Final Notes on Another Great Ski Season

Once more and just like last year, Deer Valley Resort made it to its last day with flying colors!  On closing weekend, the mountain was dressed up into an immaculate coat of white; in fact it had been snowing almost all week long, ending the winter season, just like the previous ones, on the highest possible note.

It’s quite fair to say that Mother Nature didn’t do much to help during the peak winter months, as if she were avariciously hording snow for some unknown purpose, but the Deer Valley’s snow-making crews came to the rescue and more than compensated for a lackluster snow-year and sparse precipitations.

(Photo by Daniel Diyanni)

All along, I never held great expectations about natural snowfalls and, as a result, was never disappointed. Instead, I skied more than my share and I could only rejoice when a number of providential blizzards transformed the mountain. These abundant precipitations first came in the later part of January, lasted for days around mid-February, and then in a more routine, spring-like fashion, during March and early April.

(Photo by Ryan Turner)

Of course, the credit for what ended up being another great season, rested more on the snow-maker shoulders and the groomers fine-combing expertise, than on the skies natural bounty, and for once, the snow-making insurance-policy protection came into full force and delivered the goods!

(Photo by Ryan Turner)

This said, the season was packed with wonderful days of skiing, powder snow, both untouched and meticulously manicured, and at times it was hard to believe that it was a dryer-than-usual winter. When January came around, tree skiing was again a possibility and the opportunities for powder “face-shots” were much more frequent than I would have imagined.

It’s too bad that these sensations are so hard to share, because if they could be telegraphed in more vivid terms, many folks who ended up staying on the sidelines might have made the effort to come out and experience these great ski days for themselves. I, for one, discovered new runs, new path in the trees and by the time the resort closed down this past Sunday , I still could not get enough good skiing!

Of course, I’ve always been a late bloomer as far as skiing goes. I never get really excited too early in the season. My passion for the sport needs to build up and as April comes along, I’m still eager and ready, but nature thinks otherwise… The morale of the story is that, whether we live next to Deer Valley Resort, in the Salt Lake Valley, Los Angeles or New York, we should never assume that “conditions are bad.” The ski reality that Deer Valley creates always exceeds our best imagination!

(Photo by Gus Steadman)

As our delayed winter may linger for a few more weeks, there still might be a few turns in store for me under the form of alpine ski touring, as soon the skies clear and the snow return to “corn” quality. Mountain biking is still a good distance away, and frankly, before thinking too much about the upcoming summer and its endless array of activities, I need to take a long mental vacation from this past winter!

No Regrets

As Spring Break approached last week, I started to wonder if we should have planned a trip–an exotic getaway or quick Moab weekend. Then, I remembered:

One great advantage of living in Park City is the Spring Break Staycation. The chance to hang around town with few obligations. The chance to try a couple of Spring Break Camps.

By mid-week, there was the promise of snow. Today, the ski report delivered. My kids lounged around the house until 9:30 this morning, until I cajoled them into ski boots. They were dubious: the rainy weather at our house didn’t look promising. The payoff for their minor “risk” was quick: just as we turned into Deer Valley Drive, the rain turned to snow…snow-globe-worthy flakes.

In minutes, we were making fresh tracks (really! At 10am!) and my guys volunteered  that they had two regrets:

Seth: “It’s too bad Dad had to work, he would have had fun!”

Lance: “I’m sorry I gave you a hard time about skiing, Mom. That wasn’t nice & this is really fun!”

As for me? No regrets!
How about you?

Check out Deer Valley’s webcams.

The Art of Spring Skiing

Outside of some basic technical facts, there are few rules that apply to skiing in general, but when it comes to spring skiing, there’s a capital advice that should always be considered very seriously: Do it early in the day!

Even if you are on vacation, it’s always worth getting out of bed early. Program your cell phone or your clock radio, so your morning wake up call comes with all the lead time you’ll require to get ready, eat a hearty breakfast (believe me, you’ll need it!) and do everything possible in order to reach the nearest ski lift by opening time.

When you and your gear are ready for some action, with plenty of suntan lotion and a pair of sunglasses on hand to take over your goggles as “eye-wear-of-the-day,” spend some time doing some basic orientation. Ask a resort employee, a ski instructor, a lift attendant or a well-informed front desk clerk to tell you which slopes and ski runs get hit first by the sun.

If you listen carefully and with a tiny bit of common-sense, observation and ability to orient yourself, you should be able to locate the right spot at the right time. That’s right, you want to begin your ski day by visiting the runs that are first on the path of a rising sun. From that point forward, you’ll have to focus your efforts in picking the next ski run, using the principle of “following the sun” and visiting the slopes that are successively receiving the early morning rays, working your way to the next ones and so on, until you have looped the loop and your legs are now begging for some serious rest.

