Solitude Mountain Resort; not so far!

Since Deer Valley Resort announced it would be acquiring Solitude Mountain Resort, I have always thought of Solitude as far away in a remote canyon. When thinking about the commute, people often think of the winter route that consists of driving down Parley’s Canyon and then accessing the resort from Big Cottonwood Canyon, which is about 43 miles away and takes just under one hour to reach from Deer Valley Resort.

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Contrast this with getting there “as the crow flies,” about a 6 miles journey and you suddenly realize that there must be a better way to get to Solitude Mountain Resort. Not so long ago, State Route 224 went from asphalt to dirt road as soon as you reached Empire Pass and remained that way all the way to Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Since I never drive a sturdy 4×4, I’ve always preferred going to Solitude the long way, via Interstate 80 and the Salt Lake Valley, during an annual fall trip through Guardsman Pass to marvel at the bright foliage that treats motorists all the way to Solitude Mountain Resort.

In recent years SR 224 underwent some major improvements and is now easily passable with all passenger cars. On a beautiful June day we decided to adventure from Deer Valley to Solitude and find out for ourselves how close the resorts really are, via the scenic, mountain road.

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Our journey began at the Deer Valley Grocery~Café where we had an early lunch on the patio overlooking the pond that has become the meeting place for the local Standup Paddleboarders. We didn’t go on the water, we just watched while enjoying a scrumptious lunch.

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It’s a wonderful site for having a meal outside the hustle and bustle of Historic Main Street in Park City. The atmosphere is both quiet and relaxing. My wife had the Grilled Three Cheese and I had the Albacore Tuna Melt. When we were done munching our Chocolate Chip Cookie and sipping our coffee, we were on our way to Solitude Mountain Resort.

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We went up Marsac Ave., AKA the Mine Road, and drove all the way to Empire Pass. We made a quick stop at about 9,000 to snap a few pictures, catch a glance of Mt. Timpanogos and get our fill of the vistas before continuing on to Guardsman Pass.

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Guardsman’s lookout is at about 9,700 feet. We were astounded by the numbers of cars stationed up there this early in the season. We could barely find a parking spot. Sightseers, mountain bikers and hikers love to stop there and use this promontory as a trailhead of choice. From there, the vistas are impressive as they span all the way to the High Uintas, Deer Valley Resort, Heber City and plunge into Big Cottonwood Canyon.

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The drive down canyon is now on a beautifully paved road, complete with markings and as smooth as can be. The views are awesome as the valley opens up and we soon come in sight of the Solitude Mountain Resort ski runs. Because of the canyon’s high elevation snow remains in many spots, even early summer.

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Very soon, we reached the entrance to Solitude Mountain Resort where we conveniently parked our car. A larger parking area is also available a few hundred yards down the road. The village’s altitude is about 8,000 feet. It’s quite charming and reminiscent of the Alps, with its specific architecture and clock tower. Not counting our multiple stops, we drove the 13 miles between the two resorts in about half an hour; so much for the remoteness factor!

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We stopped for an ice-cream at the Stone Haus Pizzeria and Creamery that had just opened up for the season (you’ll also find pizzas and sandwiches there). There’s also the Honeycomb Grill that is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. There are many good reasons to visit this new addition to the Deer Valley family of resorts!

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From there, you have the option of driving down Big Cottonwood Canyon into the Salt Lake Valley, another scenic descent, or returning on the picturesque route over Guardsman’s Pass. This high-road is an alternative itinerary to consider when you drop or pick up someone at the airport, shop the Salt Lake stores or simply want to make your trip down to Salt Lake a lot more interesting!

We choose to return from where we came and enjoyed yet another series of very distinct viewpoints all the way back to Park City. We can’t wait to do it again!

Early July Activities in Park City

Summer is now upon us with its bounty of fun events and activities. During the long holiday weekend, you’ll be able to hike, ride, even race your mountain bike, golf and fly fish. The rest of the time, you’ll be wondering which outdoor concert to attend, considering strolling the Park Silly Sunday Market, stocking up on vital supplies at the Farmers Market or taking in a concert at Deer Valley Resort. There is so much to do in Park City this time of year. You can even take a trip to the Olympic Park and go for a bobsled ride or experience the zip line! You’ll also be given the opportunity see a show at the Egyptian Theater and test your taste buds at the Fox School of Wine, and culminate the week by watching the popular Fourth of July Parade on Main St. Park City!

