I’m theoretically here to go heli-skiing.

I lived for two years in Utah fifty years ago. Not quite, but close, ’75 & ’76. One year in Sandy, at the foot of Little Cottonwood Canyon, at the top of which reside Alta and Snowbird, and one year in the avenues, downtown, because I slept on the couch of these guys theoretically going to the U, which is what they call the University of Utah. They’d enroll, and then it would snow and they’d drop out.

First year, I worked at Snowbird and only skied the Bird.

Second year, I had an Alta pass too.

Snowbird was the home of freestyle skiing, which is how I got into that, which is why I was sleeping on the couch, believing I would be on the road following the circuit, but that didn’t happen, not much anyway.

So when I lived in Utah everybody who came from outside the state commented how weird it was. Also, weird things happened, in the news. And within a month, every Jew in Salt Lake City found me. And some Mormon girls too, and they were frisky and happy and didn’t ski on Sundays and nothing ultimately happened there, although I was intrigued.

Since then…

Utah has burgeoned. There’s high-tech. A mini-Bay Area. And Park City has added Deer Valley and it’s almost a megalopolis over there, close as the crow flies but far if you’re in your car, but not that far.

You see Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Canyon ski areas are higher. And they’re box canyons. Meaning the clouds get caught and it dumps endlessly. For example, this year there’s been 517″ of snow at Park City, but 735″ at Alta.

Like they say, “Alta is for Skiers.” Because there’s nothing else to do here, only ski. Lodging and a few houses and condominiums, that’s it. Because it’s a V-shaped canyon, with the two lane road and the base area in between the mountains.

So, I landed in Utah and it was bizarre. I’ve been here a few times since my residence way back when, but this time it hit me. I’d lived here. There are some new high rises downtown, and the Salt Palace has been replaced. And Odyssey Records…that whole block has been torn down. But otherwise, it’s the same.

Well, Salt Lake is a city, but it is not Los Angeles. You can live here, but you’re not in the mainstream. But I take that back, with the internet and cable TV there is no flyover country, you can be hip anywhere. And the acts come through and could I live in Utah again?

I was thinking about that, but mostly I was bizarred. You see in the seventies, you didn’t fly on a whim. Air travel was still regulated, and it was expensive. Not only were there no smartphones, long distance calls were expensive. So if you were living in Utah, you were really in Utah. So much time has passed since then, I was re-evaluating my choices, who I was. That’s another thing about the seventies, no one was going anywhere fast, we were all trying to find ourselves.

So since I’ve been gone, Snowbird has built into the backside, Mineral Basin, and it is now connected with Alta, but in truth, the ski areas are almost exactly the same. But the people?

It’s crowded. It’s a big problem, because there’s not enough parking. And yesterday we’re driving up the canyon just after the lifts closed and it’s an endless snake in the other direction. They’re thinking about building a tramway up the canyon, to alleviate the problem.

I mean winter driving used to be de rigueur for me. But I rarely do it anymore. The road is covered in snow, the windshield wipers are flying, one false move…

But finally I arrived.

But then they went into interlodge. Which means you can’t leave your hotel or residence, and the road up the canyon is closed, because of avalanche danger.

They ultimately reopened the road at 8:30 AM and most of Snowbird opened so we went down to the tram, with its new cars, and rode to the top and…

Forget that it was blowing, snow moving sideways, to get to the slope you had to walk over a concrete surface with melted water and slush. No biggie, except then snow stuck to my skis and it was hard to put my bindings on.

If I had been alone, I would have scraped my boots a bit longer, but finally the heel pieces clicked and…

You couldn’t see a fu*cking thing. I’ve skied in whiteouts before, and what you do is ski near the trees, because they lend definition.

But at the top of Snowbird there are no trees. Snowbird and Alta are built on jagged peaks, like the Tetons, like the Alps, this is not cushy-skiing, you’re in the elements. And pound for pound, Snowbird has the most difficult skiing in America. Oh, you can find a few places with a bit more challenging slopes, like the face at Crested Butte, the Palisades at the top of Palisades Tahoe and a bit of stuff at Jackson Hole, but unlike those ski areas, there is no easy skiing at Snowbird. Oh, they built a lift down the canyon, but before that all they had was Chickadee, right at the base, a short lift for beginners, and even Chickadee isn’t that flat.

So we’re taking the road, but finally we have to ski down a slope.