If you follow this advice, you’ll be one of the lucky skiers dashing through corduroy and doing “first tracks” on that heavenly material that never fails to give early-risers a subtle, but out-of-this world “foot massage.” After these “good vibrations,” what comes next is that wonderful stage in which the snow, that was corduroy, becomes perfectly polished and slowly begins to melt so slightly, turning into a magical, creamy substance, long before it becomes spring slush. As you move to your next run, you can repeat this terrific sensory experience.

Lastly, don’t overstay your welcome, know when to fold, and that’s generally much earlier than you usually do or end up doing in most cases. If you get caught muddling through slush at 3 pm, you should probably have quit an hour earlier!

Now, with still plenty of sunny days and acres of gentle spring snow left for you, put all that fine spring skiing strategy to work…

NASTAR National Championships

I’ve been out of town for a week and I’ll let you in on where I was. I often hear, “I haven’t seen you all year” well even if I’m not at Deer Valley, I’m always skiing! I have had the fortune of partaking in the NASTAR finals in Winter Park, CO for the last four years. No, I didn’t qualify, I’m invited to be one of seven pace setters. This entails trying to set the pace against, AJ Kitt, Jake Fiala, Doug Lewis, Ted Ligety, Picabo Street and Steve Nyman. The adventures begin Friday where we are paired up.  I was with Doug (Mr. Universal Sports) and he had me laughing the entire time (not hard to do). We start by setting our new handicap with two runs then we go to our designated race arena. Somehow Doug and I had the most courses. Friday & Saturday we took 14 runs. These aren’t free skiing, easy runs these are behind the wand race runs. Remember we are trying to beat each other, I must be getting old. We also have receptions, sponsor dinners and awards ceremonies that take hours. I’m not complaining just trying to shed some light on our busy days. Although the days are full it’s a blast to be around all these successful skiers.

(Heidi and Doug Lewis)

Some of the highlights of the weekend were seeing so many Park City families participating. Thankfully I see them at home because there is no time to catch up at the finals. I have seen one mother since being back and her comment was, “all of you are in your element, so fun to watch”. Another was my little buddy Colby Starr placing second in his age group. He was nervous on race day and I got to inspect the race course with him. I think it might have calmed his nerves. And the Sheppard family came through with bells and whistles to place two kids in their age group and top ten in the family events!

(Heidi with the Sheppard Family)

Being paired up with Doug kept me laughing and on our final run after we crossed the finish with both laid down. People asked if we were tired? No we answered” were icing our backs”! The first day the courses were soooo tight. I blew my line all weekend trying to keep up. One time was I was going so slow Doug caught up to me and asked in mid-racing “how’s that turn working for ya?” I love going to the event (as we all do) because it lets us see over 1,200 people who love the sport. We try our best to say hi to all of you. It also allows us to catch up with our fellow teammates and be silly again.

(Ted Ligety and Heidi just before pacesetting)

As I approach this next week at Deer Valley it will be the last of my season. For Spring Break were going to enjpy some sun and fun in Disneyworld! Should be interesting. I haven’t been there since I was the same age as my oldest son. I’ll understand what my mom went through. However,  I will be home in time for closing weekend and closing day. I have a feeling the last day will be a snow storm. Should we make a bet? Maybe one of the best powder days will be April 15th. I look forward to a break in Florida but excited to always close the ski season at Deer Valley.

See you on the slopes.

Fireside Dining at Empire Lodge: Not Your Typical Dining Experience

My image of fireside dining used to be a cozy table for two warmed by a gas lit fireplace, a tasty meal, and a glass of red wine – sounds wonderful but pretty typical.  Fireside dining at the Empire Lodge is definitely not typical.  When my husband and I walked in, we knew we were in store for something special.  A roaring wood burning fire in the huge stone fireplace greeted us.  The fireplace housed three pots of steaming chocolate and a pan of berry cobbler!  I immediately made a note to self – save room for dessert.

Fireside dining at Empire Lodge is distinct in that you are certainly warmed by the fire but the food is also. Inside the fireplaces, you’ll see wrought iron stands holding melting cheeses, steaming stews and potatoes, and racks of lamb.  The atmosphere of warmth with the aroma of the wood fires and the juices dripping relaxes everyone immediately.

We were seated by the fireplace with two huge blocks of cheese melting onto individual plates.  My husband had the view of the snow and mountain with the tall dark pine trees paired with aspen trees.  Every twenty minutes or so, a horse drawn sleigh slowly passed by and I’d turn to watch the sight.  I chose to sit so I could watch not just the fire and those mesmerizing blocks of cheese melting, but also the other guests and their reaction to this unusual sight.

