The 2009 PSIA National Academy ended two days ago already and now the Snowbird trip that included it is coming to a close. Upon waking up this morning, there was so much fog it was impossible to see anything out the window. A little wet snow fell last night and it was debatable as to whether or not it was worth going out to ski in the wet, foggy, sleeting weather.
At about noon, I headed down to the Snowbird Tram center to see if the ski pass from the PSIA Academy was still good. The ski school desk scanned it and said it looked like it was still good until April 25th, today! Another big thanks to PSIA for the extra days on the pass for the PSIA Academy! Since no cash outlay was needed and the slopes were waiting for another body to welcome with open arms, it was time to go venture out into the cold, snow, fog and wind.
The first ride up the tram didn’t look to promising. There was water dripping down from the poles in the tram. Obviously it was wet out there. Upon reaching the top visibility was fair at best and the first run down Mineral Basin was a little tricky, though it was possible to pick out some landmarks and see skiers scattered around on the hill. There was some fresh powder on top of crud but it was fairly well scraped and windblown off of the groomed part of the slopes.
After a run in Mineral Basin, the next area to to explore was the Little Cloud chair area. Visibility was getting a little worse. I hugged the left (uphill) side of the catwalk so as not to fall into the bowl area. It was virtually impossible to see the edge and much safer to hug the uphill side so as not to go tumbling off the side into steeper terrain. With such heavy snow and fog, it is extremely easy to make a wrong turn and get lost particularly in an area such as Snowbird with such diverse terrain. It didn’t take long for me to take a wrong turn and end up on somthing a little steeper than I had anticipated. It was not a huge deal, however the area I ended up in had about 12 inches of fresh powder on top and then about 12 inches of soft crud undernieth it. The snowboarders who ran out of steam and had to walk were struggling to get thorugh that thick stuff and I knew if I fell, I’d have some difficulties as well. Who knows if ski patrol would even find me if something happened? Slowly and carefully, I made my way down to the Little Cloud lift.
That run was nice and if I could only keep my sense of direction, there was an easier and safer way down to the Little Cloud lift. The next run down, I managed to stay on what had been the easier groomed trail back down to the Little Cloud lift. By this time I was in need of a pit stop. There were three options. Freeze my dick off and risk spraying myself by finding a tree to water, ski all the way back down to the Snowbird Tram, or go ski Mineral Basin and stop in the little shack attached to the ski patrol building. Mineral Basin was the choice!
Just as the first run down the Little Cloud area had me hugging the uphill side of the catwalk, I had to hug the right (uphill) side of the catwalk down into Mineral Basin heading in the direction of the bookshelf cliffs. The only difference was this time it was a TOTAL whiteout. Imagine if you stuck your head in a jug of milk and opened your eyes. That is what it was like. I could not see anything at all. There were a few shadows from the formations in the snow but it was snowing so hard that most bumps and ruts from previous skiers were quickly getting pained over by the snow so there was only endless white. I could see my ski tips and that was about it.
Luckily, I’ve skied Snowbird about 15 days in my life and had a rought idea where I was. No matter how well you know an area, however, when you have no reference points (trees, cliffs, lifts or rock formations) ou never know exactly where you are of what lies ahead of you. It must have been 30 minutes or more of slow going. I had to try to maintian my balance, stay upright on the skis and move in the direction of the lift all while seeing nothing but my ski tips and endless white all around me.
I stoped to ask a few people who were suffering the same vertigo and struggling more than I if they were ok. They were handing in there, some spending more time roling around in the snow in an effort to get back down to the lift rather than trying to remain upright and ski down to the lift. I can only assume they all made it down, though if they had significant trouble, ski patrol would have to get within about 25 feet of them to even know they were there.
Eventually I made it back down to the Mineral Basin lift only to find it shut down. At least I was back where I could see people and I knew where I was. Apparently out in Utah, sometimes lightning rolls in right along with a big snow storm and the Mineral Basin lift was shut down as a precaution so as not to have anyone on it if lightning struck. The 30-40 mile an hour wind gusts may have had something to do with it as well.
After riding the Mineral Basin lift back to the top, I was finally within a hundred feet or so of the bathroom by the Ski Patrol building. I made my way over there against a raging wind spraying snow in my face, secured my skis outside so as to prevent them from blowing down the hill and joined some other frozen souls inside the little building.
The bitter cold wind and snow at the peak of the mountain kept me captive inside the ski patrol hut for at least 30 minutes. I was soon soaked as all the snow melted from my baseball cap, jacket collar, pant and gloves. The snow and wind were not letting up but if I could at least warm up and dry out a little bit, I’ve have a better chance of making it back to the base as a human being rather than an ice cube.
There was to much moisture in all my clothes to have any real chance of drying out but I was able to get warm, let the snow melt off my beard, warm up the gloves a little bit and swap my soaked Winter Park baseball cap for the dry zip on hood I was lucky enough to still have in the jacket pocket.
The last run down was going to be a doozy. Ski patrol offered to let us take the Tram back down and a few people went for that. Maybe if it wasn’t the last day, it could have been an option but today it was not an option. I suited up, put on the warm (but wet) gloves, pulled the hood tight, strapped on the soaked goggles and added the helmet cam as the final accessory. If I was going to ski down through blinding snow, wind and fog, it might as well be captured on camera. After checking to make sure the cam was recording, I ventured out into the elements and started to make my way down.
The wind, snow and fog at the top still kept visibility near zero and had it not been for the trail signs and roped off cliffs, I probably would have fallen of one or at least into more difficult terrain that one would want to tackle with the sensation of being blindfolded. As I got off the peak and onto Chips Run, visibility gradually became better and the wind died down.
The bottom 3/4 of the run was the type of run all powder loving skiers hope for. It wasn’t perfect but there was up to 24 inches of powder in wind blown areas, there were very few tracks thorugh it, nobody else around and no rush to get anywhere. I took my time, enjoyed the run and didn’t notice the cold. The warmth of a great last powder run after a great 2009 PSIA National Academy was a great feeling. Upon getting back to the Cliff Lodge and up to the room, Hartley (roomate) ws sleeping peacefully, the Pittsburgh Penguins had just knocked the Philadelphia Flyers out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round and the Wildflower restaurant down at the Iron Blossom lodge at Snowbird had a pizza and wing special with my name all over it. Life is good. Time to go get some pizza and wings!