I went to Park City to go powder skiing. It started out as a group of eleven, all fired up to ride the cat in the backcountry, but as the temperature rose and the snow melted the participants dropped out one by one until there were only six of us left.
And five of them bolted yesterday, the designated cat skiing day, because with this heat it was a no-go.
Now when I lived in Utah, back in the dark ages, before many of you were even born, it never rained in the mountains. But Saturday in Salt Lake it was eighty degrees. In Park City it was topping out at sixty. So on Monday I made turns at Deer Valley with Toby Mamis, who decamped from the City of Angels for Utah thirteen years ago and is as happy as a clam. Toby says he never goes to a seder, but they’ve built a synagogue in Park City, along with a Catholic church, the mountain hideaway may be one of the only places in the Beehive State that is not LDS-dominant.
And on Tuesday, the aforementioned six returned to Deer Valley to cruise the groomers before the sun beat the slopes to shreds and after surviving our dash, when you get a group of guys together the testosterone flows, we partook of a bountiful buffet at the Stein Eriksen Lodge and the other five departed, to get earlier flights than planned so they could go back to their desks and earn their keep.
I take my desk with me. I can operate anywhere. And I was not going to give up a day of skiing.
This was a mistake.
I’m addicted to Dark Sky. Weather forecasting is notoriously dicey, but what’s great about the Dark Sky app is there’s no human involvement, only computers, and at this point I trust zeros and ones more than people and Dark Sky said it was gonna rain all day Wednesday, today.
And it did.
My plan was to get out at nine, hit it hard, get back to the room by noon and check out at one, the latest time available. Now if it had been midwinter, I would have stashed my bags and skied till the end of the day, but that’s impossible now, with the weather so warm, so…
I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof. No, John Sebastian and his fellow band members were not doing a gig in Utah, but the drops were literally bouncing on the balcony and my brain said no but my heart said go so I suited up. And when you do, you get into the groove. Pull on the long underwear, buckle up the boots…
And in this case I took my winter jacket.
Good move. But not enough to counter my bad move, which was to leave my iPhone in the room.
You learn your lessons. I learned mine today.
I’m thinking the rain will soak through my spring jacket and I’m feeling confident in my choice when I exit the hotel and the drops are a’flyin’, and I’m smart enough not to raise my goggles off my face, you don’t want to get the insides wet, and I’m laughing as I ride the Frostwood Gondola to the Orange Bubble Express and that’s when I noticed…
I was the only one out there.
Now normally one would be elated. But this had me wondering. Was I a dunce?
But I’m still in a good mood as the rain is bouncing off the bubble, and I must say, I’ve never skied the Canyons side before but I’m good with a map and just before I get to the top…
It starts to hail.
Or maybe it’s graupel. I won’t walk you through the various types of snow but one thing was for sure, when my skis hit the ground on the exit ramp, there was an inch or two of new stuff.
Good call on the winter jacket.
Bad call on being out there.
Because visibility was bad and the snow was STICKY!
And there you have the essence of my problem, the snow snakes were out in force.
So my plan was to cover the entire mountain, get a peek at each lift, and I go off in a direction from which there is no return and there are huge clumps of snow in the middle of the slope and my skis are being grabbed again and again and that’s when I realize, I’ve got to go low.
You learn from experience. I knew that where it was raining it wouldn’t be sticky, but with so much snow having melted there was no way I could ski to the bottom, I could only go up. So I did.
Where it was a veritable sea of Maypo with Marky there to reach out for my skis and when I finally got to the next juncture, I decided to take the chair that went across instead of up.
But this took me to another chair that went straight up and it was snowin’ and blowin’ and I realized…
I’d made a big mistake. Skiing down from there could leave me in a cast.
And I didn’t want that.
So I took the road, which was completely unskied. And I’m going straight in fits and starts and I end up at the Quicksilver gondola which goes to the original Park City, which is higher in elevation, so I decide to ride it.
But it’s occurring to me, like that old Foreigner song, I’m a long, long way from home and I’ve got no PHONE! So not only can I not call my hotel to pick me up at the original Park City base area, if I fall on a slope and need to be rescued…
There will be no one there.
Furthermore, I’ve got an iPhone 7, which is waterproof, but my OCD makes me afraid to get it wet and the day is just a cornucopia of bad judgment.
But it’s only getting worse.
I get over to the original Park City and I see people! Two or three of them! This will solve my problem! They’ll tamp down the new snow!
But when I got off the lift the main way down was completely untracked. And with two inches of new snow, I could barely go. And when I did, it felt like the bottoms of my skis were made of sandpaper, and I never knew when they’d hit a knot in the wood and I’d grind to a halt, instantly.
