Surviving (and liking) skiing in Utah

Skiing in Utah was going to be my big challenge.

I was more than afraid of the slopes, even though I had a practice session in New York earlier in the season. I knew I would be able to turn, or at least I was pretty confident of it, but the steepness and height of the mountains were my biggest fears, courtesy of my time skiing in Austria.

Friday was going to be my first day out, but Jon, the skilled skier behind this adventure, decided we were getting too later of a start, so we went to the Sundance Film Festival instead.

We tried again Saturday morning.

We rented skis for me for the day at REI before heading to Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon southeast of Salt Lake City.

Once we entered the canyon the snow started falling and by the time we got past Snowbird, the first resort in the canyon, there was quite a snowstorm happening.

I didn’t want to get out of the car. It was cold and it was quite windy. I was worried I didn’t have enough layers and since it was snowing, I couldn’t see the mountains I was up against.

What I was up against on day one

I almost fell walking from the car to the lodge and at that point Jon said we really didn’t have to ski because we had not yet purchased a lift ticket. He asked me again a few minutes later and my response was that if he keeps asking me about skiing, I really would change my mind and pass on this adventure.

I did have one positive moment just after purchasing my lift ticket because the guy at the next window over didn’t know what to do with his lift ticket. It has a sensor that when activated opens the gates to the lift line, so it should be kept in an outside pocket. He asked what to do with his card, if he should wear it around his neck. I knew this because that’s how the lifts in Austria worked, and that poor guy was slightly mocked by the ticket saleswoman.

And then for one final moment of dread before getting in line, I couldn’t get my left ski to hook into my binding because there was so much snow stuck to the bottom of my boot. This continued to be a problem, but we at least knew what the problem was and how to fix it for the rest of the day.

We finally set out. It’s blistery cold and snowing and I needed my goggles for the first time since I learned to ski 12 years ago. I eventually decided I needed my hood, too, which I’d also never used.

I was pretty timid at first. On one of the first lift rides, Jon was a bit concerned because I wasn’t talking. When I’m a good nervous, like waiting in line for the new ride at Cedar Point, I talk incessently. When I’m scared and nervous I don’t say anything.

The snow was unlike anything I’ve ever skied in. Turning felt different, but the amount of fresh snow also helped me stay perpendicular, and I made it through the day without falling. By the end of the day I was even having a bit of fun, though I still wasn’t exceedingly confident.

Surviving day one

Mentally, day two started off where day one ended. It was the first time I’d ever skied two days in a row, but I wasn’t sore since we only spent four hours on the slopes rather than the six or more I expected.

Day two's weather forecast

We went up Wildcat first, an area I didn’t really like the day before, mostly because of a steep and narrow gulley, even though the easiest area of the hill had powder that hadn’t been skied on. The snow on day two was drastically different. It had been groomed and was ribbed, hard and crunchy, which isn’ the best for turning.

At the halfway point I opted for the “easier way down” to avoid the gulley. This path ended up being a narrow section of S-curves down the face of the hill.

I started this section not making the best of turns and had a hard time righting myself. After a small break to regroup, I started up again and immediately could tell that my turning was still off.

In one of my guidebooks I had read that there were plenty of hills at Alta where one could fall and not stop until the bottom. Even though I knew this would be not so possible, and Jon assured me it couldn’t happen, it was still a fear. And as I couldn’t complete my turn, I knew that to avoid going over the edge of the path, I had to fall, which I promptly did.

After finally making it to the bottom, we met up with a group of Jon’s friends, who wanted to know how I was doing. My answer was that yes, I did come back for a second day of skiing, but that I just had my first fall.

Fortunately for me, we skied only once more in that area, before heading to another part of the mountain where the snow and hills are much friendlier. I progressed through the day, still without much confidence, but at least knowing that I could ski well enough to successfully get by.

The view on day two

Throughout the day, Jon would pick more difficult paths paralleing the main routes for more adventure than I could handle, but at one point he wanted to ski a difficult route at a much faster speed, meeting me at the closest lift. I wasn’t fond of skiing down alone, so our friend Brad said he would ski down with me.

I thought I should get a head start so Brad wouldn’t have to stop and wait for me at some point, and after a few minutes of skiing alone, Brad (who skis in the Telemark, rather than alpine style) still hadn’t caught up to me. I could see him behind me, so I continued on. Finally I learn that Brad has caught up when I turn and almost turn into him, and I followed him the rest of the way down.

We met Jon at the lift, when I excitedly said that I skied down without stopping, which was a first over the two days. And the Brad so very nicely says he was impressed at my skiing and that he had a hard time catching me.

It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Jon, to my pleasure, never said anything about my skiing, but hearing that I was doing OK was quite exciting.

Shortly after that we decided to work our way back down, as it was approaching the end of the day. We took the Supreme Lift up, which is the highest in the ski area and over 10,000 feet, because I wanted to see the view from the top of the Collins Lift one more time. From the top of the Collins Lift, clear skies provide views of the Oquirrh Mountains on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley.

View from the top of the Supreme Lift

To get from Supreme to Collins, we had to take the Collins Return trail, which has a slight decline in a C-curve across the eastern face of 11,068-foot Mount Baldy. This trail was situated perfectly to create severe, blowing wind that made this otherwise easy trail significantly difficult. The wind was blowing hard enough that it, towards the end of the trail, stopped me in my tracks.

We headed down the mountain one final time, skiing my least favorite part, but I made it through the crunchy snow to the bottom, where I was both pleased and relieved.

It really wasn’t so bad, and I will even admit to having fun.

The group at the Peruvian after skiing

This entry was posted in North America, Photos, Travel Narrative, U.S. and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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