I wrote a book about my first ski season at Snowbird in Utah. It's about more than that, but that ski season is the basis upon which I relate other experiences (spoiler alert: also mostly about skiing).
In July 2005, I quit my job and moved from New York to Utah to ski at Snowbird, a resort about thirty miles southeast of Salt Lake City. My lifestyle, however, didn’t fit the ski-bum archetype. During the ski season, I attended graduate school full-time at the University of Utah, and I lived on campus in a student apartment. I was just a regular guy living a regular life (as a student) while skiing some of the best snow and inbounds terrain in the United States.
After every ski day that season, I published a report on my website. While rereading those entries in late 2017, I felt detached from the experiences I had described. The passage of time allowed me to read them more objectively, and I enjoyed them for more than their nostalgic value. I thought other skiers might find the unspoiled nature of the entries compelling. In January 2018, I began compiling those entries into this book.
Stories in the skiing media often feature extreme terrain, impractical skiing-centric lifestyles, or easy access to seemingly endless fresh powder. This is not one of those stories. Instead, my story features terrain accessible to any advanced skier with a lift ticket, a skiing lifestyle tempered by school or work obligations, and the luck and persistence required to earn fresh tracks on powder days without the privileged access provided to pro skiers and the media.
I hope my story demonstrates what it took for a regular skier like me to explore a mountain and find the fleeting moments that make skiing special. I hope you can identify with the doubts and challenges I faced before, during, and after that season. Most of all, I hope my story leaves you feeling more excited about skiing after reading it.
Patience was not a virtue present in the tram line this morning. People were cutting in front of Brendan and me until I adopted a defensive stance using my poles. A gaggle of malcontents complained when the line didn’t start moving at the stroke of nine (the tram’s opening time). A few minutes later, a veritable riot broke out when the tram line ticket checker let a group of instructors and their clients through the turnstiles instead of the public. They heckled her until she started the public line moving again.
It has snowed for eleven straight days and seventeen of the last nineteen. About a hundred inches of snow has fallen at Snowbird since March 3, including a foot last night. At less than 5 percent water content, the new snow was about as light as it gets.
Given the new snow and our limited availability (we both had to leave at noon), there would be no warm-up run today. We headed to Primrose Path. The light was flat and gray, and visibility was maybe a hundred feet. Primrose was mostly untracked, but the wind had drifted the snow into heaps that were the deepest I had ever encountered on skis. I took a few cautious turns to find my balance before I opened the throttle and skied through the nearly waist-deep powder with gusto. The snow was so deep that I couldn’t seem to get enough speed, despite pointing my skis straight down the fall line. I fell twice when my skis started submarining without ever finding the bottom. Those falls were almost as fun as the skiing.
Farther down the mountain, Anderson’s Hill was also mostly untracked. Anderson’s had a bit less snow and none of the drifts. I maintained the speed necessary to stay afloat in the powder better there. The conditions on Phone 3 Shot were also superb. Snowbird had served up powder face shots from top to bottom.
Powder days already have a mystique, but today’s variable weather amplified it. Snow was lightly falling, but the sun would occasionally peek through breaks in the clouds to illuminate the crystalline flakes and the fluffy pillows of powder snow, transforming a flatly lit, two-dimensional scene into three dimensions and making it appear that we were skiing inside a shaken snow globe. Then the clouds would close up again, and it was back to flat light.
Despite the frenetic skiing activity, there was a pervasive stillness about the mountain, like a busy public library—quiet yet hectic. On most normal days, ski and snowboard edges loudly scratch against the snow surface. Today they were silent. The only persistent sounds were the skiers’ whoops and hollers and the gentle rustling caused by snow billowing up against my ski jacket. The concussive blasts of avalanche-control bombs and their roiling echoes throughout the canyon also occasionally broke the silence.
The snow conditions on the lower mountain were almost as good as up top. We skied laps off the Peruvian lift rather than wait in line for the tram. The sacrifice in vertical footage and terrain variety allowed us to squeeze in more runs during the limited time we had available. We skied Phone 3 Shot repeatedly during our Peruvian laps. It was that good. Although short, that run’s steep, consistent fall line and wind-loaded powder made it a better option than the adjacent Chip’s Face.
The tram line was still long at around 11 a.m., but we weren’t going to leave without taking at least one more tram run.
From the Peruvian Ridge, I surveyed the Lower Cirque’s wide-open, powder-filled bowl. Any line I picked was going to be good. I started down and quickly found a good rhythm. I maintained enough speed to stay on top of the snow better than on Primrose earlier in the day, but I still got face shots the entire run. That was a contender for my favorite ski run ever. Brendan quipped that he could hear Warren Miller narrating his turns during that run.
It was almost noon when we skied onto Snowbird Center’s Plaza Deck, but we got back in line for one last tram run. Alas, my last run of the day wasn’t as good as the prior one. The time was well past noon when we finished. We had to leave.
Life is messy, and it rarely feels dreamlike in the moment, but today was special. I think today might’ve been the real-life equivalent of the experiences I’ve been dreaming about having at Snowbird for over ten years.
After skiing, I showered and hustled to a computer lab on the University of Utah’s campus to work on a group project. My cheeks were still flushed from the earlier onslaught of snow, cold, and wind. The magnanimity generated by a ski day that hits all the right notes smoothed the tedium of the project work into something more tolerable. It helped that I still felt like I was floating through powder. Sea legs, dock rock, and stillness illness are colloquial names for illusions of self-motion that are usually described as rocking, bobbing, or swaying felt after an ocean cruise, airplane flight, or other exposure to sustained motion. Other powder days had produced this sensation, but it was more palpable today than ever.