Hmm… I can’t see anything! But it’s even worse, because there’s eight inches of new snow and some is cut up and on the sides it’s drifted and… Normally under these circumstances you’d traverse back and forth. But if you did this, and I tried, you moved past the center of the slope and you were essentially in a drift, it wasn’t easy getting out, never mind turning.

And I’m making my way down, I’ve made a few turns, I’m on a traverse and…

Suddenly I’m thrown back and going downhill sideways at the same time.

The snow was starting to slide.

I know the feeling, from another experience. In this case, the snow stopped sliding within ten feet, but I was thrown back so hard and fast that the tendons in the back of my knee were stretched and… Now I’m going to get hurt?

That’s what happened the last time I was at Snowbird. It happened walking to the slopes, not skiing. I slipped, twice, and ended up having to have shoulder surgery, and believe me, rotator cuff surgery is a long extended adventure that you don’t want to go on.

So I’m wondering if I am hurt, and whether I’m going to get further hurt on the way down. I’m spooked.

But it’s worse. I’m experiencing vertigo. This can happen in a whiteout, you can’t see the slope and you start to wobble, you’re not exactly sure where to balance, it’s freaky. Really only happened to me once previously, in Courchevel, even before my tenure in Utah, but this time was worse.

And did I say that I was feeling a bit of altitude sickness? You combat this by drinking water, but I hadn’t wanted to drink too much, being old and having to constantly pee.

So I feel like I’m going to throw up too. And I’m down maybe 2% of the run, I’ve got miles to go. I’m sweating, through all my clothes, and I know the drill, you’ve got to keep on going, but I must say, I’m afraid that I’m going to further tweak my knee.

And it doesn’t get better. Maybe later in the day some of the snow would be tracked out, but now, a bit after 9? You go faster where it’s packed out, slower in the crud, and hope that you avoid the drifts.

And now I feel the urge to go #2 too. I mean I’m not sure if I’m going to make it down in time. I’m thinking maybe I’ll drop trou right there, it’s snowing so hard it’ll be covered up in a matter of minutes, and almost no one else is out there anyway.

So now we hit what is supposedly an easy road. I’m going first, and then blam! What the hell happened? There’d been a mini-avalanche, that had covered half the road, that I couldn’t see, and I’d skied right into it, which caused me to fall. Oh, that’s another thing, if you don’t fall, you don’t ski. But this is not a circumstance you expect, I’ve never experienced it before.

By the time we get to the bottom they’ve closed the Peruvian chairlift, which parallels the tram about 90% of the way, but the tram is still running. This is perplexing, but we find out from the ski patrol they’ve closed the entire Peruvian side, the one we just came down, because of avalanche danger. Gad Valley, on the other side of the ridge, is still open.

So we enter the tram building, just inside from outside, and I put my skis on the rack, and bam! I fall on my ass. Well, worse than that, I fall down completely, my ass and my elbow took the brunt. And remember, I fell walking to go skiing and needed surgery and…

I appeared to be fine. And I put on my Walk-EZ, which go on the soles of your boots, so you can walk more naturally and the soles of your boots don’t wear out. And my boots are polyether, which the absolute top of the line are. And the top of the line don’t have screw-on rubber soles, so…I tell my compatriot that’s why I slipped, because I can even slip walking the few feet to the Vail gondola, that’s how slippery the boots are.

And then I rush to the bathroom. And while I’m on the pot I notice that one of the Walk-EZ is not fully on, this occasionally happens, and you just pull up on the rubber or bang your boot against the wall and the problem is fixed. But neither of those would work. So I take the Walk-EZ off my boot and put it back on and have the same problem. So I twist my leg and look at the bottom of my boot. Frozen solid with ice. I banged it against the wall and it came off. And then I checked the other boot…same thing. This ice was probably there from the top of the tram!

But at least I was inside.

But they said the road was closing again at noon, so we had to get on it.

And I got back to the house and I felt better, but for a minute there I contemplated leaving. I mean was the risk worth it? But then I spoke with Felice and felt calmer and…my knee and leg are a bit tweaked, but they ultimately seem fine.

So we have lunch and I fire up this computer and my buddy comes in and says not only is the road closed, they just closed both ski areas, we’re back in interlodge. At Alta, they’re asking the lodges to take in skiers from the mountain.

Meanwhile, down in Salt Lake City, seven miles away and 3000 vertical below, it’s perfectly clear. But up here in the mountains…

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