Wheatley Writes: Big Wednesday


Alta, UT--The Sitzmark bar is full; powder-frozen smiles glow through wind-burned cheeks and swallow party-sized Margaritas gulp after gulp. I overhear claims of "Best powder day of the year." I lose track of the date and all I know for sure is that it has snowed all week long and this was a really big Wednesday...

Its two O'clock and the sign at the Wildcat lift reads, "The road will be closed between two and three for avalanche control." The storm intensifies and the wind howls up-canyon, filling in every track. Fist-sized flakes plop from the trees. Moguls do not exist. They have been buried alive, God rest their souls.

The nasty wind has driven everyone inside. We have the place to ourselves, and it's hard to believe how deep and smooth the snow is underneath Germania. There are only a few people on the chairs and we are not going to dent this replenishing goodness. I am doing my best public service trying to keep the lines off of the high T ski compacted, but I return time and time again to an untracked slope. I think to myself "We are not keeping up with this".

A creepy electricity pervades the air, and you know patrol is starting to get nervous. It just keeps coming down. Snow piles up over the top of my thighs each trip up Germania, and its getting to the point where I can't see the chair in front of me through the gobs of wind-spun snow.

The Peruvian Ridge 105 mm recoilless rifle begins shooting blind through the storm at Mount Superior. The thunk and rumble of World War Two surplus shells punctuate the air. Knowing that drastic measures cannot "control" a storm like this one adds to the excitement. The buddy system takes on whole new meaning, and I am happy to be with people who know the exact route with one simple word at the top. I say "Stone~Lone" as I unload and have a partner to the bottom. Each lap I expect the lift to shut down, but instead ski right onto the chair. I catch occasional glimpses of local people far too covered with snow to see their faces, but I know there is a grin under the frozen collar that holds up their goggles. Lap after lap I never cross my tracks. As with all magical things, this day too must come to an end when they finally shut the lift at 4:30.

Trademark Utah storms lake-effect throughout the night and leave the sky cobalt blue in the morning. Everyone loves a bluebird powder day, but I truly prefer them like this: nasty and dark with free velvet refills. Little Cottonwood Canyon has a way of spoiling you rotten. If, later in the year after another fine powder day, an excited gentleman says, "where I come from we call that champagne powder. What do you call it here?" Bluntly, I will respond "Wednesday."