Monday, December 15, 2008

Snowbird Ain't For Snowbirds

Sad news out of Utah:

Heather Gross' powder weekend at Snowbird ski resort ended tragically Sunday afternoon when an in-bounds avalanche on Mount Baldy left the 27-year-old buried for nearly an hour. She was found alive but unconscious by rescuers with a probe. She was in extremely critical condition when she was flown to University Hospital, where she died.
About a decade ago, I made my one and only visit to Snowbird. It's one of the most famous ski resorts in the world and I was excited to go.

I was staying with my friends in Park City. Their son was in town and wanted to go skiing. We hooked up with friends of theirs from Salt Lake City and went to Snowbird. Click on the map to see Park City and the Little (Snowbird/Alta) and Big (Solitude/Brighton) Cottonwood Canyon ski resorts. We drove west down the long, slow grade through the Wasatch mountains on I-80 to Salt Lake City and then south on I-215 to Snowbird.

It was a fiercely cold day. On the way up the lift with Anna, I thought I was going to freeze. The wind was whipping down the mountain and cut through my winter layers like a knife. Anna was in charge since she knew the mountain well and I was tagging along.

We got off the lift and there was only one trail. Ski resorts put up signs at the entrance to all trails so you know the name (to find on your trail map) and the difficulty of what lies ahead. For those of you not familiar with skiing, trail maps show lifts in red; the easy "bunny" slopes are marked in green; the intermediate trails are in blue; and the black designate those for the expert. A "double black diamond" is the most difficult trail on Snowbird.

The trail ahead of me looked pretty level but the sign showed it was a double black diamond. Hmmm. I'm an intermediate skier at best. I hadn't been skiing yet that season so my general plan was to spend the morning on the easy slopes to get my legs and then graduate up to the intermediate trails in the afternoon. I'm self taught, and my momma didn't raise no fool. I have no interest in proving my stupidity manhood by skiing on trails above my skill level. That's how people get hurt and end up with knee reconstruction.

Before I knew it, Anna was off and heading down the trail. I didn't have an option so I followed. It didn't seem too bad, really, until I swooshed around the bend and there were skiers lined up across the trail. I slowed down and approached, taking my spot among them alongside Anna.

They were all looking down the slope in front of them. It was effing steep, cliff-like, and everyone was working on getting a pang of courage to start their descent. Ack!

"Anna," I said, "that is way too steep for me!"

"Oh, it isn't that bad."

She tried to coax me. After about a minute, she'd had enough, and away she went. Shushing down the hill with amazing grace. Come to find out, she was a professional skier for a while. Talk about pissing me off. She knew better. My friend had wrecked her knee up the canyon at Alta about 10 years prior.

I was in a crappy spot. I imagined myself tumbling down the mountain ass over teacup. I couldn't walk down the hill and I couldn't make my way back up the hill. There was only one way down, and that was to ski it. I'm not a religious man, but I found time to pray that day. I took a deep breath and away I went, cutting the edges of my skis deeply on every turn in an effort to keep my speed to a minimum.

That was the first and last run of the day for me. Aside from the pissy mood I found myself in, it was simply too cold to go any more.

On the trail map below (click to enlarge), you can see the avalanche area of Mount Baldy on the upper left. My experience was in Thunder Bowl on the middle right. You can see how it is flat at first and then there is the drop off down to "tiger tail."

So I have bragging rights to say I skied double black diamond at Snowbird. And survived.


Jodi said...

Major props to you because I probably would have wound up in traction.

evilganome said...

Your friend Anna sounds like a sadist at best. I thought only guys pulled asshole dirty tricks on people like that.