‘Scaring off the Bears’- A Mom’s Hiking Survival Guide

Sometimes, you don’t know how much you don’t know … until your child asks you a question. Who’s with me? Can I get an A-Mom? (Yes, you may groan at my bad joke.)

Thankfully, the question Lance posed on a chairlift this summer (“How did the ski trails get their names?”) wasn’t the type to send me into Parent Panic Mode. And it’s not just because a good parent knows which friends are in her corner to help (though, truthfully, that’s a big, big part of my “not panic mode”.) Yes, I knew if I asked my friend Emily, she’d be able to answer the question, but I didn’t realize that she’d turn it into a fun mother-son bonding adventure, custom-built for Lance and me. That’s because I never realized that Deer Valley offers private, guided hikes all summer long.

Enter Howard. He’s been skiing in Park City since before the secret got out about, well, the awesomeness that is Park City skiing. He’s worked at Deer Valley as a mountain host for another whole bunch of years. Which is alarming when you consider that he’s only 25. I kid—he’s not 25. I won’t reveal his age, but as we learned on our hike, he’s already outlived many of the miners, who died young because of the nature of their work, and the quality of health care that was available to people in the 19th century. In Howard’s case—like that of many local residents—it’s easy to stay young and healthy if you work above ground and exercise as part of your job—or lifestyle, or both.

Now, I’ve hiked the Silver Lake trail more times than I can count. But never have I hiked it in such a well-guided, well-informed manner. Howard met us and presented options. We chose a chair lift ride up Sterling Express for a three-mile downhill that would have us crisscrossing some of our favorite ski runs. Like Homeward Bound and Ontario.

Lance’s questions—and some neither of us thought to ask—were answered in earnest by a charming, friendly, Howard. He pointed out the 360° views (including Heber City, the Jordanelle Reservoir, and the sweep that includes Park City and beyond to Wyoming from the top of Bald Mountain). We got to peek at the reservoir used to hold (and recycle) water for snowmaking. And…we found out that all the trails were named for mine claims. Well, all but a few—but I’ll leave it to you to guess which ones.

One of my favorite stories is about the Ontario Mine, which you can see from lots of different vantage points on the mountain. It’s particularly easy to view from, say, Viking chairlift on the way to Stein Eriksen Lodge. The original owners of the mine were, in fact, Canadian. Then, George Hearst purchased it. His son, William Randolph Hearst, ran it for a time, but wasn’t keen on mining—and he wound up taking over his father’s newspaper in California, the San Francisco Examiner. Fun fact: I worked for Hearst Publishing for a time—as the Entertainment Editor at Good Housekeeping Magazine. And I never realized that Park City and I had Hearst connections in common.

Of course, as with any family activity, there were parenting lessons to be had. Mind you, this was not our first hike together—and not our first “long” hike this year. Part of the third grade curriculum in Park City is a hiking and camping unit (yes, they clear out the desks from the classroom and hang out in tents for a few weeks), culminating in a hike at Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City (incidentally, it’s a great day-trip from Deer Valley). But at one point, a small hissy fit ensued, about three quarters of the way down Ontario.

“I can’t go another step! My feet won’t take me!” Poor kid was about to crumble.

I was about to give him a “dig deep” speech, worthy of the Olympics, when Howard announced we were within half a mile of the finish. Lance perked up, and we began to pick up our pace. A few minutes later, Lance offered this.

“You know, all that fuss before?” he began. “That wasn’t real. That was just a bunch of noise I was making to scare off bears.”

And, the belly laughs ensued.

Keep reading for Lance’s version of the hike…

I expected this hike to have fewer flies.

That’s the first thing I thought of as we started out on the trail at the top of Bald Mountain.

Seriously. BALD. Except for some flies.

Our guide, Howard, suggested that if we started moving, maybe the flies wouldn’t buzz. Or at least bother me less.

Howard was trying to tell me some interesting facts about the trail names, but I was more distracted by the flies.

