Epic Midweek Powder Day

I’m working on a book about my first ski season in Utah. The following is an excerpt from the book that describes one of my favorite days from that season.

Day 24: Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Another foot of snow fell at Snowbird last night. At less than five percent water content, the new snow was about as light as it gets. It has snowed for eleven straight days and 17 of the last 19 days. Approximately 100 inches of snow has fallen at Snowbird since March 3. Today was going to be a good day.

This type of guaranteed-awesome powder day encourages impatience, I discovered. While we waited in line for the tram to open, the frequency with which people were cutting in front of Brendan and I prompted me to adopt a defensive stance with the use of my poles. It worked. Shortly thereafter, when the tram line didn’t move at the stroke of nine a.m. (the tram’s opening time), a gaggle of malcontents complained about the delay. A few minutes later, a veritable riot broke out when Ali, the tram line ticket-checker, let a group of instructors and their clients through the turnstiles instead of the public. They heckled her mercilessly until she started the public line moving again.

Given the new snow and our limited availability (we both had to leave at noon), there would be no warm-up run today. From Hidden Peak, we traversed to Primrose Path from Chip’s Run. The light was flat and gray. Visibility was maybe 100 feet. Primrose was mostly untracked, but the wind had drifted the snow into heaps that contained the deepest snow I had ever encountered. I skied 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, though, that I couldn’t seem to get enough speed, despite pointing my skis straight down the fall line. I fell twice, which was almost as fun as the skiing.

Further down the mountain, Anderson’s Hill was also mostly untracked. Anderson’s had a bit less snow and none of the drifts, so it was easier to maintain the speed necessary to stay afloat in the powder. The conditions on Phone 3 Shot were also superb. Snowbird had served up powder face shots from top to bottom. Amazing.

The snow conditions on the lower mountain were almost as good as up top, so we decided to ski some laps off the Peruvian lift rather than wait in line for the tram. The sacrifice in vertical footage and terrain variety would be worth it to squeeze in more runs during the limited time we had available.

Powder days already have mystique, but today’s variable weather amplified it. It was lightly snowing, but the sun would occasionally peak through breaks in the clouds to illuminate the crystalline flakes, giving the setting a snow globe-like appearance. What had been a flatly lit two-dimensional scene transformed into a three-dimensional palette of fluffy white cotton candy–covered slopes. Then the clouds would close-up again, and it was back to flat light.

There was a pervasive stillness about the mountain, despite the frenetic skiing activity, like a busy public library—quiet, yet hectic. On most normal days, ski and snowboard edges loudly scratch against harder snow surfaces. Today they were silent. The only persistent sounds were the skiers’ whoops and hollers and the gentle rustling sound caused by snow billowing up against your ski jacket. The concussive blasts of avalanche control bombs and their roiling echoes throughout the canyons also occasionally broke the silence.

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 far better option than the adjacent Chip’s Face.

At about eleven a.m., we decided to take a couple tram runs before we had to leave. We found untracked lines in the Lower Cirque. I surveyed the empty, powder-filled bowl beneath me from the ridge and picked a line. It didn’t matter which. Any line was going to be good. The snow was so ridiculously deep and light that I got face shots the whole run. I also skied it well. I maintained enough speed to stay on top of the snow better than on Primrose earlier in the day.

It was almost noon by the time we skied onto Snowbird Center’s plaza deck, but we got back in line to take one last tram run. The deep snow on Primrose Path was choppy now. I didn’t ski it well, but I fared better on Anderson’s Hill. It was well past noon by the time we finished our run. Unfortunately, we had to leave.

Today was one of those days you see featured on ski resort marketing videos. Brendan quipped that he could hear Warren Miller’s voice narrating his turns throughout the day. The snow was so light and deep that it continuously engulfed us in clouds of cold smoke. I moved to Utah for ski days like this.

Sea legs, dock rock, and stillness illness are colloquial names for illusions of self-motion 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 today it was more palpable than ever. I felt like I was still floating through powder for the rest of the day, even while lying in bed later that night.