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If you love a concerts then Park City is the place to be this week. The first St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Series show of the summer featuring Toad the Wet Sprocket, Smash Mouth and Tonic kicks off on Tuesday, June 30 at 7 p.m. at the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater at Deer Valley Resort.

You can also check out the free weekly concert presented by Mountain Town Music on Wednesday, July 1 featuring Robyn Cage at 6 p.m. If you miss that concert, make sure to catch another free performance by Rose’s Pawn Shop at Newpark Town Center on Thursday, July 2, at 6 p.m.

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There’s another St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Friday, July 3, at 7 p.m., featuring Funky Meter, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Lucia Micarelli.

On Saturday July 4, at 7:30 p.m. the Deer Valley Music Festival opens up with the Utah Symphony featuring Patriotic Pops with Bravo Broadway. You don’t want to miss that. 

The Independence Day Celebration, on Friday, July 4, in Park City has grown by leaps and bounds over the years to become the main public event of the summer! The festivities start early at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast at City Park. Then at 8 a.m. there’s the Park City Ski Team 5k Fun Run. The rest of the day is peppered with all kinds of activities like rugby games, live music, BBQs, a beer garden at the north end of City Park and of course at 11 a.m., the famous Fourth of July Parade in Park City with over 70 floats including, one from Deer Valley Resort. Get there early to pick your spot on Main Street or Park Avenue because it will fill up fast. The day will end with fireworks set to go off over at Park City Mountain Resort at dusk!

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The Fourth of July events aren’t limited to Park City. In nearby Oakley, there will be the 80th Annual Oakley’s Fourth of July Celebration & Rodeo that blends a patriotic event with classic, western entertainment.

You won’t need to get up early the next day. Explore the Park Silly Sunday Market, right on Main Street on Sunday, July 5. It runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.! Walk over, catch a bus or ride your bike because parking spaces can be hard to find. The Park Silly Sunday Market is a family friendly open-air festival and market where you can unwind and find something for everyone; a cornucopia of vendors, artisans, kids’ activities, gourmet food, music, performers and even fresh vegetables!

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If you like a great American classic theater, remember that you can see West Side Story at the Egyptian Theater from July 3 through July 24, 2015. Widely regarded as one of the best scores ever written, West Side Story takes the world’s greatest love story to the streets of New York City, right here in Park City.

If you are a wine connoisseur or want to become one, there’s the Fox School of Wine‘s Weekend Wine Series that kicks off on July 4 and continues through September 5. The class runs from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Silver Baron Lodge, near Snow Park at Deer Valley Resort and is designed to give beginner to experienced wine lovers a glimpse into little known stories and factoids that make the world of wine so interesting.

Even though we’re in full summer, there is some exciting freestyle skiing to watch every Saturday (11 a.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) at the Utah Olympic Park from July 5 to early September. “The Flying Ace All-Star Aerial Show,” is a must do for any summer list!

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For nature lovers there is a Wetland Pond Walk on Tuesday, July 7, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Swaner EcoCenter, near Kimball Junction. You can take a short wetland walk out to the frog ponds where the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is reintroducing the Columbia Spotted Frog!

There is also a dance performance “You Are Now Here” by NOW-ID at the Kimball Art Center off Main Street, Park City, on Friday, July 10, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. This international and interdisciplinary contemporary dance performance will take place in the Kimball Art Center’s window display on Heber Avenue, it can be viewed from either inside the gallery, or via the sidewalk and street.

For those of you into serious sport, there’s the Echo Triathlon, on Saturday, July 11. This triathlon has become one of Utah’s largest events and traditionally sells out early. Combine the competition with warm July temperatures, a scenic ride in Utah’s unique Echo Canyon, a run on the Historic Rail Trail, and you have the perfect event for both seasoned athletes and beginners.

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The Park City Food and Wine Classic begins on July 8 and last through July 12. The festival offers a variety of experiences on the mountain, in restaurants, classrooms, and around town, which can increase your knowledge, and enjoyment of food and wine Park City has to offer.