My mom tried to distract me with snacks. She always has snacks. Once, she pulled a 2-foot long Laffy Taffy out of her tiny little pocketbook. But that’s a whole other story.

Along the trail, we found some animal habitats. We took guesses about whether they were many entrances to one animal’s home or lots of different animals’ homes, including a mansion for animals or a ski hut.

Howard filled me in on a lot of the different trail names. They are named after mine claims. I learned that naming a mine claim is the way that miners (a loooooooong time ago) let other people know it belonged to them.

My favorite trail name is Success—because the miners named it after what they hoped would happen to them when they searched for silver.

Did you know that Ontario is named because the miners who claimed it were Canadian, eh?

Howard showed us the Ontario Mine, which was the last running mine in Park City, and you can see it from lots of different places on the mountain at Deer Valley.

He also showed us pictures of the miners. They looked old—but Howard said they looked that way because they worked hard in dirt, dust and bad conditions. Back then, people didn’t live to be very old at all, but they definitely looked old in the picture.

Howard suggested that we go to the Park City Museum, because there is a big “Wall O’ Mine Claims” (I don’t think that’s the real name for it!) — it’s a map of town that shows all the names of every claim that existed.

I think that’s a really good idea. I went there on a field trip with school in second grade, and I really want to go back so I can learn more about the mines.

If you are thinking about hiking at Deer Valley, I think you should ask if Howard can be your guide–he’s very nice, and he knows a lot. And if you see me skiing with my family this winter, you can stop me and ask me questions about the mines and the trail names, and I’ll tell you what I remember!

Mountain Biking Mama

I’ve often said I have a lot of respect for skiers who take up the sport as adults. It takes a certain amount of courage, to say the least. I have a hunch that I’ve learned exactly how much courage that is—because on a recent day in Deer Valley, I began to conquer my fear of riding my bicycle downhill.

Mountain biking (and I’m sure the same is true for road cycling—I just haven’t tried it yet) is as much of a head-game as skiing. For me, it’s more, I think—in part because I’m learning as an adult. I wore my first pair of skis at age 3, and began weekly lessons at 6, so skiing is as natural to me as walking—and at least 10 times more fun. Logically, I know I can handle just about anything on a bike—I’m physically fit—well for a normal person, not a competitive athlete (I have to remind myself, because living in Park City it’s easy to take your decent fitness level for granted when you’re surrounded as we are by elite athletes). I’m up for challenges. I understand the mechanics of the sport. My psyche, however, disagrees. And, frankly, I’m sick of hearing second-hand about how great my husband’s mountain bike rides were. Or weren’t. Even a bad ride is brag-worthy, at least in my house. And I’m done with feeling left out.

Thankfully, there is Jeff. Not, mind you, my wonderful husband Jeff. For whom I am always thankful. But Jeff the Awesome, Patient and Kind Mountain Biking Coach. I am sure his official Deer Valley title is something more like Mountain Bike Guide or Instructor or whatever it is that doesn’t describe him well enough.

So, Coach Jeff took me to Lot 3—that’s right, to the parking lot. Little known fact: There are mountain bike practice features at the back of Lot 3. We ran through some basics, and I was proud to have arrived with A-plus skills in braking appropriately (right brake first then add left, or equal pressure to both); creating a “platform” by bringing both pedals parallel to the ground, and standing on them as I bring my tush back behind my bike seat. (I’m sure it looks even sillier than it sounds, but believe me, it creates the most control over the bike.)

Then came the frustrating part—as much as I knew I could take a gentle downhill turn—KNEW IT—I couldn’t get my brain to let me. After MUCH unprintable sputtering from me, Coach Jeff took control of the moment.

“We’re going to change things up,” he said. “No use having you frustrated.”

What he meant was: After one more quick test on the practice track, he was taking me up Silver Lake Express chairlift to ride down the mountain on a trail called Tour De Homes. I gulped only a little as I noticed the trail marker bore the international symbol for “Intermediate”—the telling blue square. Um, ok. I guess I’m ready, I thought.