Now I’m starting to lose it. I’m literally miles from my hotel. I’ve got to ski many slopes to get home. How am I going to do this?
I make it back to the Quicksilver Gondola. I ride up.
But the map is confusing, I find the unskied slope that will supposedly take me down to the Canyons base but the truth is it’s bringing me back to the Quicksilver Gondola, I’m in a living “Groundhog Day,” and I’m starting to freak out, because it’s so flat I can’t go, and there’s not a soul in sight.
And then I grind to a halt and there’s a non-functioning lift that will take you across the flat so I’ve got to walk.
Now you’re never as alive as when your life is in danger. But then I realize I’m no longer twenty five and I could have a heart attack and I’m about to have a complete meltdown. I’m trekking across a hill, alone, in the snow, on March 22nd, and everybody else down in town is oblivious, but I could literally die out here, and they might not find me until…
At least the end of the day, when the patrol does its sweep.
So I decide to talk myself off the ledge. Since I’m walking, the snow snakes can’t get me, so why not just bask in the atmosphere, enjoy the landscape, or at least try, and, I know where I am, I’ll make it eventually.
To a lift that’s gonna take me up.
No f’ing way. As I told you earlier, I need to go DOWN!
So I take a road and it’s sticky and there are bare spots and rocks but I find the lift that went cross-country that got me into this mess and the signs all say it’s gonna take me to the Red Pine Gondola which will take me home and I’m starting to relax but it’s untrue. Just when I thought I was out of the woods, I had to go back up. And up. And up.
But it’s only one run down to the Red Pine Gondola. I can do this.
Well, maybe I can’t.
I get off the lift and there are all these signs saying not to take this way, to go on the road.
But the road is nearly flat and that’s where you can truly break your leg, with the stops and starts, better to be on a steeper slope.
Or so I thought, because skiing down this run was like skiing in molasses. I could barely move. And it was long and…
I’m freaking out all over again.
And now we’re at the part of the story where you think I protesteth too much. I mean hell, I’m back in Los Angeles writing this, how bad could it be?
Well, have you been out in the elements? Mother Nature cuts no breaks. One false move and it can be all over. And I didn’t think I was gonna die at this point, but the odds of hurting myself were extremely high. And I’m not even fully recovered from my shoulder surgery. You see my bindings are set to release at a value too high to eject me at such a slow speed. And they don’t release upwards at the toe, meaning if I fall backward, extremely rare in regular conditions, my leg is a goner. Or, I could fall sideways and still get hurt when the bindings don’t release. And the instinct in this situation is to sit back, but then you’re setting yourself up for instant failure, you can’t recover from a jolt. But if you lean forward, you could tip over your skis, and there’s no way my bindings will release at this slow speed, even though they have the theoretical capability, so I can snap a bone and…
It happens all the time. People get hurt. Because they do stupid things. They think they’re immune.
I didn’t need to be out there. I could have said no, like everybody else. But I just couldn’t help myself, kinda like those wingsuiters competing in events where ten percent of the contestants die, they don’t think it’ll happen to them. But it does.
So I can see the shore, er, the Red Pine Gondola, but I’m far away and if I ski where everybody else has, the three or four people before me, hours into the day, I’m okay. But there’s a dad and his two kids trying to make it down in front of me, the only people I’ve seen on the Canyons side all day, which forces me to the side where the untracked new snow is and I grind to a halt and I’ve made it this far, almost all the way back, I’m in sight of safety, but I’m far from safe!
Needless to say, I made it. Got to the Red Pine Gondola as the snow turned to rain and when I got off at the bottom I felt like an idiot. A safe idiot, but an idiot nonetheless.
P.S. If you’d like to play the home game, you can pull up the Park City trail map and visualize my trek here:
I started on the Frostwood Gondola. From there I went to the Orange Bubble Express. Then to the Sun Peak Express. And then I skied all the way down to the cross-country chair known as Timberline. From there I went up the Iron Mountain Express, down to the Quicksilver Gondola, over to the original Park City where I rode the Silverlode Express. Then back to the Quicksilver Gondola. Whereupon I got off in the middle and skied the Highway, thinking it would take me to the base, but instead I ended up back at the Quicksilver Gondola, and refused to go up on Flat Iron or Dreamcatcher, so I took the road, White Pine to Cascade, and got back on Timberline where I discovered I had to go up to get to the Red Pine Gondola, so I took the Tombstone Express and ultimately skied down Sidewinder to the Red Pine Gondola which took me to the main base and then I rode the Frostwood Gondola back to my hotel, where I stripped off my soaked clothing, took a shower and continued to question why I’d gone out in the first place.