What fun activities are you planning to attend this July in Park City? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @Deer_Valley.

This Bike Doctor Makes Housecalls

Troy Michaud started Flying Sprocket, a mobile bicycle repair service a few years ago. I have used it for the past two seasons to my utmost satisfaction. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Troy to learn more about his unique business.

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JF: Troy, what brought you to Park City?

Troy Michaud: I came from the East Coast; I was working as a technician in a bike shop, then I traveled to Utah on a ski trip and decided to stay. First in Salt Lake and now in Park City; I’m still here seven years later.

JF: What got you into the bike business?

Troy Michaud: I was road bike racing, I was busy “chasing points” all over, east of the Mississippi, holding a semi professional license, and having fun with it. I was training, exploring and meeting all kinds of new people. I took it as far as I could while I was still holding a 40-hour a week job on top of it; a lot of work, but definitely well worth it!

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JF: How would you describe Flying Sprocket?

Troy Michaud: It’s a mobile bicycle repair service.

JF: How did you come up with the idea?

Troy Michaud: While I still was in Salt Lake City, I was wondering what could I do for myself, be my own boss and still stay in the bike industry? I was afraid of a brick and mortar business and of the seasonal nature of a ski town, but I wanted to do something very unique. After seeing mobile dog grooming services and mobile car detailing around, I thought why not the mobile bicycle service? Here I am, four years later, with more work than I know what to do with.

JF: Which services do you offer?

Troy Michaud: Three quarters of the work I do are tune-ups. This means all gear adjustments, brake adjustments, bike cleaning, checking all the nuts and bolts. Then, if the bike needs parts, I’ve got plenty of wear-and-tear products on my van, like chains, cables, brake pads, tires and tubes. I can special items within 24 hours, just like your typical bike shop would.

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JF: How far do you go to service your clients?

Troy Michaud: About seventy-five percent of my clients are located within the Park City  general area. I’ll occasionally do some work in Salt Lake and I even have a client in Bountiful.

JF: How does your service work?

Troy Michaud: First clients set up an appointment. I follow up by calling them to make sure all needs are covered. The only down-time for the customer is the time I’m working on the bike in their own driveway.

JF: Do you go on trails?

Troy Michaud: Not really. I’ve done it on occasions when I wasn’t busy elsewhere, but it’s only an exception.

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JF: What are the most overlooked maintenance steps by riders?

Troy Michaud: It definitely is the wear-and-tear aspect of the bike. Brake pads, drive train including crank, chain ring and cassette. Of course, keeping a bike clean is very important.

JF: How often should people bring their bike for professional service?

Troy Michaud: It depends on riding frequency: If they ride one or two days a week, they can get away with one tune a year. If it’s four times a week, about two hours each time, it should at least be twice a season. More than that should be scheduled even more frequently. Mountain bikes will require more frequent servicing than road bikes.

JF: From your own standpoint what are the advantages of using your services?

Troy Michaud: Convenience is by far the greatest advantage. There’s hardly any downtime with your bike. All shops have great technicians; you can have a great experience with one particular person, but if you bring your bike back, it might not be the same individual working on it. With me, you know that I’m the same person, each time, working on your bike.

JF: How can people contact you?

Troy Michaud: A few different ways. There’s my website FlyingSprocket.com, email me at troy@flyingsprocket.com , or call or text me at 435 640 1006. If I cannot take your call, leave a message or send me a text at this same number, and I’ll get back to you that same day!

Carving Skis, Powder Skis and Skis In Between

I often look at my ski rack and wonder what I could change to make skiing even more fun and a little easier. In other words, which ski do I really need? This basic question conjured up so many parameters that just one simple answer seemed totally impossible. But I was determined to find out and what follows is the story of my search for the perfect ski.

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I began by visiting the Rossignol North American Headquarters, right here in Park City, Utah. I spent some time with Nick Castagnoli, communication and public relations officer for the brand. Deer Valley Resort works closely with Rossignol, one of the world’s leading equipment manufacturers, both at its Empire Test Center and also in all of its ski rental operations. Nick took me to the showroom where next winter’s collection was already on display. Needless to say that I was overwhelmed by the breadth of models available, but his expertise quickly brought some order to my confused mind.