“You will gain confidence as we ride. You’ll see. It will be fun,” he said. “I promise.”

Ok, he was right. I walked a fair amount–but I have decided that there’s no shame in walking where you’re completely out of your depth as a rider. It’s called SELF PRESERVATION, people. And I had two kids at Deer Valley Summer Adventure Camp who were expecting to see their mom at 5 p.m. pickup. So, I walked some. But, mostly, I rode. I rode down slopes I didn’t think I could. I looked ahead and not down, not at obstacles, but rather at the path I wanted to follow. Just like in skiing, if you don’t want to ride into the tree, for heaven’s sake, DO NOT LOOK AT THE TREE.

In point of fact, I looked at Coach Jeff’s awesome day-glo biking socks, which were a great focal point.

I am going to have to learn to talk less when I ride—because every time I called out “I’m doing this!!!!” on something more technical than I’d been able to handle only minutes earlier—I lost it. LOST.

Tour De Homes, by the way, is a great hiking or biking trail. It starts behind Last Chance on a private ski run, and winds around until you actually come out onto Last Chance, just below the “Bear House.” We rode some single track through the meadow at the bottom of Last Chance, taking a moment to appreciate, mutually, how much we love skiing Dew Drop, and then worked our way down Rosebud, across some more single track beneath Solid Muldoon, Champion and Big Stick, and into the trees next to the Burns Lift. This was, by far the smoothest, prettiest part of the ride. The trail itself is tree-lined and did I mention…smooth? I even took the steep part back to Wide West with some middling success. Enough that Coach Jeff said, “You know, that was steeper than the part you walked at the trail head?”

And, yes, I flew down the Carpenter road—faster than a person is allowed to take it on skis, in fact. Speed, it turns out, is a good acquaintance. We’re working our way up to a friendship. Coach Jeff, though, whether he likes it or not, is a brand-new friend.

Park City Date Night

I got my first sunburn in Park City on a date night with my husband, the first Wednesday we lived here, in 2001. Yes, I said a sunburn, at night. It was my first glimpse that life at 7,500 feet was going to be even more of a change than I had expected.

By now, I’m a pro. So when I headed out for date night with Jeff last Saturday night to Royal Street Café’s table at Savor The Summit, I was prepared. To wit: in addition to a cute dress and lipgloss, I did a generous application of sunscreen, and made sure I had a cute hat for the occasion—thank you, gold, sparkly cowgirl chapeau—and big, glam shades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savor The Summit, you see, is a dinner party for the whole town. Restaurants set up long tables that span the length of Main Street, with a band rocking out at Miner’s Plaza, across from Cows.

And, because of the “mixer” style of the evening, there’s a chance you’ll get to spend time with new friends amidst the many familiar faces. Which is, I’m happy to report, exactly what happened to us. We not only enjoyed Deer Valley’s newest cocktails, Flower and Pine and Rosemary Radler, mixed and served by the resort’s award-winning mixologist, Bonnie Ulmer, but we got to indulge in some fun new preparations of Royal Street Café culinary faves—gazpacho shooters? Yes, please. Crawfish Bisque? But, of course. Ahi Tostada? Yummmm.

I’m proud to say, our table was an enthusiastic participant in the street-long “wave” that happened several times during the evening—and, because I’m competitive in all things, I made sure to give a friendly chide, via Tweet, to the adjacent table of Chimayo diners, whose “wave” was, to my expert eye, a bit, ahem, lackluster. We can’t all be awesome, though, can we?

Thrillingly, the evening has had many, wonderful, summery social aftershocks. I swiftly planned a walk with my friend Leslie Thatcher, KPCW’s news director, who’s still rehabbing her knee after surgery, and a “rookie” bike ride with Park City Magazine Editor Kristen Case—because, yes, eleven years in, I’m still a beginner. I’ll report back on the success of these and other summer adventures. For now, I’ll leave you with this very strong suggestion for your summer vacation planning: Save the date for Savor the Summit 2013.

