What better way to celebrate a ‘significant’ birthday than with a ski vacation? Some may laugh at this, given that I live in place that’s considered a world-class ski destination, but it’s been awhile since I’ve taken a leisure trip to ski. So I convinced my dad & brothers to join Nils and me in Utah to fete my birthday on what we hoped was powder snow.
Juneuary has hit Tahoe hard this year, so our trip was timed perfectly. It’s been a weird January in Utah, however, and days before we arrived there had been what was termed as a ‘rain event’ – precipitation to well over 9000 feet, which froze into a thick, smooth, bulletproof layer. Snow came after that, but what it meant was that there were ‘surprises’ on certain aspects. I hit one of these surprises on Friday, and while I twisted my knee pretty badly, it wasn’t so significant as to preclude me from skiing the rest of the weekend. But I was much more cautious after that.
We flew into Salt Lake City early enough on Thursday to be able to take advantage of the Park City Chamber’s Quick Start program which allows you to ski at one of three ski resorts for free the day you fly into Salt Lake City – all you need to do is show ID and your boarding pass. It’s been over a decade since I’ve been to Park City Ski Resort, so I thought an afternoon there was on the agenda. Plus it gave me a chance to finally meet Eric Hoffman, Park City Ski Resort’s Interactive Marketing Manager, who I’d gotten to know through Twitter. He’s a (very solid) telemark skier too, so it was fun to chase him around the resort for a few runs. While it was the first day of the Sundance Festival, the resort was blissfully quieter than the airport had been, which meant we felt like we had the place to ourselves, finding untracked snow in the trees and enjoying the wide open groomers. It wasn’t a bad way to kick off a vacation.
With family in tow, we hit up Snowbird on Friday. This is a nostalgic resort for us, having taken family trips there as kids. I love the European feel to the terrain, which includes some serious steep pitches above treeline, and plenty of slower double chairs to balance out the efficiency of the tram. Seeing how we have a family tradition of someone getting hurt here (there was a backboard incident the last time we were here 9 years ago), I should not have been surprised when I went skittering across a seriously icy patch and felt a sharp pain in my right knee. The last time around, I got kicked out of the ER (for laughing at the injured party), so this had to be some form of karmic payback. That said, overall the snow was very good, and despite my run in with ice, I was able to enjoy seasonal winter snow the rest of the day.
While I love Alta for its snow and terrain, I also love it for its on-mountain restaurant, the Collins Grill. It’s the perfect respite on a cold, windy & snowy day, which is the exact weather I have encountered both times I’ve skied here. The older cabin-like structure that used to house the Grill is no more, which was a bit of a disappointment, but the new building, located right off the Collins lift, is airy and light, with big windows that would normally offer expansive views, were it not snowing and blowing. After a memorable (and huge) meal at Log Haven the night before, we weren’t starving, but a hearty soup and a glass of wine were just perfect, as was the “heart of darkness” cupcake, possibly the best named dessert I’ve heard. The hardest part about lunch here is the leaving part. But the promise of a few inches of fresh snow created incentive.
On our last day, we hooked up with more friends I met through Twitter (and Snowcial). Photo John and Jenni were kind enough to show us around their home mountain, Solitude. It was my first time in Big Cottonwood Canyon, which, true to its name, is wider and longer than Little Cottonwood Canyon. Solitude received more snow than the LCC resorts in Saturday’s storm, and it meant we got actual powder turns on our first (and second and third) runs, making for the best snow conditions of the trip. The ski resort has some fun hike-to terrain in the Black Forest (and in the nearby area, boasting what I think is the best name ever for a run, “Here Be Dragons”), which has a spectacular backdrop in the mountains that are on the other side of the drainage. Snow-capped, the peaks looked like giant meringues, and I found myself with a sugar craving as we skied through the trees on the other side. Not sure if this indicates how small the world is, but we bumped into another friend from Snowcial, Joe Myers, who even sported his famed PBR pajamas per a request from John. Hilarity ensued as we all stopped for an impromptu photo shoot.
After a full day of skiing, Nils & I repacked our bags in a parking lot, headed to the airport, and were home by 9pm. Four days, 4 days of skiing, family, friends and winter conditions did not suck. The karmic payback on the other hand….
If all significant birthdays – hell, all birthdays- could be celebrated like this, I would be a lot more excited about the aging process.