Last Weekend in Alta: the sweetness of Utah powder

Last weekend I took a spectacular four day ski trip to Snowbird/Alta, Utah, with five dastardly partners in crime: Greg Dillon, Leif Ueland, Jay Haynes, Mark Harris and Michael Hovey. On Saturday, I went heli-skiing for the first time with Mark in the Wasatch mountains — it was a beautiful experience, no doubt made all the more resonant by the risk factors. In the 48 hours that followed we got 12 inches of fresh powder, and skied it hard — at least by my 42-year-old standards.

Here I am enjoying a few turns in the fresh stuff on Monday morning in Mineral Basin, on the back side of Snowbird:

Here (below) is a shot of Michael Hovey, a freestyle bad boy in his youth, bombing the bumps, followed by Mark and Greg Dillon.

Here are a few photos of exquisite fresh tracks Monday morning in Catherine’s Area off the Supreme lift in Alta. You have to hike to get to Catherine’s — I call it the Mark Harris health plan — but it is well worth it: it’s long on gorgeous glades and chutes and short on skiers.

I love to ski. I dream about it during the winter, spring, summer and fall. It occupies a place for me that is unrivalled by any other physical activity, with the possible exception of making babies. The closest I can come to describing it’s magic is that it combines the speed and exhilaration of racing motorcross with the zen of surfing or sailing. On the one hand there is a jockey adrenaline-ratcheting physicality to it — you can rapidly accelerate to 30 or 40 mph on the flats, carve tight, precise turns, and soar through the air by stiffening a leg or ripping a last minute turn over a knoll. Ski technology has come a long way in the last couple decades — skis are more tortionally rigid and thus unyielding on high-G turns, and at the same time damp enough to offer a smooth, cadillac ride. This is my younger self talking — the gearhead thrill seeker.

On the other hand, there is the connection with the mountain. There is a gentle push-pull to skiing the backcountry half-way competently — it’s more about absorption and deference to the terrain rather than a blunt inscription of will. You are water finding it’s stream bed, wending around bigger obstacles, playfully cascading over the smaller ones. Done properly, it’s a gentle and intuitive touch, ski to slope — your legs are a pliant, load-sensitive suspension system, and your upper body, the happy, oblivious passenger, eyes on the horizon, enjoying a tempo several beats slower than the clatter occurring below. Powder makes the mountain more silent, beautiful, and forgiving — it amplifies the otherwordliness of skiing. It is a drug and I am not sober … as you can see, just talking about it renders me delirious.

That’s what it feels like when I am doing it right, when I am in the groove, which is not always easy to come by — when I lose it my suspension bottoms out, I instinctively hunch over, my fore-aft balance disappears, and I am all of a sudden a septuagenarian with a ski pole for a cane. The groove is not always with us. The groove can be flightier than a beaten cat. Which makes it all the sweeter when it comes.

One thought on “Last Weekend in Alta: the sweetness of Utah powder

  1. well said, ruf…in fact, i am promising to incorporate ‘wend’ into my own vocab. you boys look great in the videos. I am going to have to up my twice a decade regime to approximate that look. I was actually out cross country skiing today, after many years. it was a rare sunny winter day in minnesota and there were skiiers everywhere. lots of hilarious little kids skiing. not the quite the rush of hurtling down mountain, but soul enriching nonetheless.

    Like

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