Biking is for the Whole Family

Spring came early to Park City—in a town where odds run high for snow on graduation day, it can be confusing to be able to play outside like it’s Summer in April or May. But, friends, we’re muddling through, somehow. What with all the Chamber of Commerce weather, and the fact that my kids look at bike time as cross-training for skiing (Opening Weekend), this is bound to be the summer that improves our skiing by leaps and bounds.

In fact, it didn’t take long for us to get rolling in summer mode in our house. Seth, our newly-minted five year-old, with his newly-missing two bottom teeth, has determined that this summer’s theme is “Two Wheels or Bust!” It didn’t take much—just like when he wanted to learn to ski, he saw big brother do it, and that, friends, was that (Secrets to Success). We started offering various tips on technique, offered to put a broomstick in the well under his seat so we could help him balance, suggested he use his feet to push and glide off the ground while he got the feel for it. And, in typical Seth fashion, he looked at us and said, “Why don’t I just ride?”

So, he did. Here’s the footage

The next thing I knew, Jeff was in the garage, finding the pedals to put on his own bike. Poor guy had been so busy in the last few years, the only time his bike got to roll on the trails around here was when our friend Cheo came for visits and borrowed the bike (he’s a BYOPedal kinda guy). Now, though, the kids were on a roll, and Jeff was not going to miss out.

So, with images of family bike rides dancing in our heads, we hauled Lance’s first mountain bike with gears into Jans for a tune-up (it was a hand-me-down from friends), and took mine there for good measure. While we were there, Jeff noticed some shiny new objects—and started chatting with Stephanie, one of the expert bike fitters. Before long, she had Jeff set up on demos, and he was tooling around the neighborhood, trying to choose a new bike. I won’t bore you with the list of complaints he has for his old mountain bike. We think of it as Cheo’s bike, anyway, and now this will allow the two of them to go on rides together when he’s in town…but I digress.

I owe Stephanie, Marty, and the team at Jans a debt of gratitude for helping Jeff find a new bike. First, she took the guesswork out of what gift to give my husband for our 17th wedding anniversary this month. Yes, friends, in case you were wondering, the official gift for 17th anniversary is One Sweet Ride. Second, she singlehandedly helped reconnect my guy, who raced bikes in high school, with a lifelong passion—that’s going to help push his healthy lifestyle agenda to the next level. Also, they helped me entertain my kids during the whole bike demo process, allowing many pairs of shoes to be tried on, and selling us a couple of bags of candy, to boot. As in winter, I’m not above bribing with candy. [Upping the Ante on Bribes]

After all was said and done, I was inspired to get my like-new (as in gently used, because I bought it eleven years ago and have ridden just a handful of times) bike into the shop for a tune-up.

Some people in my house have described me as a reluctant biker—I’m not. I swear. I really, really WANT to bike. But I’ve never been a confident biker, which makes it hard to just get out and ride. When I first bought my bike, I took advantage of the variety of free, guided rides available to all levels of bikers through Jans and White Pine—some are even women-only. Somehow, though, once the boys were born, I couldn’t make the time for those rides. No, boys, I’m not blaming you. In recent years,  I promised my pal Emily that I would take some mountain biking lessons at Deer Valley—but other things took precedence.

Now, though, the same thing that motivated me to up my game on the snow has been brought to bear for biking; I will not be left behind by my family. So: First things first, I’m going to start riding on the flat trails around town. Next, I’ll join some of those evening rides at White Pine and Jans. And, because my kids are going to check out some Deer Valley Summer Camps, I’m going to book myself a mountain biking lesson on the mountain, too.

Let the games begin!

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.

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!

Playdate on the Snow

There are things my friends who don’t live in Utah will never understand. Like how some parents willingly sign waivers for their children to learn to ski jump. Maybe you caught the viral video of a local fourth-grader who overcame her fears to conquer the K40 jump at Utah Olympic Park. She’s the daughter of a friend of mine, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with her courage. Fact is, she did it as part of a program that is designed for kids to try all the sports that the amazing facilities in Park City have to offer.