To me, the guests seemed to fall into two distinct categories:  eager or curious.  The eager folks took the direct approach.  They stepped right up snapping photos and proceeded directly to the middle of the fireplace and didn’t even wait for the attendant to hand them a plate.  They grabbed one straight out and the host placed the hot melted cheese plate on top (using tongs!) They took the same approach with the accoutrement table.  They topped the melted cheese with potatoes, meats and mustards with wild abandon appearing that they wanted to try absolutely everything. (I fell into this camp.)

The curious guests seemed like they were almost thinking, “For me?” They approached from the side allowing the host to serve them.  They stood back and took in the accoutrement table first scanning the options and delicacies before making their choices.  I observed many pairing up different meats, mustards and chutneys selectively as if they were choosing wine pairings with courses.  This group was probably thinking to themselves, “I better pace myself so I am going to make the perfect combination.” (My husband fell into this camp.)

I don’t know which I enjoyed more – my meal or observing others enjoying the experience.  The duck, the veal and mushroom stew, roasted potatoes and the roast lamb with apple basil jelly were amazing but both my husband and I kept that dessert table in the back of our minds as we took our time and enjoyed the meal, wine and relaxation.

When we did make it to the dessert fireplace, I noticed the other diners had changed camps.  Well, it is probably better said that they joined camps – everyone was eager.  There was no apprehension or hesitation at this accoutrement table.  I heard someone say, “This is great. They have the largest plates for dessert.”

Everyone filled their plates with combinations of strawberries, bananas, pineapples, cookies, dried fruit, and nuts then chose their personal cup of steaming hot fondue.   Of course, my husband and I both chose all three—dark chocolate, caramel, and white chocolate with Grand Marnier!  Our favorites ended up being: dark chocolate for pineapple and bananas, caramel with the sugar cookies and white chocolate with the strawberries.  With the ski lodge, the horse drawn sleigh, the roaring wood fires, hearty flavorful stews and meats and the playful desserts – can’t think of a more extraordinary dinner no matter what camp you fall in.

My NEW Deer Valley

I’ve spent a lot of time this season interviewing DV employees about their Deer Valley—and I have to admit, a lot of their picks sounded exotic to me. They named gladded runs and bowls that I’d either seen only from a chairlift or only heard about. And then I went to Women’s Weekend—and I spent three days on terrain I’d always assumed was there for other people.

Turns out, it’s there for me. And a few hundred other people—but hardly any of them were in evidence on the trails we skied. It was kind of incredible to note that while there were plenty of people on the most popular groomed runs (admittedly, the same runs where I spend the majority of my ski days), the bumps and trees seemed to be ours alone. At one point, I said to my fellow students, “Isn’t it empowering to have the keys to this place?” It felt, for the most part, like we had the mountain to ourselves. I loved it. You might, too.

Herewith, my ode to the trees and bumps—of MY Deer Valley. Yep, I’m willing to share.

Little Bell these are my favorite warm-up bumps. It’s short, sweet and not too steep. So you can do some turns and then peel out into Solid Muldoon, cut over to Success and then keep an eye out for…

White Owl, which is home to World Cup Aerials events. Those scary-high jumps are off limits to the general public, but the bumps that run above them is a fun challenge. You can find a line (most likely: skier’s right) that isn’t too deeply rutted, and will allow you plenty of room to find your turns. Take a hard right out onto the bottom of Solid Muldoon, and you’re golden to hop on Carpenter to scoot down Silver Link, across the beach at Silver Lake Lodge to Sterling lift.

Emerald I must have skied past this run hundreds of times in the past eleven winters. Once in a blue moon, I’d spy someone possessed of more skills (or confidence) than myself making turns into this bowl that is found skier’s left at the top of Birdseye. Now, it’s got to be one of my favorite runs. The top is steep, but it mellows out fairly quickly. There’s plenty of room to “shop for turns,” among the bumps, and then you have your choice of widely-spaced Aspen glades where, yes, there is some powder (or yummy crud) to enjoy.

Tons of glades (with powder stashes) can be found on this run. Just look for your opening and go for it.

Three Ply, I like to access it from the trees on skier’s left, just below the first steep stretch at the top of Hidden Treasure, because you don’t have to do the very top, but it still allows plenty of length to get your groove on in the bumps.

Guardsman Glade is one area I had spied for years from my perch on Ruby Express, only to wonder who on earth would ski in there. Guess what? I do!

Anchor Trees this was love at first sight when Letitia introduced me to it last year. I never get tired of it. There are lots of ways to enter, and the glades are widely-cut enough that you have your choice of turns.

Finally, X-Files. Stay tuned for my ode to this run that makes hiking worth it.

View Deer Valley’s Trail Map here!