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He first introduced the carving skis, Rossignol’s new Pursuit line. “These are pure carving tools,” said Nick, “Their mid-sole dimensions only range from 71 to 73 mm. These are fast edge-to-edge. You barely roll your ankle and you’re gone.” He immediately saw that this wasn’t quite my type of ski and explained that the carving and powder ski categories were bridged by a wonderful family of All-Mountain skis, called the Experience Series for men and the Temptation Series for women. “From coast-to-coast these skis represent the majority of our sales. They stand as benchmark of versatility for consumers. Not everyone skis deep powder.” added Nick.

I asked what might be the best width for me in the Experience line and Nick suggested that I try a few different versions at the Rossignol High Performance Test Center at Deer Valley Resort. I also asked what seemed to be the practical range of acceptable ski width (this is measured in millimeters under the foot at the mid-section of the ski) for the kind of skiing I was doing. Nick just smiled and said: “We’ve seen all kinds of widths in recent years, but the pendulum always swings back. Today from 85 to 110 mm seems to be where it’s at!”

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Nick skis on the Soul 7, a powder ski, the other flagship of the Rossignol line. “Skiers want a ski that’s versatile. Something that works for any occasion. The Soul 7 is an aspirational ski; Everyone wants to become a good powder skier.” He went on to explain the distinctive, longer lightweight (air) tip in that series of skis designed to minimize swing-weight and also match the rocker location. Nick explained, “weight is a big deal for us. Lightweight is the trend these days, so we are working hard at making both our skis and bindings significantly lighter, which in turn makes skiing much easier without compromising performance.”

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My meeting with Nick Castagnoli brought me one step closer to understanding what would be the perfect ski for me. But since I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned, I returned to the Rossignol High Performance Test Center, located near the Empire Canyon Lodge at Deer Valley Resort. I had paid one visit in January and needed to refresh my memory.

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I wanted to ski again on the Soul 7, Rossignol’s best-selling freeride ski (the Savory 7 is the women’s equivalent). If you’re not familiar with the term freeride, simply equate it to powder or deep snow skiing. This very distinctive yellow ski spans over backcountry, freestyle and powder skiing. Its particular “rocker” design is meant to prevent tip flapping and brings an effortless flotation. Because of this the ski literally plows its way through the most challenging snow conditions, from bottomless powder to forbidding crud and even spring snow. The ski also does a decent job on hard-pack but this is not where I would primarily use it. I particularly liked its tip that projects higher up, offering an added feature when going over unknown terrain in fresh snow or extremely deep moguls.

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Since I don’t spend much time skiing hard-pack, I didn’t look at or test the carving skis that Rossignol offers in this product category. I was looking for the everyday Deer Valley ski, that I think I found in the Experience series. I just want my skis to initiate easily when I take them in tight forested spots and yet I need them to be stable when I happen to find myself on groomed runs, which is where I often end up during the early and late portions of the season. The rest of the time my favorite playground is natural terrain, trees, crud (mostly) and powder of variable depth each time mother nature programs a snowfall!

I remember trying both the Experience 84 and 88. The 88 was the one I liked the most. I found it to be very versatile for my type of skiing and solid enough in terms of quickness and stability. It can carve when it has to and is very responsive, perhaps because of its more subtle rocker design. I also found it quite stable and easy to control when it had to plow through changing snow conditions or transition from smooth to bumpy terrain.

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That’s it; I have determined that the Experience 88 is the perfect ski for me. Doing a little homework was worth it and made me confident that I didn’t have to make much compromise as I have done so many times before. I’m satisfied that I have made the perfect choice, found the right equipment for me, and can already look forward to the next ski season! I hope this helps you choose your perfect ski too. 

Best Memories from My 2014 – 15 Ski Season

Each passing ski season brings us more memories and more experiences, but if we don’t make a conscious effort to inventory them all while they’re still vivid in our minds, they’ll quickly vanish. Here are a few snapshots of events that, for me, have made this winter another one to remember and treasure.

My best spring skiing season ever!