And, quite frankly, maybe the fact that these kids have resorts like Deer Valley to use as a playground is part of what puts them in the mindset to try the harder stuff.

To wit: my kids have skied since they were preschoolers. The equipment is as familiar to them as their street clothes. And, in fact, they often schedule playdates that occur on the slopes.

On a recent Wednesday, my friend Heather and I rallied our four year-olds (who required zero convincing) for a playdate at Deer Valley. We lucked into a great strategy, taking each other’s child as our ski partner. They each listened much better to the other parent when it came to pointers about technique.

And these three-foot wonders took on every obstacle Wide West had to offer, plus Success and then…the bottom of Little Kate.

If you read my Birthday post, you’ll recall that Seth was eager to tackle Little Kate that day. “Let’s do it!” He’d said to me.

I’d held back—not because he didn’t have the chops for a blue, but because I worried that another skier, crossing Rosebud from the top of Little Kate, might not see him making his turns.

Intellectually, I knew that he’d be even more excited to do it when I finally acquiesced. But emotionally, I felt badly for holding him back in that moment.

Of course, my fears were unbidden. We stuck to skier’s left, and the kids took the trail with aplomb. I’m not ready to sign off on the ski jumps, yet, but if he asks me in a few years, I may just have to say yes.

Epic feast at the Seafood Buffet

One of the best reasons to do a specialty clinic at Deer Valley is not necessarily the top-flight ski instruction—although, that’s certainly a worthy selling point. It’s the chance that lightning will strike, and you’ll be placed in a group with interesting people you wouldn’t have otherwise met. And if you’re really, really lucky, they’ll become your friends. This certainly happened last year , when I met Stacey and Jackie and our talented, big-hearted instructor Letitia.

We’d all stayed in touch, and tried our best to plan a Women’s Weekend Redux—and we almost succeeded. Jackie had family commitments that kept her from the March weekend we’d chosen. Stacey and I, however, were in “game on” mode. Stacey’s pregame strategy consisted of quick witty emails to me that described her ski days (“found my mojo in Perseverance Bowl today!”) and accused me of leaving her in the dust after I completed the Mahre Training Center camp at Deer Valley in February.

My pregame strategy was entirely different: I invited Letitia, along with Stacey and her husband Steve, to join Jeffrey and me at Seafood Buffet on the Thursday evening before the Women’s Weekend began. I half-joked that I wanted to see to it that Letitia overate, so that she’d go easy on us in the morning. I had another thing coming.

Before we embarked on the epic feast, Letitia tried to prep us for the coming weekend. “You can’t expect the same magic we had last year in our group,” she said. “You can only hope for it. And you—” here, she turned to me—“you are probably going to land in a higher group than mine. I hear you’ve made more progress.” Stupid me, and my big mouth.

Stacey added, “I don’t want you to feel obligated to ski with me. I don’t want to hold you back.”

I tried to remind myself that I’d learned not to downplay my ability—but I really couldn’t imagine that the differences in my skiing would be that great. .

Instead of engaging in a debate, I suggested we embark on the team activity at hand—tackling the Seafood Buffet.

The great thing about this restaurant is the subtle sense of surprise.

First, whether you’re a rookie—and yes, we had what we termed a “Seafood Bufffet Virgin” at the table (Hi, Steve!)—or a veteran, you can’t help but be surprised by the abundance of choices and the quality of the food—both in taste and presentation.

Second, there are always some new items woven into the mix—on this evening, there was a runaway hit with an appetizer of a roasted tomato stuffed with warm goat cheese—and a hint of heat.

Third, no matter how hard you try to pace yourself, you will always, always surprise yourself with the quantity of food that you’re able to consume in an evening.

We chided each other over sushi—“Don’t fill up on the rice! You need to save valuable digestive real estate for the crab legs!”

