry powder, laughing as we descended and crashed, more than once, on the way down. Muscles burning and knees starting to ache.
Judith arrived, so off to Alta and Snowbird. Next, Big Cottonwood Canyon. This field seemed to have two sides. A family-friendly wide open front and a hidden, narrow, mysterious tree and mogul hiding valley on its 'dark' backside. Day 9 - The Canyons, near Park City, joining Phil Castle and Beth Burdett. This field was so large that we only skied three of the nine hills making up this giant resort.
Day 10 - the big one as the lads took on the US$250 Interconnect 4 resort, 8-hour backcountry tour which involved backcountry skiing, boot packing and 'skis on' side -stepping around, under or over bluffs in out-of-bounds areas ... oh .. the knees? They were really hurting now!
Day 11 of continuous skiing - a gentle farewell ski at Alta. The Maxims flew out to NZ. Charlie and I drove 8 hours to Jackson Hole in Wyoming for thee more days of steep, but unfortunately not deep snow and then it was time to put the skis away. Oh, did I mention the aching knees?
- Party members
- Charlie Georgiou, Paul, Judith, and Simon Maxim and Murray Fitzgerald (scribe).