When the powder settled, this season might be called the “Endless Spring” as spring skiing conditions had never been so good for so long. The incredible layer of snow blown earlier in the winter made for a long lasting and consistent base that comfortably took us to Deer Valley’s closing day with still plenty of skiing to be had. In late March, I ran laps everyday under Sultan Express chairlift from 9 a.m. until noon and had the time of my life, mixing smooth cruising runs with interludes on corn snow when the sun had just begun to bake its surface. It was the best spring skiing I’ve experienced in the thirty years I’ve lived in Park City!

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Exploring Bucky’s Backyard with my grandson

My seven year-old grandson likes skiing under the condition that the experience be “super fun.” Just sliding down any hill won’t do. Which is why, when Finn goes skiing with grandpa, the outing has to be worth the effort and must include some adventurous skiing. What better place to take him than down one of the children’s features at Deer Valley called Bucky’s Backyard? It’s replete with humongous moguls, gulleys, ups-and-downs , downs-and-up. It’s relentless, it goes through the trees and the smaller the legs the swifter the action! Finn asks to do it again more times than not. 

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Impromptu Doctor visit, audience with a Judge.

When I ski Deer Valley by myself, and return home, my wife never fails to asks me if I have seen people we both know. I proceed to tell her that Deer Valley is a big mountain and that it’s very hard to recognize acquaintances with their gear on. With helmets and huge goggles these days, identifying folks on the hill has become all but impossible. This said, I had two interesting, random encounters this winter while riding Deer Valley’s chairlifts.

The first one happened as my wife and I were boarding Wasatch Express chairlift and a “single” joined us for the ride. He looked familiar to us and we must also have looked the same to him. After a long moment of silence, we realized he was our family doctor and he recognized us as two of his patients! Never before had we had seen him on the slopes in his ski outfit!

The second one also happened on Wasatch Express chairlift when I was skiing alone and was joined by a Deer Valley Mountain Host. We immediately started up a conversation and my female companion told me about a mishap she just had with her car on the way to work at the resort. As I began to empathize with her, she picked up on my French accent and recognized me as one of her neighbors from down the street. I didn’t know she was a Mountain Host, I only knew her as one of our Summit County Judges!

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Face shots with my daughter

My daughter lives and works in Washington D.C. and whenever she comes to visit she must have some power over the jet streams and what’s inside the clouds, because it never fails to snow. Of course, new snow means powder skiing! She got to sample the powder with me in December when Empire Bowl opened and was shredding again Centennial Trees with her Dad in early March when some 18” of new snow brought us a welcome refill.

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Running into… wildlife!

I must say that this winter season has been full of surprising encounters with wildlife on, and off, the Deer Valley slopes. The first encounter happened in December when I spotted a sage grouse ambling on the edge of Birdseye ski run. The sighting recurred late March from the Sultan Express chairlift. I spotted another sage grouse crossing at the bottom section of Tycoon. In both situations the birds didn’t seem to care about the skiers and the snow they were carving. Like the proverbial chicken, they were “just getting to the other side of the trail.”

In December an imprudent ermine in his white camouflage took upon himself to cross the trail in the area of Tycoon and Perseverance. I almost ran over him if it were not for a the last second wiggling of my skis!

In February, I was skiing down Centennial Trees when I startled a large snowshoe hare that sprung ahead of me. Rather I should say that the hare startled me! I tried to catch up with the furry critter but he left me in the dust or better yet, in the powder!

I will leave the biggest and the best of these encounters for last. Late March as my wife and I where returning home from skiing and riding the Crown Point chairlift, we saw a large female moose either grazing or looking for some dropped ski poles, smart-phone or gloves, under the lift towers.

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Now, time for you to write your list down and share your best snapshots of the season!

Five Things I’ve learned this season

We learn a lot each season about skiing. As the 2014-2015 winter comes to a close, here are five of my key “take-away” that I want to share with you.