Letitia uttered a maxim that is as true as the local’s rallying cry (“No friends on a powder day!”) when there’s a foot of fresh on the hill—“There’s no waiting,” she said. “When you’re ready for the next course, you go get it.”

Our Virgin was not disappointed. Neither were the rest of us.

Skiing the X-Files is just like Stand-Up Comedy

I’ve been fantasizing about skiing the X-Files since JF Lanvers posted a series of blogs (with video!) about this mysterious tree run in Empire Canyon. I knew it would be fun, if I could work up the nerve—I didn’t realize that skiing it would mark a major milestone in my life. Of course, it goes without saying the big-deal milestones of my life—marriage, motherhood—are beyond comparison. And I’m reasonably certain that I’ll be hard-pressed to compare even my best day on the slopes to those moments. (However, in the unlikely event that I am invited to compete in the Winter Olympic Games—Senior or otherwise—I reserve the right to revise that.). Still, it was something I’d long-fantasized about, and hoped I’d do someday.

In fact, skiing the X-Files was exactly—EXACTLY—as much fun as one of the most treasured moments in my professional career: The night I opened for Caroline Rhea at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City.

The back-story is that I was the assigning editor on a story that Caroline Rhea, one of the funniest people in America, did for a magazine where I worked. We spent a lot of hours together—and in that time, she decided I was funny, that the silly stories I told her about my life and my family were actual “bits,” and that the world needed to hear the comedy of Bari Nan Cohen. Oy vey. I balked for a half-second and then realized I had access to a unique opportunity.

So she helped me hone this material and, there I was—legs shaking with adrenaline and with a view from the stage of that freaky digital countdown clock that only the talent can see. 2:59, 2:58…breathe.

I was reminded of this experience on the last day of this year’s Women’s Weekend Specialty Clinic, which found me, by 10 a.m., hiking across the ridge above Daly Chutes, like I owned the place. (For the record, it’s wider than I thought, and has one of the most breathtaking 360 degree views I’ve ever seen—and not a clock in sight.) The hike made me grateful that I’d (mostly) kept up with my running habit this winter—I was only a little winded as we crested the highest point of the ridge. And, yes, I had a stellar mentor in my instructor Letitia, who’d sized up my skills and determined that X-Files needed ‘em.

Thus, we glided over to the entrance to X-Files. And as we found turn after turn, I was nearly overcome with emotion. (“Don’t cry—your goggles will fog,” I told myself.)  It’s beautiful and peaceful there. And eminently skiable—the trees aren’t nearly as tightly packed as they look from the “outside.”

As I completed turn after turn, I found myself drawing on all the preparation I’d unwittingly done for this moment, pulling a variety of tools from the skill sets Letitia and the other teachers had drilled into me over the course of three days. Side-slips turned into swooshes of snow pushed out of the way, wedge Christies became parallel turns. Just as the days leading up to my comedy debut were spent under Caroline Rhea’s careful tutelage on projection and timing, so that on performance night, I’d be good to go.

I can’t say with any certainty that either performance was “pretty” from a technical standpoint. I can, however, confirm, that both hold places of honor in the category I like to call, The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had Standing Up. And no, I’m not working blue right now.

But what I can tell you is this: In both instances, I didn’t really care how it looked. I was having so much fun, how it looked, well, it just didn’t matter. In both instances I had a great support system. In the club, I’d planted some key friends and colleagues in the audience. In the trees, I had Letitia, my pal Stacey and two other women who were just rockin’ ski companions. We cheered each other on, the same way my friends had laughed at my jokes louder than anyone else in the club.

The skills I brought into the X-Files—timing, correcting my form errors to prevent falling—even looking past the trees (for, if you look at the tree, you will most certainly ski into it) and reaching down the hill to make the turn—had their roots in those rehearsals with Caroline. You need to think fast when you’re onstage, you need to revise your bits to fit the audience, and you need to have good timing, you need all those things to be able to improvise. You need to look beyond the clock and read the audience. Caroline Rhea may not think of herself as a ski instructor, but I’m telling you, I would have had a lesser foundation for absorbing the lessons I’ve had on the hill, without the comedy coaching.

