Destinations: Underground Utah, Part 2


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Beneath the glamour and grooming, the Park City triumvirate harbors a hairball side.“If you don’t like loud music, you should leave now!” the band leader bellowed into the mike. Set on a tiny stage in the corner above the dance floor, Sturgeon General exploded in a saxophone-and-trombone symphony of ska. We were at The Alamo on Main Street swilling Sam Adams longnecks and watching a big guy with a shaved head dance in rapid circles, arms and shoes flying. In the bathroom, big-haired women from Salt Lake slathered on lipstick and traded gossip. As we left The Alamo and headed for O’Shucks-“You either start there or you’ll end up there. It’s inevitable,” Christina told us-snowflakes the size of golf balls floated from the midnight sky.

“I came here because it’s supposed to be groomed,” whined a woman in a nasaly Fran Drescher voice in the bathroom of Deer Valley’s Snow Park Lodge. “I can’t ski this stuff.” I smiled from my stall. It was Fat Tuesday, and there were 15 inches of fresh outside. The snow was more Elmer’s Glue than Utah fluff, so we had to go nearly straight to maintain momentum. On Champion, the 2002 Olympic mogul run, we could barely feel the massive bumps, only the copious amounts of slo-mo chest and face shots. It was exhausting, but exhilarating. After two runs, Jeff said, “I’ll see you at lunch.”

In the afternoon, we found slightly lighter stuff in the Triangle Trees. “Skiing rules,” Paulding said like he’d just figured it out. “I can’t believe it; I didn’t cross a track up there, and it’s two o’clock.” That, we discovered, is the beauty of skiing Deer Valley on a powder day.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I hadn’t decided what to give up yet, but I knew it wasn’t powder. Two feet had fallen overnight and the storm continued to rage, huge flakes swirling in the air. Under The Canyons’ Saddleback lift, featherlight snow washed over our heads, blinding us at every turn. It was like flying through clouds. If I could have seen anything, I’d have seen God.

I was on Fischer Alltrax Expedition midfats I borrowed from Bremmer, and Jeff had rented Rossi Cut 11.5 fatties. The big boards let us rip big turns, catching small airs and landing on gigantic goose-feather pillows on The Drain’s bumpy, powder-covered face.

I rode up Condor with a Canyons die-hard whose snow-crusted beard cracked when he smiled. “The only difference between here and Alta today,” he said, “is the difference between two and three feet.” And two was plenty. Below us, a series of chutes through the trees spilled off one side of the ridge. Clumps of snow were stuck in gnarled branches like giant cotton balls.

Hip-deep snow in Chute 2 enveloped us in a cozy white blanket as we played on wind lips and ridge spines and in gullies. Lower down, we ducked into one of the half dozen natural halfpipes that add to The Canyons’ terrain-park feel. “It’s just as steep here as anywhere else, but there are no huge rock bands for launching,” Christina explained. “I’d rather have 50 turns go over my head than huck any day.” Nonetheless, Paulding and Bremmer found a 10-foot rock and hucked it.

The Pearly Gates were closed when Dave “Dick Dogger” Weiss, Eric Z, and I hiked up to them. “Do you want me to open the gates?” asked Dogger, a ski patroller buddy of Eric’s. Sure, we said; it had snowed half a foot overnight. His call was followed by a long pause, then “okay, sure” crackled over the radio. The three of us hiked alone, with no feeling of Snowbirdesque tram-unloading powder panic, to the top of Jupiter peak. Dogger disappeared down the ridge.

I jumped into Machetes, a 45-degree swath torn through the rocks. In the narrow section up top, I caught an edge on a rock and lost a ski, landing butt first. Heart pounding, I somehow caught my ski as it rocketed down the fall line. I did not want to ski Machetes on one ski. The run widened into a pristine apron, and I bounded down, snow billowing up around my hips, splashing into my face. Eric took the even gnarlier 51-50 entrance. At the bottom, we looked back at the longg ribbons we’d left in the snow. There were maybe 10 tracks on the whole peak. The place was a powder-covered ghost town.

After three areas, six days, and 60 inches of fresh, my legs were like warmed-over Silly Putty. I had skied steep and deep and hairy. I had skied trees so tight you needed to butter your hips to get through. I had scared myself half a dozen times. But I had two days left, and it was far too good to stop.

Go back to Part 1 of Underground Utah.

Go to Destination: Park City, Utah.