5.  Always Keep Hoping

Last December I was expecting countless days of bottomless powder that mother nature seemed to have a difficult time dispensing. All season long I kept looking forward to “face shots” in spite of an indifferent weather forecast, unexciting predictions from the Farmer’s Almanac and the fatalistic attitudes of many of my friends. To further protect me against the fear of drought, I pushed back any thoughts of perfect bluebird days (we got many of these) and tried instead to focus on that pesky jet stream. In hopes it would redirect its precipitation towards Utah. Obviously, none of my wishful thinking worked too well and I hope it didn’t upset Mother Nature. Since I’m an optimist, I don’t think I did. I was just doing a steady job hoping and in the end, it worked to a large degree because I skied plenty of good snow this winter.

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4. A bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

My main season’s objective was to ski 100 days! I had never done it before in a non-professional capacity, so I was determined to achieve it. I must admit that when one lives in Park City it’s extremely hard not to become complacent in getting out to ski. For many of us, the sky is never perfectly blue and the snow never fluffy or deep enough. This year became the “no excuse” winter. No matter what the weather or the snow was said to be, I went out, did my skiing and without one single exception ended up pleasantly surprised. I was always glad I did it! Each of my ski outings always exceeded my expectations and I have surpassed my goal!

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3. Skiing is All About Terrain and Exploration

Too much snow can make us a bit lazy. Normally curvy, bumpy and otherwise varied terrain, looks like a flat surface on top of six feet of snow. Conversely, a thinner cover exposes more of the terrain. It shows every single little detail and nooks and crannies come in full view. This is what tempts me to explore and play in new terrain. In fact, a little bit less snow than usual reveals more of the terrain’s true texture. It also forces us to discover subtle passages into the trees, a stash of powder that no one even knew existed, an interesting short-cut, or a new path that even the most seasoned Deer Valley skier never suspected.

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2. Don’t Let Your First Run Define Your Ski Day

This winter I sometimes found it difficult to warm up as I began my ski day. My first few runs were more awkward, not as smooth and more tentative than my last run from the day before. I had noticed some of this in the past but it seems that it came out much more acutely this season. After a few more runs, my normal feelings returned and took over for the rest of the outing. It might be the simple reality that we all need to warm up or recover this animal instinct that makes us ski, as if we had been secretly endowed with that wonderful skill at birth.
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1. Easy Does It

Skiing is a wonderful way to have lots of fun outside. For some skiers the experience can be one of contemplation. For many it’s the thrill of gliding and the sensation of freedom that feels like almost flying. For many proficient skiers, it’s a combination of speed, strength and perfect execution. It’s fair to say that most skiers over exert and use up far too much energy when they are on the slopes. For life-long skiers like myself who no longer are as young and vivacious, skiing can still be enjoyable as a fusion of smooth and efficient execution. It behooves us to remain super-light and always fluid on the snow. This is a bit difficult to describe. It’s a blend of minimalism, lightness and very subtle gestures. In fact smooth skiing resembles piloting. Skiers drive their skis where they want them to go and let the forces of gravity do the heavy lifting. Granted, they need muscle strength but mostly to resist compression, accelerations and maintain an edge. Skiing effortlessly, just like a feather on the snow, has become my ultimate creed!

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Lunch at Silver Lake

There are many ways to enjoy a great lunch at the Silver Lake Lodge. There are three Restaurants in this lodge; Bald Mountain Pizza, Royal Street Café and Silver Lake Restaurant. I wish I could tell you how wonderful every one of them was in great detail. For this article we’ll focus mostly on Silver Lake Restaurant.

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To make this food review more fun, I have asked five Deer Valley skiers about their lunch experience at Silver Lake Restaurant. As you read on, you’ll discover that each experience varies a lot depending on the circumstances, the company, the mood, the weather and what happened that day.

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Debbie from Florida:

The snow that began early this morning is still falling at noon and is likely to continue all day. No sitting on the deck today! The kids went straight to the Bald Mountain Pizza in search for some pizza and pasta. My husband and I picked a nice table just by the fireplace, we can use the rest. We’ve been playing all morning around Flagstaff Mountain, exploring the glades along Red Cloud chairlift and getting a few face shots! Now we just need to warm up a bit with a visit to the Soups and Stews station. I’ll go for the Turkey Chili and some fresh veggies while my husband is considering the roast sirloin, the sun-dried tomato soup, and may also pick the jumbo baked potato with fresh salsa and turkey chili toppings. Maybe dessert after if we can find room! 