And, while the bragging rights to both things are cool, it’s not really (much) about that. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing you have the tools to do something.

I’d like to say I didn’t continue past my one night in comedy because life got in the way. That could be true. But comedy requires singular focus, driving passion, and the ability to travel the country for low-paying gigs rife with hecklers in the hope you can eke out a living—and the very faint hope you’ll get famous doing it. As it happens, the night I did standup occurred during my last weeks in New York—my heart was already in Park City, we’d just closed on the house; Jeff was checking on things, scheduling the water softener installation; service on the furnace, making sure the lawn sprinklers were set properly, meeting the neighbors. And maybe if I hadn’t planned the move, I might have taken some improv and stand-up classes in the city, and given it a go on open mic night.

Instead, I followed my heart and my skis to Utah—and learned to ski the trees. Decently. I’m not stopping ‘til I’m awesome at it. And then, who knows?

So, if you were one of the hundred or so people in the world who got to witness my comedy debut, all I can say is: Come ski with me sometime. I’m a better skier than I am a comic. And if you weren’t—maybe I’ll dig up the video of my time on stage and show it to you.

Free ski check—free advice

For most of us, it’s the little things that make-or-break an experience. Deer Valley’s free ski check is one of those things.

There isn’t a bathroom break or mealtime when I don’t take advantage of the free, secure ski storage located at every lodge on the mountain. And, yes, I am one of those skiers who checks in my gear at the end of the first day of the season—and every day thereafter.

I like it for a few reasons. First, I am one of those people who can never remember where I parked my car—or which rack I used to stash my skis during lunch. Second, there’s no chance of me grabbing another skier’s similar gear by accident—or vice versa. The fact that it’s free makes it a no-brainer.

However, the system isn’t flawless. If you’re the sort of person who can’t remember where you put your keys (ahem), you may be prone to losing the little numbered tag. And I’m not sure which is more frustrating—being the person who arrives at ski check in the morning, having stored their gear overnight, only to have lost the tag, or being in the line of good, tag-wielding folks who have to wait while you fill out the paperwork and fail miserably at properly describing your ski by make, model and color. (This particular predicament is not limited to those with rental gear. My friend Steve forgot the pertinent details of his skis once, and I once described the color of my skis as yellow, when the rest of the world would see them as a light, bright green). So, yes, I’ve been both people in this scenario—and found them to be equally frustrating.

Lucky for you, I’ve learned a few things from these experiences. Here’s my quick list of tips for avoiding the dreaded lost tag:

  1. Use your smartphone to take a photo of your tag. The guys at ski-check suggested it to me—and it works. If you lose the tag, you’ll be able to show the photo to the attendants at ski check, so they can retrieve your skis. You will still have to fill out a form, but it will eradicate the sweat-it-out search-by-sight that will otherwise ensue. You’ll still have to fill out a form, but it will take seconds instead of minutes. I pull out my phone and open the camera app as soon as I hand off my skis and poles.
  2. If you’re checking multiple pairs of skis for your family, photograph them separately with your phone, and put the corresponding skier’s name in the caption
  3. Attach a carabineer to the ticket ring on your jacket or ski pants. I know it’s tempting to take that wristband-sized loop and, yes, wear it on your wrist. Resist the urge. The minute you take of a glove, or remove your jacket for lunch or a bathroom break, that long-forgotten “wristband” will fly off, unnoticed and lay, useless, on the floor. Use the carabineer to hold any tags you acquire over the course of the day—whether you are using the basket check in the basement of Snow Park or Silver Lake lodges, or simply checking your skis in at lunch. You’ll never be at a loss for the tag’s location.
  4.  If you own multiple ski outfits and alternate them regularly, pick a spot in your boot bag that always houses the carabineer at the end of the ski day. This seems like a very basic rule, but it’s one that will save you a lot of headaches.

Got any other great tips for absent-minded folks like me? Leave them in the comments.