Utah is the Place for Skiing
Where else can you ski powder and still make your 10 am meeting?by Alex Sepulveda
Utah—the Salt Lake Valley in particular—is heaven on earth for powder skiers.
Forget that it boasts "the greatest snow on earth." One run down Snowbird's Peruvian Gulch on a deep morning, and that claim becomes deliciously obvious.
Forget that resort crowds are minimal compared to neighboring Colorado's, or that you'll scarcely find accommodations near a ski area more reasonable than Salt Lake's.
Rather, it's the proximity to the greatest snow that makes living in this major city paradisiacal.
I grew up twenty minutes from Alta and Snowbird, door to tram. Until I left for college, I didn't realize how lucky I was to live at the base of 11,000-foot mountains that receive 500 inches of light, dry desert snow every winter.
I took a year off after graduation to reacquaint myself with the finer points of powder skiing. Three years later, my heart sank as I said goodbye to the ski lodge where I worked nights to join the infamous real world. When would I ever again be able to ski powder any day of the week?
Then I found a group of intelligent professionals who, come springtime, bear goggle tans as pronounced as any ski bum. They put in their nine (usually grueling) hours five days a week, and still find time to ski amazing lines in the backcountry regularly. I happily joined the ranks of Backcountry.com.
One intelligent professional testing out his Avalung II.
I had longed to ski the mountains behind our offices ever since the head honcho first told me about it. "That's where we ski in the mornings before work," he mentioned nonchalantly, pointing out an office window to a nearby, perfectly U-shaped drainage. Snake Creek Canyon had since beckoned.
Last year's terrible avalanche conditions hampered most of our touring efforts, so by the time I was finally going to experience my first pre-work dawn patrol, the anticipation had built to a fevered pitch.
I met three co-workers at 5 am at the Snake Creek trailhead. It was dark with only a faint glimmer from a quarter moon dancing along the snow surface, and the stars twinkled fiercely.
We started skinning up the long, flat approach. For the first hour, I was hypnotized by the sound of nylon gliding on snow, the bite of the nap, the ensuing kick, and its persistent rhythm.
As we marched up the middle of the wide canyon floor like ants toward a bountiful picnic, night's black softened, and individual pine trees became distinct in the inky blue distance. Our pace quickened.
Just as we approached the head of the drainage, the sun crested the eastern horizon casting the hills in pink and orange alpenglow. The terrain steepened significantly, and we dug a couple of pits on aspects we wanted to ski. Our observations confirmed what the avalanche report suggested that morning—conditions were bomber.
We began a rigorous ascent, weaving switchbacks between well-spaced trees. Two of my partners reached the summit ridge in no time. By now the morning sun was blazing, and I broke a sweat as I climbed anxiously. On either side of our skin track, pristine powder bulged between the trees like overstuffed down pillows. Suddenly, Gennerman came blasting gracefully past me, knee dropping, snow clearing head and shoulders. Backcountry Bob followed shortly after, not bothering to drop the knee, his long hair whipping like a mane. In the time it had taken me to get to that point, he had reached the top, smoked a cigarette, and skied down already.
Backcountry Bob staying true to his nickname.
At last I was on the ridge, overwhelmed by a 360 degree view of alpine ridgelines, flutes, powder filled chutes, and pine forests. Drunk with giddiness, I wondered what exactly I was doing. Was I at work or at play? Was I practicing a sport or a religion? Did anyone else know about this place? I stepped into my skis and began turning down perfectly controllable snow, arcing easily around trees, and gasping for breath as snow invaded my mouth.
The author gets the goods.
We did several laps before skiing down the drainage all the way back to our vehicles, each as divine as the previous. A short drive later, my watch read 10:30 am as we walked into the office, beaming.