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Greg from Texas:

Since today is our first day, we need to acclimate a bit and start progressively. We’re so fortunate to have such a postcard day with new snow and a deep blue sky. We decided to stop at 11:45 a.m. for an early lunch and get a table on the outdoor deck in full sun. My wife and I chose the Natural Salad Buffet. We both feel good and want to eat as much green as possible, spiced up with caper berries, olives and herbs. I know that I’ll go with some oriental veggies, while my wife is eyeing a piece of fresh bread and perhaps a small serving of penne pasta salad. I may also make a quick stop at the bakery and pick a jumbo cookie to cap off our first lunch on the mountain!

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Monika from New Jersey:

Another “bluebird” day, we’ve planned for lunch break at the Silver Lake Restaurant! We found a table right on the deck facing Bald Mountain. Five non-stop laps on Nabob and Keno ski runs have worked up my appetite. While my friends may be going for some soup and some chili, I’m headed towards the grill for a hamburger and a large serving of fries. Since I’ve been such a good trooper all morning, I feel that I deserve to take a longer lunch and may indulge in a local beer as well! My friends have pointed the bakery area out to me and I already know that it will be quasi-impossible not to stop by it. If I do, and deep inside I know I will, I’ll pick up a chocolate silk pie that I’ll share with Sarah. It may take some time before we step back into my skis again this afternoon, but we’ll make it up tomorrow!

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Frank from California:

It’s still snowing so my buddies and I have been exploring the Daly Chutes and skiing Ontario Bowl non-stop. I was a little hesitant when I dropped into Chute 10; but I guess peer pressure helped a lot! We’re all famished and the four of us decided to make a stop at The Carvery and really take care of our sudden hunger. Today’s roast is a marinated New York strip served with béarnaise that, with a slice of German chocolate cake, will go a long way in restoring my strength. Just add a draft beer each to that!

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Karrie from Missouri:

We can only ski until two and need to pack soon to catch our flight back home. Lunch will be from the Silver Lake Restaurant Deli. I enjoyed skiing Mayflower with Eddie, my instructor. I got a made-to-order deli sandwich with house roasted turkey breast, accompanied with some yummy condiments. A good cup of coffee along with a slice of fruit pie will keep my attention and give me the physical strength needed, not so much to end my ski day, but to leave this wonderful place!

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Meet Deer Valley’s Avalanche Dogs

If you have shopped at the Deer Valley Signatures stores, you may have noticed the Avalanche Rescue Dog Benefit Merchandise, also know as “Avy Dog.” If you are a frequent Deer Valley skier, you may also have encountered one or several dogs sporting the Ski Patrol logo on their back. To get their full story, I met with Chris Erkkila, Deer Valley’s Ski Patrol Assistant Manager, who told me everything I always wanted to know about these “mountain saviors.”

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The Deer Valley Avalanche Dog program dates back twenty years. From the time one of the resort’s patrollers worked tirelessly to get it off the ground to this very day, it has evolved to the point that Deer Valley’s Ski Patrol now has three avalanche dogs, with at least one on the mountain every day. These dogs are owned by their handlers and go home with them every night.

Let’s begin by meeting them. We have Ninja, a male Pointer/Lab mix, that is almost four years old; Piper a female Shepherd mix, an 11 year old veteran that also happens to be Chris Erkkila’s dog and Izzy, a female Lab/Boarder Collie that is nine years old. The Wasatch Backcountry Rescue (WBR), a local non-profit organization oversees the training and certifications. Nine ski areas are member of the WBR, and account for a total of 30 to 40 dogs.

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A lot of work and training is involved with avalanche dogs. “When we select a puppy,” explains Chris, “we have a series of puppy aptitude tests. In every litter of puppies there’s an Alpha pup, the most aggressive and strongest of the litter. We generally look for the next pup down from the Alpha, one that doesn’t seem to be scared of anything, has strong senses, is apt to attach and interact with humans. We also want a dog that is very curious, has high energy and a strong drive.”

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Of course, there are other considerations. Some breeds are better suited than others for the job. A thick coat is definitely an advantage compared to a thin one; with it, a dog can stay warm longer, while thin-haired dogs may have to wear an extra coat. There are also breeds that have a higher sense of smell than others. Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and boarder collies are better suited than most.

Size matters too; large dogs get tired faster because of the mass they must carry and may develop orthopedic problems faster. Then there’s the mere fact of getting around. Carrying the dog down the slope, loading it up on a chairlift, a snowmobile or a helicopter can be hard with larger dogs. Conversely, a small dog will have a harder time climbing on big chunks of snow or walking into deep powder. The happy medium seems to fall right between 40 and 60 pounds.

Once the puppy is selected, training begins at once with with socialization and obedience. Then training for search follows. It begins very progressively by using one of the dog toys and hiding it behind a tree, then burying it under the snow. This is followed by using articles of clothing like a scarf or a wool sweater scented by a human being, and slowly, the search training evolves to a real person. First, just by hiding behind a tree, before the person is actually buried under the snow. Some avalanche dogs can smell people that are buried under 15 feet of snow.

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A person’s scent permeates throughout the snow pack and eventually makes its way through to the surface. The surface scent may get to an area that is not necessarily the actual body location. The scent works its way trough a cone-shaped path that may follow a slanted trajectory depending on the snow structure. In addition, windy conditions or even just a slight breeze may affect how a dog will catch the scent coming out of the cone.

The dog must be led in relation to the wind. Upwind, it becomes impossible for a dog to catch the scent. Stormy and blizzard conditions may make locating very tricky and difficult. The same applies to terrain conditions that generally are always steep, rugged and involve snow density of varying degrees. Around an avalanche, the surface of snow can be rough and will tire a dog very fast. This is why dogs are often carried to the rescue site so as to save as much of their energy as possible.

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Dog certification is handled by the WBR. Three levels are offered: A, B, and C. Level C designates a candidate entering the program. Level B is for dogs capable of searching within the ski area boundaries. Level A is the full certification and applies to dogs capable of searching both within the ski area and the backcountry. Dogs cannot be tested for Level A until they’re at least 18 month old. For most dogs, it often takes two winter seasons of work and training to pass the the Level A test. Sometimes, it may take a dog three full years to reach Level A.

From that point on, dogs can expect to work on search and rescue until they are about 10. Piper, Deer Valley’s oldest dog, is 11 years old; she’s still going strong, but may be an exception amongst her peers.

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Training is a big endeavor that must be kept up. Deer Valley avalanche dogs stay active year-round. During the off-season, their handlers take them around the resort while mountain biking or working on trails. Their dogs must stay active and obedient while also receiving some agility training to mitigate an off-season sedentary time period. On occasions, outside agencies, like the Summit County Sheriff Department, may come up and expose the dogs to cadaver work, materials they don’t encounter on a daily basis. 

Having the dogs out in the summer help them familiarize themselves with the whole mountain environment; this way, they become closely acquainted with the terrain and their surroundings. Chris adds, “I can see the evidence of this in the winter as my dog recognizes the very details of the terrain she traveled back and forth during summer, she tends to follow her usual path in a winter environment.”

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I asked Chris if any of the three Deer Valley dogs have been involved in actual search and rescue operation: “Yes, we’ve been dispatched quite a few times to actual avalanche sites. One of the most interesting instances, happened late in May, near Sundance resort. We were flown up in a helicopter to Mt. Timpanogos where the search operations took place.”

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At Deer Valley, the “Avy Dogs” perform a very vital and necessary function. They can be seen as an extra insurance policy. Some might argue that these dogs are seen as “low-tech” assistants in a array of new high-tech devices that are being used to locate skiers or measure avalanche danger. “Sometimes dogs can pickup where high-tech left off,” Erkkila explains, “just a couple of years ago, we were all out doing avalanche beacon drills training, and low and behold the beacon batteries died. I had to bring my dog Piper, to find the beacon buried deep under the snow. She found it pretty quickly, so technology is as good as battery life, and with Piper we don’t have to worry about that!”

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With always one dog on the mountain on any given day, skiers have the opportunity to visit a Deer Valley Avy Dog at one of the patrol shacks. Just ask to find out where the dog or dogs are for the day. Chris Erkkila offers: “Come and say hi, collect one of our new trading cards that we created for each one of our dogs, and come take some photos!”